Amber Heard Then & Now: From Texas Pageant Queen To Hollywood Star


| LAST UPDATE 08/06/2023

By Lia Thomson

At just 18 years old, Amber Heard's career took off. Fast forward to today, and she's one of the most talked-about actresses in Hollywood. From scandals to successes, here's a look back at her transformation.

A Studious Child

Amber Heard grew up in Austin, Texas, with her older and younger sisters. It was a normal childhood for the future star. Her father ran a building firm, while her mother worked as an online research specialist.

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Chris Weeks / Contributor via Getty Images

Ever since she could remember, Heard was a big fan of books. The little bookworm would spend hours a day hanging out at the Austin Public Library. While she loved many genres, her go-to was typically dystopian sci-fi novels, which probably influenced many of her political opinions.

Growing Up a Tomboy

Fans of the actress may not know that as a child, Heard was a big tomboy. She once revealed to Glamour about her dad, “I was his hunting and fishing buddy. When I was 12, I was struggling to stay on a bucking horse that was particularly unhappy about the arrangement. I spotted a little patch of grass, and I leapt.”

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@amberheard via Instagram

Her dad was not impressed and instead pushed her to get back on the horse, "It didn't just take the look on my dad's face to put me back in the saddle. But that helped." She went on. "You gotta get back on the horse. 'Cause the only thing worse than being thrown off is giving up on trying."

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Young Entrepreneur

Unsurprisingly, even as a youngster, the actress was always a go-getter. It seems like nothing ever stood in her way of achieving her goals. Heard explained to Glamour magazine the kinds of entrepreneurial endeavors she would take on when she was just 12 years old.

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@amberheard via Instagram

Back in the day, Heard went over to a local business in Austin to ask for help. She explained that she was interested in competing in a beauty contest, but she needed financial support for them to enter. Although she was excited back then, these days, Heard admitted, “Pageants are weird, and I can’t support the objectification.”

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Rebellious Girl

Growing up in Austin was, for the most part, a-okay. But as Heard started aging, she became a bit tired of the same old lifestyle. She opened up to Glamour magazine, telling them her hometown had become boring, and it was “Conservative, God-fearin’ Texas.”

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@amberheard via Instagram

As a teenager, many recalled that Heard was a bit rebellious. Her way of turning against the conservative traditions was by turning into an “obstinate, bisexual, vegan atheist,” she joked. The Aquaman actress giggled as she added, “I guess you could say I had my own things to rebel against.”

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Proud Parents

Despite her revolt as a teen, her parents always supported her. Back in 2012, her father even spoke to the Daily Mail about how happy he was to see his young girl build such a successful career for herself in the City of Angels. He even explained how she wanted this since she was just a young girl.

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@amberheard via Instagram

David Heard noted, “I’m proud of her. She’s hard-working, steadfast to her job, and doesn’t do anything but go to auditions and meetings. She hardly does anything else - she wanted this for her career since she was 12 years old, from the time she was a little girl.”

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Pursuing Her Career

It looks like teenage Heard was so passionate about starting her career that she even moved out at the young age of 16! She said goodbye to high school football games and family dinners and instead headed off to chase her dreams of becoming an actress.

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@amberheard via Instagram

"She did modeling first and went to New York. She came home because I begged her," explained her father. "But I couldn't stop her when she was 18. I begged her not to go, but she knew what she was doing, and she was right. She's a very talented actress."

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Moving to New York City

While her parents were worried about their daughter back home in Austin, fresh-faced Heard was out in the city that never sleeps, having the time of her life. It was just the begging of her career, and she was getting a glimpse of all the glitz and glam.

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@amberheard via Instagram

"I thought I had died and gone to heaven. From that moment on, I was different," she revealed to the British newspaper The Independent about moving to New York. The only downfall was that Heard despised modeling - she had hoped to instead pursue a career in acting. 

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According to the Daily Mail, one of Heard's former classmates, Meghan Brindley, gave insight into what the actress was like growing up. Apparently, she wasn't always the confident, unapologetic star we know today. Brindley recalled, "Some people used to call her 'Amber seen-and-not-Heard.'"

