It probably shouldn’t have been surprising that last month’s Television Critics Association press tour panel for NBC’s “The Playboy Club” became an ongoing debate as to whether the period drama was empowering or exploitative.
While all of the show’s stars and producers were closely on-message about the idea that employment at the Playboy Club in the early ’60s was a progressive choice, leading lady Amber Heard was particularly passionate on the subject. [Read more from that panel.]
At the NBC party that evening, I caught up with Heard (“Hidden Palms,” “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane”), who plays Maureen, the newest Bunny at Chicago’s Playboy Club, for a few follow-up questions regarding her take on the show’s message.
[Click through for the brief interview…]
HitFix: You guys came out prepared for a little controversy today. It’s almost like you knew to expect it…
Amber Heard: Oh yeah? I thought they were just gonna ask me about my cute shoes.
HitFix: Did you have a good answer about them that we didn’t get to hear?
AH: They’re fantastic! How about that?
HitFix: Well, I’m sure controversy was expected, but did you think maybe it would wait until people actually saw the show?
AH: I did. I expected criticism and controversy to follow… viewing. I mean, call me crazy, but I just expected that people would wait to see it before they banned it. But I could never be an advocate for censorship, so who knows?
HitFix: What do you think has made this such a lightning rod? Is the word “Playboy” just that loaded?
AH: I think it could be. I think it could be the stigma that’s attached to the Playboy brand, the name. It could just be the semantics. But it could be that it’s scary, that we as a society aren’t ready for… yet… still… aren’t ready for seeing women in a casual way being completely in charge of their own sexuality. I don’t know. Maybe it’s that. Maybe it’s that we, as a society, aren’t ready for that, but we’d rather see them victimized by that.
HitFix: Do you actually think that this is a show that, in addition to pushing the edge of the envelope, could start conversations?
AH: It did today, didn’t it?
HitFix: It did, but our room isn’t like every room. We’re all about those discussions.
AH: Sure, but I don’t know. Do normally the issues like the social and ethical implications of what a show stands for on a political level, do those conversations normally come up? I don’t know. I haven’t been a part of them.
HitFix: Certainly your panel today was the only one that went in that direction.
AH: So then it came up. You know? That’s I guess the point. And no art that made any sort of impact or is remembered appeared on the scene without controversy. I think art and controversy often go hand-in-hand, so I guess I expected it, to a certain extent.
HitFix: On the panel today, you talked about meeting some former Bunnies. Tell me a bit about that experience.
AH: I’m blown away at really what it was for them. Every single one I talked to tells me this story about moving out of mom and dad’s house and choosing not to get engaged and instead to do something else. I’m blown away by these women who chose, in a time when it was very, very rare for a woman to want to go earn her own living, make her own life, have her own home, I’m blown away that these women chose that in a time when this was virtually unheard of. I’m blown away at the guts it took, the bravado it took to choose an alternative, despite what your mother said, and ultimately, from hearing the panel today, apparently that’s what we’re doing, we’re doing something that isn’t safe, that’s not the expected norm set before us, it’s not the thing that Parents Television Council approves of. But ultimately, that’s not what I’m setting out to do, I’m setting out to do this cool show.
HitFix: Though obviously, it’s not entirely comparable, being a woman today, being a woman then.
AH: Oh, it’s vastly different. It’s a completely different terrain. There are far more opportunities and expectations and far more given to women now than back in the ’60s. There’s no question about. I think we still have work to do and I think that feminism has taken a new form and people are unprepared and perhaps not ready for what new feminists look like. But in my generation, I don’t have to choose a pair of combat boots instead of an apron, I can do it in heels. I can own my sexuality. I can own the way I look and be completely in charge of it and be completely empowered by it and that’s what I set out to do, onscreen and off.
HitFix: Have you always been this confident and assured?
AH: Well, I was a teenager at one point. I was very awkward.
HitFix: Well sure, but some teenagers are more awkward and some are less.
AH: I don’t know. I think my teen years were pretty awkward. I think it is for everybody, but some people just lie about it better.
HitFix: So was there a moment at which things clicked?
AH: I don’t know. Was there a moment for you?
HitFix: I’m still waiting.
AH: Me too. I’m still waiting.
HitFix: We’ve mostly dwelled on the political side of things, but I can’t imagine that was the primary thing that drew you to this project in the first place. Or was it?
AH: Absolutely! I’m so excited to be a part of a show that does have certain political and social implications and that pushes the envelope in certain ways and is as smart and as well-written as this. Certainly that was a huge factor for me, to tell a story on a platform of 1960s America, one of the most revolutionary, envelope-pushing, standard-challenging times ever. That was a huge draw for me, to tell a story in this time. It makes a huge difference to me. That’s what makes this show so special. The Clubs could not exist today the way that they did then. It was a different era altogether.
“The Playboy Club” premieres on NBC at 10 p.m. on Monday, September 19.