Director Joseph McGinty Nichol — better known as McG — had Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner in mind when putting together the character of Vivi Delay in "3 Days to Kill." He wanted the mysterious and masterful CIA agent to have the same on-screen sizzle as those cinema sirens.
He cast 27-year-old Amber Heard, whose parents probably weren't born when Hayworth and Turner were burning up the screens. Despite her youth, Heard was well aware of the likes of Hayworth and Turner in the '40s and '50s.
"Rita Hayworth in 'Gilda' is one of the most important and powerful pieces of work that influenced me as an actor," Heard says. "That was a time when they could tell stories where the female characters could be tough and didn't have to apologize for their sexuality.
"That's unusual in films in this day and age. Today, women are either dressed in pants suits to show they are strong or have their boobs up to their chins to show they are sexual. What makes it so wrong is that we know in real life women don't behave that way. Women don't divide or compartmentalize aspects of their lives. Look at someone like Lauren Bacall, who was strong and feminine."
The appreciation of those performances is clear in Heard's performance as the government agent who lures Ethan, a dying assassin (Kevin Costner), out of retirement. Vivi smolders, but she also shows the coldness of a killer. She embraces the character with such passion that Vivi's biggest crime is all of the scene stealing she does.
Playing characters who are emotionally and sexually strong has become a trademark of Texas native Heard's career, from the short-lived TV series "Hidden Palms" and "The Playboy Club" to the films "Drive Angry" and "Machete Kills."
"I try to play as broad a group of characters as possible, but the one thing I am always attracted to are confident characters. I look for the strength of a character whether she's a teenage backwoods person or a bratty, spoiled rich kid hanging out at the swimming pool," Heard says.
McG was looking for someone who could motivate Ethan to do what he must while also maintaining an aura of mystery around her. The director says, "Amber is a girl from Texas. She's an accomplished marksman. I think that you need to have life experience to be able to draw upon that to be a great actor and she's lived a very, very interesting, uninhibited life."
Heard was confident McG would not water down her character. In films such as "Charlie's Angels," he's shown he embraces female characters who are strong while not giving up any of their femininity. As soon as she started playing the role, Heard felt comfortable in Vivi's skin.
"Vivi is a true professional. She's tough and she's smart. She was born for this job. That's unique because not everyone can detach themselves, but she's found a niche role for herself. With Vivi, every decision is meticulously planned. She didn't just wake up in those heels one day," Heard says. "Vivi exists in the world that she made for herself and she makes her own rules and you can't ask for a better platform as an actor."
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.