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@amberheard via Instagram

"She was very quiet," added Brindley. "She always seemed almost like her mind was just off somewhere else, and she always said, 'I'm going to go and be an actress, and that is what I want to do.'" It looks like her dad wasn't lying when he said his daughter has always been determined to make it big!

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When Tragedy Strikes

But what was it that gave Heard the push to finally go and pursue her dreams? Some say it might have been the tragic events that she had faced the same year she left Austin. “My very best friend died in a car accident when I was 16 years old,” she revealed later on at age 21.

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@amberheard via Instagram

“That was the hardest blow emotionally that I have ever had to endure. Suddenly, you realize tomorrow might not come. Now I live by the motto, ‘Today is what I have.’” Even though she left school early, she did eventually get her diploma, according to a 2007 article from USA Today.

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Auditions, Auditions, Auditions

After a year in New York, Heard eventually made her way toward Los Angeles at 17 years old. She was ready to finally get her foot in the door of Hollywood - and nothing was going to stop her from auditioning for basically any role she could get her hands on.

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Jon Kopaloff / Contributor via Getty Images

The 36-year-old star admitted to Glamour, "I would audition for everything, from 'Hot Girl #3 at Party' to 'Daughter Leaving for College.' I would go around, a lot of times by city bus. I'd sit toward the back and change underneath my jacket." Talk about dedication...

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Her Breakout Role

Of course, since she was new on the scene of acting, Heard was mainly landing small roles both in T.V. shows and in moves. Some series that the teenager managed to land a part in were Friday Night LightsNorth CountryDrop Dead Sexy, and The O.C. between 2004 and 2005.

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Occupant/Kobal via Shutterstock

But it wasn't until 2006 that she finally got booked for her biggest role yet. And, of course, Heard was eager to get onto the big screen. She starred in the horror movie, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, that first debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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“It Was Like Falling in Love”

Heard revealed to Female First, "When I got the script, it was like falling in love. It was one of those moments when you read something, and you instantly know it's really special. It was so different," she added. "As a young actress just starting out in Los Angeles, you read so many scripts that want to pigeonhole you."

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Occupant/Kobal via Shutterstock

Heard explained, “They put you into a category as the pretty, young girl and nothing more. You’re always the girlfriend, there to support the rest of the characters. I read so much of that stuff when I moved here, and Mandy Lane was just the opposite.”

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Putting Herself Out There

Although she was eager for the film to come out, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane would only be released in the U.S. 7 years after it was made in 2013. But luckily for Heard, even before that, she received many opportunities thanks to her performance in the horror film.

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Columbia/Kobal via Shutterstock

She landed a role on the CW teen series Hidden Palms in 2007. But after 8 episodes, it was canceled. Then finally, in 2008, she got two huge parts: one in Pineapple Express and another in the teen action film, Never Back Down. She continued to become more well known, especially after her cameo in Zombieland back in 2009. 

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More "Horror" Awaits

Just like her first major role, Heard contained to land parts in numerous horror films. She was featured in the 2009 remake of The Stepfather, alongside Penn Badgley. And she then went on to give a killer (pun unintended) performance on iconic horror filmmaker John Carpenter’s 2010 comeback film, The Ward.

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Dimitrios Kambouris / Staff via Getty Images

In 2011, Heard was hired to star alongside Nicolas Cage in the action-horror movie Drive Angry. Unfortunately, even though she was landing roles left and right, most of the movies Heard was seen in were hardly criticized by movie reviewers. And they were also underperformed at the box office… But her big break was coming.

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Introduced to Johnny Depp

That same year, Heard was seen in the film The Rum Diary, aka the movie where she and Johnny Depp fell in love. While it was released in 2011, the actress first went into an audition in 2008 - when she actually first met her future husband. Depp wanted to meet the woman who played his significant other before casting her.

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John Phillips / Stringer via Getty Images

“We talked about books, and music, poetry,” Heard told MSN in 2022. “We liked a lot of the same stuff - obscure writers, pieces of poetry I hadn’t heard anyone else reference. I think I left the office with a few books that he gave me.” She said, “I wasn’t a fan of his work, I wasn’t familiar with him, but I knew who he was.”

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Undeniable Chemistry

Their chemistry in real life was transferred into their characters. Heard admitted that during a love scene that she and Depp had to film, she felt sparks that were more than just acting. She knew at that moment that this was going to turn into something more serious.

