You May Have Forgotten About These Early Amber Heard Acting Roles

The following article includes mentions of domestic abuse allegations.

Though she later went on to star as the water-logged heroine Mera in "Justice League" and "Aquaman," many film fans first became aware of Amber Heard when she started dating and later married Johnny Depp. Even people who were not fans of the actors got to know them when their acrimonious divorce made headlines, filled with accusations of cheating, domestic abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, and manipulation coming from both parties.

However, Heard has been around Hollywood for a long time. The actor told Digital Spy that her slow rise to the top was sometimes frustrating, considering she got early opportunities to star in a lot of successful (and not-so-successful) projects, but never really felt like she had her breakout moment. She explained, "It never feels like a sudden thing in this business. It's quite a delayed process, with a lot of delayed gratification. And it's impossible to be objective about it."

Even if you think you now know Heard mostly for her other high-profile romances with famous names like Elon Musk and not-as-famous ones like her ex-partner, Tasya Van Ree, chances are you have seen Heard act before and maybe didn't realize it. Here are some early Amber Heard acting roles — pre-Depp, that is — that you may have forgotten about.

Amber Heard's first role was filmed in Texas

Back in 2003, when she was still a young teenager, Amber Heard got what would be the first of many big breaks in the industry. The future "Aquaman" star acted in the music video for Kenny Chesney's single "There Goes My Life," playing the college-bound daughter of the song's subject, a man who thinks to himself at various points throughout the song.

She was asked about the part by Fox 17 while promoting her role in 2013 thriller "Paranoia," explaining with a laugh to her bewildered co-star, Liam Hemsworth, "When I was like 15, 14 maybe, I did a country music video when I was in Texas." The two bonded over the revelation; Hemsworth was in a country music video, as well, for the Zac Brown Band's "Colder Weather." When Heard told him she was unfamiliar with that artist, he jokingly told her, "You should get educated on that." She laughed, responding, "There's just so much I could do with that statement." 

Her Friday Night Lights co-stars became friends

Amber Heard's first major film role was as Maria in "Friday Night Lights," Peter Berg's 2004 film about a football team in a small town in Texas. At just 17 years old, the future star played Maria, a teenager who hooks up with Garrett Hedlund's character, Don. She doesn't have a major role in the sports flick, but she got to act in a scene opposite Hedlund and Tim McGraw, who played Don's father.

That relationship sparked up a long friendship between her two scene partners, to the point where, in 2021, Hedlund chose McGraw to be the godfather of the child he shares with fellow actor Emma Roberts. He explained their relationship on "The Kelly Clarkson Show," recalling, "I've known him for a long time. We laugh about it because it's probably been over 17 years now since we did 'Friday Night Lights' together, we played father and son. So I got to first experience him as a father — in that film ... somewhat more of an abusive one." Hedlund added that they later worked together on "Country Strong," and they have been close pals ever since.

Amber Heard played a young Charlize Theron

One of Amber Heard's first big roles was in "North Country," a 2005 film about a woman experiencing sexual harassment while working in a mine. Heard played the younger version of Charlize Theron's character, Josey, in flashbacks, showing that sexual harassment was something she has had to deal with her entire life.

This was Theron's follow-up to "Monster," the film that won her an Oscar, and she told that she was intentionally choosing roles to show off her range rather than her looks. "It's just utter nonsense that this ideology that women who are pretty don't feel, don't have pain, or don't understand human conflict, because everything's just so dandy for them," she insisted, adding that instead of "sitting back and crying about it," she tried to trust in people who would help her make films that showed off her deeper side.

Heard frequently speaks about feeling a similar frustration in her career, often worrying aloud that she was being typecast as a pretty blonde instead of getting offered well-rounded characters. She told British Vogue in 2011, "I am constantly struggling to show people that there is more to me than my appearance. You do have to try and overcome those hurdles. Female actresses need to be given the chance to be more than how they look."

