Taormina: Amber Heard Has Got Some Things To Say As Her Film In The Fire Premieres In Sicily

EXCLUSIVE: I meet Amber Heard in the café of a hotel in Sicily and when she reaches to shake hands, the ice breaker becomes the tan orthopedic brace cradling that wrist.

“I wish I had a better story, but I was swatting a fly — though in my opinion it was a mosquito which makes it extra annoying — and I missed, and tripped over my daughter’s little stepping stool, and caught myself with my wrist,” she said. “I have tendinitis in the same wrist, and while my usual sound medical approach is to ignore it and hope it goes away, that wasn’t an option because it would just linger.”

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Amber Heard Takes To Stage At Taormina For 'In The Fire' World Premiere In First Film-Related Appearance Since 2019

Heard has been through much worse, what with the unraveling of her marriage to Johnny Depp turned into an unfortunate public spectacle, first in her ex’s UK case against the London tabloid The Sun that came out in her favor, and then later in a defamation suit waged by Depp against Heard over an Op-Ed column in the Washington Post. The latter resulted in a $10 million judgment against her, less $2 million she was awarded in a counterclaim.

She was in Sicily for the Taormina Film Festival for the World Premiere of In The Fire, a Conor Allyn-directed drama about a collision between science and religion in a tug of war over a troubled but gifted youth marked for death by a zealous priest who calls the shots in a small town in Colombia in 1890. Heard is exceptional playing an American psychiatrist the boy’s father calls in to work with his son, a youth who was blamed by his father, that town priest and the townsfolk for the death of boy’s mother. They believe he is evil and the cause of all the town’s misfortune. They have no regard for a stranger, especially a woman and a woman of science, at a time when religious fervor ruled and psychiatry was barely regarded as more than a magic trick. Allyn wrote the script with Pascal Borno and Silvio Muraglia.

Borno, who also produced, is with us and also stopping by is her co-star, the Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega. They are very protective of Heard; Noriega makes a date for Heard to play stylist to his own daughter when she is finished. They all became close during the shoot, which provided a welcome respite from the court stuff that dominated the tabloids.

“She started our movie right after the UK trial, and when she wrapped our movie she went straight to Virginia for the second trial,” said Allyn, who first got to know Heard when they worked on Beast, a pilot that didn’t get picked up. She was his only choice to play the pivotal role of the psychiatrist Grace.

“I think she is terrific in the movie and, and I’m sure that was very difficult with all this other stuff going on,” he said. “Whenever you’re doing a location movie, you’re away from the world and we were shooting in pretty remote locations in southern Italy and Guatemala. Amber’s personality is such that I think she’s laser focused on the work. She was incredibly tuned into what we were doing, rehearsing and all that stuff. She was deep in her character and In The Fire during that period. I think that helped her, just reducing the amount of space that was available for anxiety, worrying about that other stuff.

“But she is able to build those barriers of like, okay, this 10 hours or 12 hours or whatever long days I’m doing, I’m focused on my character Grace. And then after this, I’ll get on a Zoom call with my lawyers and do this other thing,” Allyn said. “I definitely complimented her a couple times during the shoot, the way she was able to tune in. If she hadn’t been able to in such a pivotal role in this film, it would have been a mess. The whole movie relies on the connection between Grace and this disturbed boy (Lorenzo McGovern Zaini), who may accidentally have killed his own mother. She starts as his psychologist and evolves into the maternal person who is willing to die for him as she see him as more than what everyone else does. Right away I could see they had it, that connection that is key to the story. And she is just such a star. You put the camera on her, even when they aren’t saying anything, and she reminded me of a great basketball player who doesn’t need the ball to do great things. The only sad thing was we couldn’t make full use of her flawless fluency in Spanish. She could have done the whole movie that way, but then we’d have lost the fish out of water aspect that is also key to her character.”   

Heard’s protectors were out in force as the film premiered in the ancient outdoor amphitheater that makes the Toarmina Festival singular, but you learn quickly she can take care of herself. We’ve established an upfront understanding that she is also taking care to not add any oxygen to the scandalous chapter she just completed. In The Fire is a first strong step to regaining control of her narrative, which she will confine to her day job, and her return to meaningful screen work. She acknowledges that takes some self-discipline as well which she has learned along the way.  

“I’m in control for the most part of what comes out of my mouth,” she said. “What I’m not in control is how my pride in this project and all we put into this film can be surrounded by clips of other stuff. That’s a big thing I had to learn, that I’m not in control of stories other people create around me. That’s something that probably I’ll appreciate as a blessing further down the line. Right now, I just kind of want to not have, you know, stones thrown at me so much. So let’s get the elephant out of the room then, and just let me say that. I am an actress. I’m here to support a movie. And that’s not something I can be sued for.

