Interview with Amber Marshall

The canadian drama series "Heartland" shows Amber Marshall in the lead role of Amy Fleming, who has got the talent of "horse whispering" and heals distressed horses on her family's ranch. In real life Amber, too, lives in the countryside with her animals, and here she talks about her day on the set of "Heartland", what working with horses is like and how she pictures her dream film project.

Foto: Copyright: Shawn Turner Photography
© Shawn Turner Photography

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1. In "Heartland" you play a girl, Amy Fleming, who works with abused and distraught horses. Do you find the work of a so-called horse whisperer interesting? Could you imagine this as a job for yourself?

I find the ability to learn, understand, and communicate language with an animal is a remarkable gift. Ever since I was young I have spent countless hours with many kinds of creatures. I find it fascinating to see how they interact and communicate with one another. We can all learn so much by simply observing. I am continually learning more and would love to spend more time with those who have the ability to communicate to animals through body language and understanding.

2. In Germany we have a saying: Horses and men both are precious, but I choose the horses because they are more loyal. Do you think there is a grain of truth in there?

I enjoy that saying and I feel that in many cases, it is all about a person's ability to see through the exterior of their partner. Whether that partner is a human, horse or something beyond, the logic remains the same. If your partner un-doughtily loves and respects you (as most horses regard their owner) then loyalty is a given.

3. Working with horses in front of the camera is probably not easy. How does it work? Are there trainers behind the camera giving the instructions?

The horses on set are working just as hard as any of us humans and in my opinion they don't get enough credit. The main animal character on the show is a black Quarter-Horse named Spartan. He knows his job just as all the other actors do. We always have to laugh on set when Spartan is sleeping in the barn as we set up a shot, and then as soon as we roll the cameras he is alert and on his mark. There are trainers on the set whenever the horses are around, but for the most part the horses are very well behaved. If we have to do a big stunt with a horse rearing up or falling – then the trainers prepare a certain horse to be able to do these stunts.

4. Amy rides Western style, Rodeos and she does show jumping English style. Do you do all the horse riding scenes yourself?

Over the four seasons of Heartland we have had some incredible scenes of horses rearing, and my character falling or crashing into jumps and many other dangerous situations. I have had stunt doubles that come in to do these specific action shots. It is not that I am not capable of doing most of the stunts, it is an insurance liability for me to risk anything. I do all of my own riding, but when falling, jumping, or a crazed horse is concerned they bring in a stunt double. Sometimes I am able to talk the greater powers into letting me do certain stunts that I feel are safe to do.

5. There are some regular horses like Spartan but a lot of horses appear only in one episode. Do you spend a lot of time with each horse before shooting so that they get to know you?

I love how in every episode there is a different "Guest Star" horse. It keeps it interesting and exciting and gives Amy a new problem each week. Depending on what the problem horse has trouble doing will depend on how much time I spend ahead of time with that horse. If there is a specific scene that I will be doing, like lying down the horse, then I will meet with the trainers and makes sure the horse if comfortable with me before we go to camera.

6. How can we picture a day at the set of "Heartland"?

Foto: Amber Marshall - Copyright: Shawn Turner Photography
Amber Marshall
© Shawn Turner Photography

My daily routine varies drastically from the off-season to months working on the show. Heartland films every year from May until mid December, and then we all have January until late April off. When we are filming my day begins around 5:30am when I get showered & dressed, brush my teeth and head out to the barn to do chores. I feed my horses, steers, cats, chickens and my two dogs then I jump into a vehicle that comes to pick me up every morning. Once at the location where we are filming, I get into the proper clothes for the first scene, have my hair and make-up done and then head to the set to rehearse and block out the scene. This is repeated several times in a day depending on how many scenes are scheduled. Once we finish, I return to my own clothes and get a lift home. I then head straight to the barn to feed and clean pens. After all the animals are put to bed I head to the house to study my lines for the next day, then fall into bed.