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She locked The O.C. gang in a mall

Before she became a star big enough to lead films and television shows on her own, Amber Heard was like a lot of young actors trying to make it in Hollywood, taking guest roles wherever she could. One such role was on hit teen soap "The O.C.," on which Heard guest starred in a memorable episode called "The Mallpisode" in 2005. The plot of this Season 2 episode sees the gang accidentally get locked in a mall overnight; Heard played the salesgirl who shows the group into the back room to pick up donations, only to forget they were there before locking up.

Heard may consider herself lucky that she only stopped by the show to lock the cast in a mall; it seems that the series may have been full of behind-the-scenes drama, which star Mischa Barton later alleged to E! News consisted of "general bullying from some of the men on set that kind of felt really s****y."

Though they didn't share any scenes together on the show, Heard would go on to befriend "The O.C." star Olivia Wilde a few years later on the set of "Alpha Dog." Wilde told Marie Claire that she was struck by her friend's composure so early in her career, explaining of the young Heard, "She was at once wise and completely wild. She carries a certain grace that's inherent to her. But she's also spontaneous and very hungry for life."

All the boys loved Amber Heard

Amber Heard's first leading role was as the titular Mandy Lane in "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane," a slasher movie that was filmed in 2006 but not released until several years later — 2008 in the UK, 2013 in the U.S. She told IGN that she loved the role when she read the script, adding that the experience of actually filming the horror flick didn't match up to what she had expected for herself when she relocated to the West coast.

"It's my first leading role, I'd just gotten to Hollywood pretty much and I had expectations, like everybody does when they move out to [Los Angeles], about the glamour of the lifestyle," Heard remembered. She then recalled expecting to be taken to have her hair and makeup done, but instead she had a bucket of mud dumped on her while standing in a field.

Heard's character is a complex, standoffish teenage girl, and she told Rotten Tomatoes that she went method on set. "I didn't really spen[d] a lot of time with the other actors. I isolated myself to maintain some sort of organic sense of the character," she said, adding that on indie films like "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane," no one was there to get famous. Still, the role undoubtedly helped catapult Heard's career; she received positive notices for her acting skills, including from The Washington Post, who called her femme fatale a "solid, psychologically interesting performance." 

Hidden Palms didn't last long

Though Amber Heard is primarily known for her film work now, in her early career, she tried to be a TV star. She led the cast of "Hidden Palms," a CW show about a teenager who moves to Palm Springs. Her character, Greta, is a mysterious beauty who intrigues the new kid after he spots her running carefree on a golf course late at night, dancing through the sprinklers. The eight-episode series was created by Kevin Williamson, the man behind teen-drama hits like "Dawson's Creek," but it didn't get airtime for a while and was burned off over the summer of 2008. Subsequently, it received a critical drubbing, including from The Hollywood Reporter, who called it "mostly silly, pretentious, soap opera-style TV with an escapist mentality and the subtlety of an avalanche." Ouch.

Heard later talked openly about how little she liked some of her early roles, where she played someone just for their appearance, which presumably includes "Hidden Palms." She told Female First in 2013, "I try to search for roles where the character is not dependent on how she looks, but it is hard because I didn't know anyone in this industry so I started as an extra and fought. I've had to take on roles that were superficial, girlfriend roles, but I've tried to put some power or strength into them." 

Amber Heard starred in Never Back Down

In 2008, Amber Heard starred in "Never Back Down," a film about a troubled teenager who joins a fight club at school. She played Baja, the love interest of the main character. Describing her role to Cinemablend, she said, "My character is a young girl who starts off as insecure and unsure of herself. Maybe even unintelligent, or so one would think." Heard was referring to the character's introduction in the film, explaining, "In Baja's first scene she pretends to not know the answer to a question in class that she knows very well. It serves as a mirror to society; I think a very strong one."

In one interview from the "Never Back Down" press junket that resurfaced years later on YouTube, Heard seems to snap at someone who appears to be an assistant about people causing a commotion in the room while she's trying to do the interview. "Hold on one second," Heard says to the interviewer in the clip, holding up a finger. "Uh, Courtney? I can't. I really can't do this if people are coming in and out of the door. It's really distracting. Extremely," she said, before the interviewer allowed her to start over.

