Amber Heard in 2016

Amber Heard has become one of the most scrutinized celebrities in Hollywood thanks to the ongoing defamation trial started by her ex-husband Johnny Depp, who allegedly abused her throughout their relationship. But long before her marriage was making headlines, the actor was just a shy girl from Austin, Texas, whose dad ran a contracting business.

"She was very quiet," one former classmate told the Daily Mail, recalling Heard’s school days. "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.’" At the same time that Depp was making movies like "Donnie Brasco" and "Chocolat," Heard earned herself the nickname "Amber seen and not Heard" because she was so quiet.

Keep reading to see how Heard went from an introverted schoolgirl to a Hollywood star whose private life has become the subject of a media frenzy.

She was a Texas pageant queen

Amber Heard and her sister as young kids

In her youth, Amber Heard spent her time taking part in local beauty pageants. As she told Glamour, Heard’s family made her responsible for raising the funds that she needed, so she’d often ask businesses in her area to sponsor her ahead of the competitions. But the former beauty queen has mixed feelings nowadays, as she admitted: "Pageants are weird, and I can’t support the objectification." As an actor, she relived her competition days by playing Miss San Antonio in the action film "Machete Kills."

The pageant queen also had a few tomboy hobbies, which her dad encouraged. "I was his hunting and fishing buddy," Heard told Glamour, sharing her love of the great outdoors and riding horses with her dad. "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."

One bad fall off a horse wasn’t enough to put her off riding, however. "It didn’t just take the look on my dad’s face to put me back in the saddle. But that helped."

She dropped out of high school

Amber Heard and her sister making faces

As her dad later told the Daily Mail, Amber Heard always had her heart set on becoming an actor. "She wanted this for her career since she was 12-years-old, from the time she was a little girl," he recalled, adding that Heard dropped out of her private Catholic school at age 16 to pursue fame in New York. Although her family eventually convinced her to return to Texas, she left again once she was 18. "I begged her not to go but she knew what she was doing, and she was right," her dad admitted.

Heard got her start by sending her pictures to New York agencies and doing modeling gigs, as she told The Independent. The young teenager had absolutely no interest in being a model, but loved how different New York was from her home in conservative Texas. "I thought I had died and gone to heaven," she gushed. "From that moment on I was different." According to USA Today, she later earned her diploma by going through a home-study program.

Her move may have also been motivated by a tragic loss: Her best friend was killed in a car accident when Heard was only 16, as she told USA Today. "That was the hardest blow emotionally that I have ever had to endure," she added. "Suddenly, you realize tomorrow might not come. Now I live by the motto, ‘Today is what I have.’"

She started acting in TV and music videos

Amber Heard in 2009

During her early years in show business, Amber Heard appeared in brief roles for TV shows like "The O.C." and "Jack and Bobby," as well as the odd music video. "I would audition for everything, from Hot Girl Number 3 at Party to Daughter Leaving for College," she told Glamour. "I would go around, a lot of times by city bus. I’d sit toward the back and change underneath my jacket."

Heard didn’t have her first starring movie role until the slasher, "All The Boys Love Mandy Lane." She has spoken out about the difficulties she faced during her early career, blaming the scarcity of complex female characters on Hollywood sexism. "In case you haven’t noticed, go see a movie right now and tell me what the majority of compelling speaking roles are," the actor insisted in an interview with The Independent, deriding the "pedantic and over-played stereotypes" that she’s offered.

"Film-makers are 90 per cent male, so we don’t have a more balanced perspective from our storytellers," Heard continued. "We’re way behind in this possibly progressive medium."

She dated Tasya Van Ree for five years

Amber Heard and Tasya Ree posing together

When Amber Heard started dating photographer Tasya Van Ree, she was warned that being openly bisexual would sabotage her career. "It did impact my career, it was difficult," Heard later reflected at a 2017 LGBTQ+ event, per People, discussing how her relationship had affected her image. "I started to understand why so many people — studio execs, directors, advisers, agents, producers — why everyone was so adamant about this not being the label that comes before my name."