When I am not working my time is much more relaxed. I wake up around 8am, go do chores and spend more time bonding with my animals. I spend lots of time catching up with friends that I don’t get the chance to see during the spring, summer and fall. I also try and get home to see my family and friends back in Ontario, and maybe even plan a trip somewhere hot.

7. In season 3 there is a scary episode "The Haunting of Hanley Barn" with Julian Richings. What was shooting this particular episode like?

Julian Richings is incredible at playing a "scary character". It made acting with him so easy because I generally believed he was his character by his performance. The episode was a lot of fun to film. It was harder then most because we had to film during the night in order to get the "spooky look". For a week we would come to work at 5pm and work until the morning light.

8. Amy and Ty Borden are a lovely, cute couple. Working so closely playing a couple do you sometimes feel like really falling for each other?

From day one, Graham Wardle (Ty) and Kerry James (Caleb) and I became great friends. During the second season we all lived very close to one another in downtown Calgary. The three of us were inseparable. We’d work together all day, come home only to head out for dinner or a game of football toss in the park. I do miss those times, but now I have moved out into the country and have animals to care for, so it is not as easy to get together after a long workday.

9. Amy's come a long way from the little girl in season 1. What do you think about her development over the years?

Foto: Amber Marshall - Copyright: Shawn Turner Photography
Amber Marshall
© Shawn Turner Photography

Something wonderful about Heartland is that each character has room to grow and age. Development in a person in the real world happens daily as they learn new things, meet new people and form new values. On some TV shows characters are restricted to a lot of growth due to the nature of the show. Take a look a show like Degrassi or Saved by the Bell. These characters are trapped in a High School realm and are unable to grow beyond.

Amy has covered a lot of ground in the last four years. When you’re a teenager, time seems to go slower, and a whole lot can happen in four years. Amy has had to overcome the death of her mother, learn to live with her high-maintenance sister, reunite with her father, fall in love with her best friend, then loose him, then earn his trust all over, work and develop her passion for healing horses, and mend ties with her friends Soraya and Ashley. There has been an incredible journey that our audiences have followed us through.

10. After almost 4 seasons with the Flemings and friends do you feel like a real family? Can you share a little anecdote from the set?

It is funny how close you become to those you spend so much time with. I definitely feel like Michelle Morgan (Lou) is my sister and Shaun Johnston (Jack) is my grandfather. When all the Fleming/Bartlett characters have a dinner scene together this becomes most prominent. We all laugh and joke and carry on just as a family would at the dinner table. Sometimes that makes it hard for the director when we are all giddy and happy right before a serious scene. I believe you have to have fun in order to make a great final product.

11. When you were 14 you made a movie called "The Christmas Shoes". What was it like working with Rob Lowe?

Rob Lowe was wonderful to work with. He seems like a very down to earth individual and he was always kind to everyone on the set. I enjoyed filming this project, as it was my first acting job away from home. It was filmed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and the scenery was beautiful. Since I was only young at the time my mother accompanied me and we were lucky to see lots of the sights of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

12. If you could put together an entire crew for a movie or show: Who would be the director? Who would be in the leading role(s)? And what would the film/show be about?

My mind started racing when I read this question. That is the coolest idea and I have never really thought about my "Dream Team"! The movie would probably be an old Western, as I would love to perform in the action with horses, explosions and gunfights. I would want to be a tough cowgirl who knew her way through the sand dunes and bar fights. I would love to work along side any actor who was excited about the project, good at his/her craft and was happy to be horseback! As for a director, I am thinking Clint Eastwood would bring the best feel to the type of movie I am visualizing.

13. Since myFanbase is an online magazine about TV series, do you have a favorite show?

I hardly ever have time to watch TV. After working all day, as soon as I come home all my time is spent with my animals – feeding, cleaning and giving them all attention. When my TV is on I usually have it on nature/animal shows. Sometimes before bed I will watch "Criminal Minds" or "Dexter" to get my brain going. :-)

Check out Amber Marshall Official Website.

Nicole Oebel - myFanbase