Though the film was not a critical success, it did well enough at the box office to spawn three sequels, the most recent of which was released in 2021. Heard did not reprise her role in any of the subsequent films in the series.

She met a future friend on the set of Pineapple Express

Amber Heard played Seth Rogen's girlfriend in 2008's "Pineapple Express," a character who is still in high school and yet has her life together far more than her stoner boyfriend does. Although she told Rotten Tomatoes that she had more fun on set than any of her other jobs, Heard also pointed out that her girlfriend character didn't make much sense or have much depth. "There weren't any real female characters written into this script other than myself and one other that I can remember and we both have smaller roles when compared to the boys, like many of Judd Apatow's movies. The women are not very important in the sense of things," she said.

However, it does seem that the cast enjoyed their time on set. Heard joked to JoBlo that they did "about 17,000 takes of each scene" for the improv-heavy film, noting that "a lot of those were spent trying to play a straight face opposite Seth Rogen, which proved to be the hardest point of my whole job."

She also got along well with co-star James Franco, reuniting several years later to star together in 2016's "The Adderall Diaries." During his 2022 defamation trial against Heard, ex-husband Johnny Depp would testify that he suspected Heard and Franco were having an affair while they were still married, per OK! magazine, which Heard previously denied.

Amber Heard had a cameo in Zombieland

Amber Heard had a small role in the first "Zombieland" film, playing a girl who Jesse Eisenberg's character takes home, only to find her transformed into a zombie before they can hook up. The character is named simply "406," the number of her dorm room. At the film's premiere, Heard joked to Maximo TV that after she got the offer, she thought, "Well, you know what, I have a feeling I'm not gonna be asked this too much more in my future, so I should go for it when I have the chance." She explained that the role required three and a half hours of hair and makeup for the character's zombie prosthetics, and then a further two and a half hours to get it all off.

However, the memorable appearance almost didn't happen! She told Collider that she was brought in as a cameo because she only had two days to film between projects. "I had a great time doing it and I'm glad I got to be a disgusting zombie because I'm so .... you can only be the pretty girl so much, you know?" Heard rhetorically asked, adding, "It's good to kind of have a good time with yourself and not take it so seriously."

Her boyfriend's evil stepfather

In 2009, Amber Heard starred in "The Stepfather," a remake of the '80s horror film of the same name — though she joked with CinemaBlend that she wasn't sure whether it was a remake. "I wouldn't know, I haven't been alive that long," the star quipped. In the film, Heard plays Kelly, the girlfriend of Penn Badgley's Michael; it is his evil stepfather that the two must avoid being murdered by.

She told Collider that she enjoys acting in horror and thriller films, explaining that it's hard to buy into the scary stuff when you're hanging out with the killer between takes: "I always really have a good time making thrillers and horror films. ... There's like a subsequent lightness to making these kinds of films because you can never take yourself too seriously." Heard rattled off a list of things that were fun to act with, and would therefore be fun for viewers. "There's fake blood, there's action, there's jumping, there's water, there's rain machines, there's punching, falling," she said. "And a chainsaw."

Though the original is something of an '80s horror classic, the 2009 version came at the tail end of the '00s remake boom and was not well-received; as of this writing, it stands at a mere 13% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Amber Heard teamed up with a horror icon for The Ward

In 2008, Amber Heard clarified to Female First that she doesn't like consuming the horror genre when she's not acting in them. "Generally speaking horror films are not my favorite," she said. "I do get a lot of those kind of scripts handed to me but I don't watch them particularly often. I'm not a big fan of the genre so it's not something that I go out and look for." She added that taking roles in horror films depended entirely on how good she felt the script was, and whether she could envision the final film in her mind while reading.