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Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Staff via Getty Images

She confessed, “It didn’t feel like a normal scene anymore, it felt more real. He grabbed my face and pulled me into him and really kissed me.” She added, “I felt chemistry, I felt this other thing that went beyond my job, for sure. Johnny clearly felt that way about me.”

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A Forbidden Fling

Although it was clear that both Heard and Depp felt something for each other, they couldn't act on their feelings. Both of them were in public relationships at the time. The Hollywood legend was with his long-time girlfriend Vanessa Paradis, while Amber was dating photographer Tasya van Ree.

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Ian Gavan / Staff via Getty Images

Yet after a while, Depp and Paradis had called it suits - and it didn't take long before he was with his former co-star. But they remained a secret until 2013, when the two were spotted holding hands at a Rolling Stones gig. Just a year later, Heard was seen wearing a huge engagement ring!

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Becoming Official

Things were moving quickly between the couple. They had officially tied the knot at their Los Angeles mansion on February 3, 2015, just 3 years since starting their relationship. From there, the couple and their closest pals went to Depp’s private Bahamian island to celebrate.

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PATRICK HAMILTON / Stringer via Getty Images

Their relationship wasn't the only thing that came fast: it wasn't even a year later that rumors that things were going south in their marriage started to spread. In November 2015, Heard revealed to Marie Claire magazine, "I try not to react to the horrible misrepresentation of our lives, but it is strange, and hard."

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Filing For Divorce

15 months after the two Hollywood stars got hitched, Heard filed for divorce - on May 23, 2016. It was soon going to be probably one of the most public and messiest divorces that had occurred in the industry, especially since Heard also requested a restraining order against Depp...

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@amberheard via Instagram

The actress claimed that her famous husband had been abusing her. Obviously, this went instantly viral in the media. But this allegation would also eventually lead the formerly-happy couple to spend endless hours in court fighting against one another.

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New Relationship

Throughout all the commotion caused by the divorce, Heard went on with her life. She even jumped into a new relationship with none other than Tesla CEO, Elon Musk. They had first been introduced in 2013, but only got together in 2016 after they both got divorced from their former spouses.

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@amberheard via Instagram

The two were together for roughly a year before they eventually split up. But that didn't last too, because a couple of months later, they sparked their romance again - before once again ending things for good in February 2018. During this time, Heard was always in the tabloids. Thankfully, though, it didn't affect her career.

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Fighting “Over-Played Stereotypes”

Heard was still being cast in many films - all while bashing Hollywood's portrayal of women. While promoting The Danish Girl, the actress told The Independent that there aren't many great roles for women. "I'm a woman. I get to giggle sometimes," she explained. She added most roles are "pedantic and over-played stereotypes."

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Jason Kempin / Staff via Getty Images

"Because there are few parts, there's fierce competition, and anything that's led by a woman is not financeable," Heard added. "So, those movies are typically under-financed and under-budgeted and under-made. Filmmakers are 90% male, so we don't have a more balanced perspective from our storytellers. We're way behind."

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Audiences Matter

Heard strongly believed more women should be involved behind-the-scenes of movies - but she also admitted that that wouldn't be enough to make a change. The blonde bombshell admitted that audiences also needed to use their voice for things to finally move in a more progressive direction.

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Kevork Djansezian / Staff via Getty Images

She explained, "It takes audiences saying, 'I will show up to see a movie led by a female cast or one focused on the female life or elements of female perspective.' It takes the studio system to be tired of this old, formulaic approach to making movies."

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'Aquaman' Uncertainty

It wasn't until 2017 that heard finally landed probably her most well-known role. She scored the main female lead in Justice League's Aquaman. It was a huge opportunity - but when she was first offered the part, Heard hesitated to accept the role of Mera.

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Warner Bros/DC/Kobal via Shutterstock

She confessed to Glamour magazine that she was questioning whether or not being in a superhero movie was right for her. But after reading the DC Comics source material and learning more about her character, Heard changed her mind and eventually took the part.