“It might not be obvious to other people, but I’ve been acting my whole adult life, since I was 16,” Heard said. “As crazy as it sounds to say, that means I have decades in this industry. I’m not telling you I have this amazing film career, but what I have is something that I’ve made, myself, and it has given me a lot to be able to contribute. The odds of that in this industry are really improbably but somehow, here I am. I think I’ve earned respect for that to be its own thing. That’s substantial enough. What I have been through, what I’ve lived through, doesn’t make my career at all. And it’s certainly not gonna stop my career. So let’s talk about this movie.”

DEADLINE: This is a complex tale, the collision between science and religion with the life of an exceptional boy hanging in the balance. What were the themes that spoke most powerfully to you?

HEARD: Its heart. On its surface, it seems like it is superstition versus science, religiosity versus objectivism, but at its heart, it’s just kind of about love. I liked that it plays with this debate between what’s real, the supernatural versus the natural. And the way that Connor brilliantly bridges the two sides and finds the most natural thing ever, which is love.

DEADLINE: Like where an estranged father reconnects to his son and rises to protect him from danger, and a psychologist whose allegiance to science is overtaken by a protective maternal instinct toward this motherless boy who is marked for death by this priest and the townsfolk he holds sway over…

HEARD: That is what I like about Conor’s writing, it’s very grounded and he finds a natural way to connect these elements that seem in stark contrast to one another. There’s an almost supernatural force that Grace finds herself in. She’s an objective thinker, a rational scientific woman who’s proud to be independent minded. Okay. She’s able to see magic and how something that has been characterized or seen as evil and demonic and supernatural has somehow manages to also have their arc that ends in love. What’s more relatable than the selfless love you give to a child, whether they are our biological children or not? There’s something really powerful about that, and I loved that he could do something that felt supernatural and has a surrealist element to it that I, and make it feel very grounded.

DEADLINE: Religion and the existential crises it creates has been part of movies from Silence to Mission and Bardo. How do you prepare to step into Columbia in 1890? 

HEARD: It was how I related to Grace, this fish out of water who comes into that world an outsider who has the deck stacked against her. People are not prepared to accept her. She’s different. She’s not likable, she’s fiercely independent and doesn’t fit into a standard expectation of the era’s societal gender norms. She sits outside of it just her being a doctor, being unmarried, and riding a horse with her legs open. As opposed to side saddle like men did. The way she bucks gender norms is frightening for any culture, any society. So there was a lot there I related to. There’s something really beautiful about showing the awkwardness of trying to adjust to a change of world. Somebody who steps off a ship, and rides on the back of a horse for two days to arrive in a remote village in Columbia. She cant prepare for that. It’s really nice to allow the organic nature of her experiencing this fresh as herself and coming into this world and, being really proud of what she carries, even though she knows a warm reception won’t be waiting for her. She knows she’s going in to be mistaken as the wife of the doctor and she has battles ahead of her. She’s almost too prepared to battle, all the time. And then we see her really like fall in love with this child and, and, and that that transcends the awkwardness of culture and the awkwardness of her position and bucking the gender norms and all this stuff.

DEADLINE: Her independent spirit leads her to demand she and the child visit the grave of his mother, even though she’s told it is too dangerous to wander around outside the gates of his home. It causes the priest who accompanies her to take a terrible beating. She clearly has to learn to better read the room.

HEARD: That’s so true I think that’s growing up, huh? Maybe not that I have grown up at all, but it is like growing up and learning it can’t always be,  I’m gonna do it this way. I’m gonna charge ahead and change things. Only to find it’s about figuring out what is worth that fight and what isn’t. Playing that, sometimes I’m lucky to be an actress, and sometimes I’m not.

DEADLINE: We learn most lessons through adversity. When you come out the other side of what you did, does it give you another tool to boost your confidence as an actress, or clarify what you want from your acting career in this next chapter of your career?

HEARD: You know, I just want to make movies and be appreciated, as an actress. I don’t want to have to be crucified to be appreciated as one.

DEADLINE: You’ve got this coming out in theaters in October, and you’ve got Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom coming in December. DC’s been through some adversity with The Flash not overwhelming, Black Adam either. The first Aquaman was the brightest spot in the DC canon excepting Batman. Is this a movie you’re excited about?

HEARD: Oh, of course. These are very different kinds of projects representing two very different ends of the spectrum in my industry. There’s a ton of pressure on these big franchise movies, with millions and millions of dollars at stake, and compromises are part of trying to make it the most successful thing it can be. Then on the other end of the spectrum is a small indie film like In The Fire, a work of art and work of love, with nowhere near the same resources, and so there are compromises there. The best luck you can have as an actor is to be able to balance both. Aquaman, that franchise and the machinery behind it, I’m very honored, honored to be a part of that. And then there are these small passion projects like In The Fire, where I’m proud to have gotten to know the filmmaker and the cast, and we got dirty together, to breathe life into this story. There’s something cool about that, and I think success is an actor who is able to have both those things.

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