A few years later, Heard acted in "The Ward," and something seemed to have changed in her feelings about horror as a genre. The chance to work with legendary director John Carpenter was, it seems, too good for a horror buff such as Heard to pass up. "When I heard that he was interested in making this one, I sat down with him and couldn't believe that I was going to work with him," she told Collider. "I'm a big horror fan. I'm a genre fan. I like to make these movies. They're my favorite kinds of movies to make." She had been considering no longer acting in horror films, she admitted, but meeting with Carpenter changed her mind.

Unfortunately, it seems that the film Heard and Carpenter likely envisioned in their minds didn't quite make it to screen. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has a mere 33% approval rating.

She and Nicolas Cage drove angry

In 2011, Amber Heard starred opposite Nicolas Cage in "Drive Angry 3D," a film about a man who escapes from Hell and goes on a killing spree. Heard plays Piper, a woman who finds out her husband is cheating on her and decides to tag along on Cage's character's angry quest for revenge.

She told Den of Geek that, in addition to being asked to play a strong female character in a film with a good script, the role offered other attractions. "The icing on the cake is that I get to wear a pair of cowboy boots and drive a 69 Charger and every single word out of my mouth, basically, is a cuss word," Heard reflected. She added that her co-star just made the whole experience even better, explaining, "And I get to do it all while saving the world with Nic Cage. I had everything I wanted in this one."

The film was also fun for Heard for another reason: she's a classic car enthusiast. In an interview with Popular Mechanics, the star explained, "I'm a car fan, for sure. I love hot rods. And I drive a '68 Mustang around L.A. I've always had old cars. I've bought and sold many in my short time."

The Playboy Club flopped

Amber Heard led the cast of NBC's flashy drama "The Playboy Club" in 2011, which was essentially sold as "Mad Men" for network television. Her character, Maureen, is a new Playboy bunny, an alluring femme fatale who catches the eye of Eddie Cibrian's character, Nick, when she is accidentally responsible for the death of a mobster. Heard told Collider that the period-specific costumes helped her get into character, explaining, "When I put [the Playboy bunny outfit] on for the first time, it took me back to this time that was this very, very specific moment in history when this existed. It's something that feels naughty, yet nice. It feels edgy and cool and different, and it's a lot of fun."

The show was met with criticism from many sides, including legendary feminist Gloria Steinem, who urged people to skip it during an interview with Reuters (via The Hollywood Reporter). "I expect that 'The Playboy Club' will be a net minus and I hope people boycott it," she said. "It's just not telling the truth about the era. ... It normalizes prostitution and male dominance."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the series was swiftly canceled. A couple years later, Heard told Bullit Magazine (via Express) that she resented how everything went down. "I became the show's default, unintentional spokesperson, which I wasn't capable of doing," she recalled. "I wasn't the show's creator. I was stuck in front of the press and left to defend 'The Playboy Club' when, in fact, I can't stand for the integrity of the show."

Amber Heard met Johnny Depp on The Rum Diary set

If you remember "The Rum Diary," it's probably for one of two reasons. First, the movie saw lead actor Johnny Depp return to another Hunter S. Thompson project, after receiving critical acclaim for 1998's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Second, you alternatively might know it as the film set where Depp and Amber Heard met and fell in love, soon to be married, and soon to embark on one of Hollywood's most drama-filled celeb marriages, with domestic abuse allegations coming from both sides.

At the time, though, with all of that still in the future, Depp was excited about having Heard in the film. He told Collider that he thought late pal Thompson would have approved of the casting. "I also thought that she was absolutely just like seeing an old movie star," he added. "She's like Lauren Bacall." Director Bruce Robinson agreed, telling TNT, "She's a shorthand. ... The thing that obsessed Hunter all his life was this notion of the American dream. ... She's the dream girl ... she's like every boy's fantasy, that lady. But the dream can be quite cruel and those who run the dream are ruthless people." 

Heard allowed that her character, Chenault, was a type, but she insisted there was more to her than an abstraction. "She represents all that, superficially, on the surface, yet is not that underneath," she told TNT. "She's flawed and vulnerable and fiercely independent and rebellious. ... I kind of like that about her. She's a rebel."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.