The pair were together for five years, but their relationship wasn’t completely smooth sailing. In 2009, one fight in an airport led to Heard being taken into custody over an alleged incident of domestic violence. Van Ree later spoke out in Heard’s defense, as E! News reported, clarifying that the charges were dismissed and blaming the situation on the "misogynistic attitudes toward us which later appeared to be homophobic when they found out we were domestic partners."

Van Ree went on to praise Heard, declaring: "Amber is a brilliant, honest and beautiful woman and I have the utmost respect for her. We shared 5 wonderful years together and remain close to this day."

She met Johnny Depp on set

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp on the red carpet

In 2011, Amber Heard met Johnny Depp for the first time when she was cast as his romantic interest in "The Rum Diary." The pair had a connection from the start, despite their vast age difference (Heard turned 23 during filming, whereas Depp was 48). "We liked a lot of the same stuff, obscure writers … pieces of poetry I hadn’t heard anyone else reference," she later recalled during the 2022 court case, per The Independent. "I thought it was remarkable."

Heard also revealed that Depp had told her she was "the dream" and had flirted with her on set by jokingly pushing her down onto a sofa bed and using tongue in their kissing scenes. "I felt chemistry, I felt this other thing that went beyond my job, for sure. Johnny clearly felt that way about me," the actor added. "But at the same time we were both in relationships and it is a job."

They started dating soon after the film came out in 2012 and were married three years later. As People reported at the time, the couple had a civil ceremony in their Los Angeles home before participating in a larger wedding on Depp’s private Bahamian island.

She illegally brought her dogs to Australia

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp apologizing on video

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp were accused of breaking biosecurity laws in Australia when they flew into Queensland with their dogs in 2015. As Australia’s ABC News reported, Heard pleaded guilty and admitted that she had incorrectly filled out the travel documents for Depp’s dogs, although she insisted she had just been sleep-deprived and confused about whether Depp’s staff had handled it.

Australian politicians at the time objected to the movie star’s excuse and threatened the terriers, Pistol and Boo, with euthanasia if they weren’t quickly removed from the country.

In the end, the dogs weren’t put down. Instead, the couple had to make a scripted apology video talking about the importance of protecting Australia’s unique wildlife. "Australians are just as unique, both warm and direct," Depp told the camera. "If you disrespect Australian law, they will tell you firmly." Heard added that she was "truly sorry that Pistol and Boo were not declared" and reinforced the idea that conservation laws were necessary.

She joined the DC Extended Universe

Amber Heard at the 'Aquaman' premiere

One of the biggest roles of Amber Heard’s career came in 2017 when she joined the DC Extended Universe as Mera, the queen of Atlantis. Heard was reluctant at first, as she told Entertainment Weekly: "I felt really, why did they ask me to do that?" she recalled. "It seemed really archetypal and kind of limited. I didn’t really like the idea of the idea."

The actor was won over, however, after reading some Aquaman comics that featured her character standing up for herself. Zach Snyder also promised that his version of Mera would be "a warrior queen, with a crown and a sword," Heard stated, per The Hollywood Reporter. "A strong, independent, self-possessed superhero in her own right. I was like, ‘That’s the kind of character I can get behind.’"

After her debut in "Justice League" opposite Jason Momoa, "Aquaman" was a massive hit at the box office, swiftly becoming the DC Universe’s biggest success and ending up the fifth most popular film of 2018. Since the defamation trial began, Johnny Depp fans have been trying to get Heard cut from the upcoming "Aquaman" sequel, and one online petition has reached millions of signatures.

She dated Elon Musk

Amber Heard and Elon Musk

Shortly after splitting from Johnny Depp, Amber Heard started seeing tech billionaire Elon Musk.