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Creating a Name for Herself

Like many great actors, Heard did research on her character. So, of course, this meant she had to read a few comic books to really get to know Mera. And luckily she did, because this was what led to her taking the role! Heard loved that the love interest of Aquaman hated being called Aquawomen - and instead liked being named Mera.

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Stephane Cardinale - Corbis / Contributor via Getty Images

After that moment, the actress knew she adored this character, and there was no question that she was right for the part. Heard explained how she felt after reading the comic, “Hey, wait a second. I have my own name. My name is Mera.” It made her think, “That’s my kind of girl. I like her.”

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Hardships On Set

Heard was in for a whirlwind, because, after all, she was playing a superhuman - and that was no easy task. Not only did she have to diet and prepare for the role, but she also had to deal with the tricky green screen. And it was used a lot in Aquaman since it was mostly set in the underwater CGI wonderland that is Atlantis.

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@amberheard via Instagram

"You have to maintain a vigorous imagination while being suspended 25 feet in the air, acting with very little around you that resembles the world that will be depicted when it comes out," shared Heard. Filming was hard, mainly because of Mera's skintight costume. She teased, "I'm not gagging to get back in that suit."

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"Fierce Warrior Superhero"

But the difficulties that Heard had to overcome on set while filming were well worth it. Especially because she was so eager about the movie and the meaning behind it. It was very obvious to fans and audiences that Heard was passionate about Aquaman and Mera.

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Warner Bros/DC/Kobal via Shutterstock

She told Screen Rant, “It’s a strong, bad*ss, kick*ss, fierce warrior superhero in her own right. You know? She is the driving force in the script - I mean, of the story.” She continued explaining, “She turns Arthur into Aquaman. And she figures everything out.”

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A Once In a Lifetime Role

After years in the industry, the bombshell had finally landed a role in a movie franchise she could always return to. Heard confessed, "That's the kind of character I can get behind, and that's also the kind of character that we need now. We need more female superheroes."

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@amberheard via Instagram

She added, "…we need more kick***, powerful women who do things that have complexity, that have agency." She starred in the first film, but sadly never got an opportunity to create a sequel because of certain circumstances in her personal life that affected her acting career...

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Protests For Removal

As news broke of the defamation trial against Heard by her ex-husband Depp, many fans started to release online campaigns pleading that the actress not be included in the upcoming sequel, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. Fans thought this was fair since a few years back, Depp was dropped from the Fantastic Beasts franchise.

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Samir Hussein / Contributor via Getty Images

And apparently, the voice of the people had been heard. Because during trial, Heard had confessed that many of her scenes in Aquaman 2 were removed. She said, "I was given a script and then given new versions of the script that had taken away scenes that had action in it."

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Her Career Took a Hit

She added that many parts of the movie had "depicted my character and another character - without giving any spoilers away - two characters fighting with one another." She said, "They just removed a bunch out." Heard explained to the court that her career had taken a hit following the trial.

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Consolidated News Pictures / Contributor via Getty Images

She not only had to beg to stay on Justice League and in Aquaman as her character, Mera. Also, her part as a brand ambassador role for L’Oreal took a hit. The actress even claimed that she was removed from being a part of the press tour for the Paramount+ series The Stand, thanks to her overwhelming involvement in the media.

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What Now?

While she may be working on getting cast in future films, Heard does have one upcoming film awaiting its release. She shared the news of the movie in court, "I shot a film in Guatemala. It's a small independent, meaning it doesn't have distribution or anything."

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@amberheard via Instagram

She explained, "it's a lower-budget film that I had been attached to for many years called Into the Fire." For now, no one knows where the future of Heard's career stands. But if there's anything we've learned by now, it's that Amber doesn't take 'no' for an answer.

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A Netflix Documentary

According to Netflix, a documentary on the mind-bending defamation case that had the nation hooked will hit screens on August 16th, leaving audiences on the edge of their seats. It'll tell the story of the trial that had the whole nation hooked, but this documentary doesn't stop at the courtroom drama alone…

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EVELYN HOCKSTEIN / Contributor via Getty Images

It delves into the swirling media frenzy that surrounded the trial. In fact, it became the first-ever "Trial by TikTok," where social media played a significant role. According to Netflix's official description, this series aims to unpack the very concept of truth in our modern society. Be sure to stay tuned as we find out more!

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