Musk had first tried to meet her on the set of "Machete Kills" in 2013, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and the pair became friends. Rumors started swirling around the pair in 2016 after Heard left Depp and was spotted in public with the Tesla CEO, although their romance wasn’t confirmed until Heard’s marriage was officially over. However, Musk and Heard weren’t together for long. "Well, she broke up with me more than I broke up with her, I think," Musk later reflected in a Rolling Stone interview, revealing that he had been heartbroken after the break up.

"Elon and I had a beautiful relationship, and we have a beautiful friendship now, one that was based on our core values," Heard told The Hollywood Reporter, explaining that they bonded over "intellectual curiosity, ideas, and conversation, a shared love for science." Despite reuniting for a couple of months, per People, the pair ultimately went their separate ways.

She became an activist

Amber Heard posing

After her divorce in 2016, Amber Heard embraced activism and became vocal about issues like domestic violence. The actor gave a speech on Capitol Hill, as The Washington Post reported, talking about how her private photos had been leaked without her consent in 2014 and how the law should deal with revenge porn. She also visited Syria with the United Nation’s Stand Up 4 Human Rights campaign and raised awareness for voters’ rights.

Heard has spoken about how her childhood visits to the border between Mexico and the United States inspired her interest in activism. "Simply due to where I was born, a few miles north of this line, I was free to travel back and forth as I saw fit," she reflected in a speech at the United Nations, per Reuters. While her father could drive through easily to see their friends in Mexico, the actor recalled, she would witness others struggle "for a mere shot and an opportunity to have that which I was just awarded due to this accidental luck of my birth on the other side." As a high school student, she also donated to the ACLU when they fought for a same-sex couple to attend their prom, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"Hollywood is the slowest to change. It’s ironically held up as some bastion of progressive ideals, and yet the reality is the exact opposite," she commented. "It’s deeply risk-averse and reliant on maintaining the status quo."

She had a child via surrogate

Amber Heard and Oonagh Paige

Amber Heard became a mother on April 8, 2021, when Oonagh Paige Heard was born via surrogate. "Four years ago, I decided I wanted to have a child," she revealed on Instagram, introducing her child to the public. "I wanted to do it on my own terms. I now appreciate how radical it is for us as women to think about one of the most fundamental parts of our destinies in this way."

Amber also admitted that, while she wanted to keep her new baby private, she knew that this development wouldn’t stay secret for long, thanks to her fame. "She’s the beginning of the rest of my life," the actor added. And in 2022, Amber celebrated Oonagh’s first birthday, telling her Instagram followers that it had been "the greatest year."

She gave her daughter the name Paige as a tribute to her mother, who died in May 2020. "I am heartbroken and devastated beyond belief at the loss of my mom," Amber wrote in part on Instagram at the time, mourning the loss of "the most beautiful woman" she had ever known. "She left us too early, clasping onto the memory of her beautiful, gentle soul."

Johnny Depp is suing her for defamation

Amber Heard in the courthouse

Amber Heard has become a topic of international discussion over her marriage to Johnny Depp, which ended in Heard being granted a restraining order against her ex-husband following allegations that he was physically abusive toward her. In their divorce, Depp ended up paying Heard a settlement of $7 million, which she pledged to charity.

In 2020, Depp lost his libel case against British tabloid The Sun, as the BBC reported, after they called him a "wife beater." A judge found that their reporting was "substantially true" and ruled that 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence against Heard had been proven in court. "Taking all the evidence together, I accept that she was the victim of sustained and multiple assaults by Mr. Depp in Australia," the judge stated, adding that the violent incidents "must have been terrifying" for her.

Depp is now suing Heard for $50 million over an article about domestic abuse that she wrote for The Washington Post, although the op-ed never mentioned him or their marriage by name. The highly publicized Virginia trial will be followed by Heard’s countersuit, as the pair have both accused each other of conducting smear campaigns and sabotaging professional opportunities.

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.