To say the least, Amber Marshall has the ultimate dream job. The vibrant young star of television’s Heartland is enjoying her twelfth season on the popular Canadian based series as the lead character, Amy Fleming. For a self-professed lover of animals and an avid horsewoman who enjoys her free time riding her beloved equines in the beautiful outdoor spaces of Canada’s vast rural landscapes, the age-old adage “art imitates life” is an understatement.
We caught up with Amber near her home in the expansive countryside outside Calgary to spend a day on a friend’s ranch accompanied by her husband Shawn, and a handful of her trusted animals, including her German Shepherd, Remi, a cat, three horses, and one Jersey cow named Ella, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the cowgirl who made a career of acting as a cowgirl, by being just that!
COWGIRL: You have a lot of animals. Why are these furry friends so important to you?
AMBER MARSHALL: Animals have always been a huge part of my life. From when I was three years old, I wrote a song about how I was going to be a farmer when I grew up. My parents were just so accommodating with all the little critters I wanted to bring home. We had dogs, cats, and rabbits. Then when I was five, I went to a fair that had pony rides, and that was it. I had to do this. We ended up leasing a pony named Tony. My parents would take me out to this farm every weekend and lead me around on Tony, and from there my passion just grew. I started taking hunter jumper lessons, and I got my first Quarter Horse when I was 12. Now I have dogs, cats, horses, cows, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and everything under the sun, and I just love every minute of it.
CG: Tell us about your cows.
AM: I love my Jersey cows. Each one of them is halter broke and friendly and comes running to me from the far side of the field. This is a passion of mine and to me these aren’t just cows. These are my pets, and they love the attention. They always come up for not just the green treat that I have for them, but I think a little bit of a cuddle as well. Ella is my favorite. She’s just such a sweetheart. I’ve had her since birth and she’s my girl.
CG: Tell us about your horses, both on and off-set. How big a role do they play in your life?
AM: Horses are a huge part of my life and they’ve become more so since I’ve been on Heartland. For me, they’re not just coworkers, they make my job so much more fun and enjoyable. Some of my favorite scenes are shot with horses, because they’re just so real and they’re always in the moment. At home, we have incredible horses. I have a beautiful black horse named Hawk. He looks like Spartan on the show. Everyone always asks, “Oh, does he play on the show?” But those are my babies, and that’s what I get to go home to. Although I don’t work with them on set, they do photo shoots with me all the time, and they know the drill.
CG: How did acting develop in your life?
AM: When I was a kid I never thought, when I grow up, I’m going to be an actor. But I always loved it. I put on plays for my parents from as young as I can remember, and I would make them sit there in chairs and make it up as I went along. I joined a local theater club and put on plays for the community and just couldn’t get enough of that. When I was 12, I got an agent and thought, You know, this is kind of fun. Maybe I could do this as a job.
CG: Landing the role of Amy Fleming on Heartland. How did you get the part?
AM: I never really thought it would be a long-term thing. Being an actor, we’re used to doing pilots that never go past that first episode. At the time the calls went out for Heartland, I was on a pilot and wasn’t able to make it in for any of the auditions. On the way home my agent called me. He said, “There is this role that is perfect for you, and they’re going to camera next week and they still haven’t found anyone.” He said, “I’ll send you the script, take a look and put something on tape.” After reading the script I put together a tape and sent it off. At the beginning of my audition I said, “Hi, I’m Amber Marshall and I have two horses. I love acting and I love writing.” My producer still says to this day, “We didn’t even need to see the rest.” He’s like, “Just in that moment we were like, yes!” I think the fact that I had horses and I loved acting just brought it all together.
CG: Describe a day in the life on the set of Heartland.
AM: The funny thing about Heartland is it’s so similar to my everyday life. So a lot of times I’ll wake up and I go out and I feed my horses, and then I go to work. Then I go out and pretend to feed my horses, and it’s just such a funny thing, because there’s not many occupations like it. For me, being on set is just so comfortable, because I’m right in my element. We film in a beautiful location—Millarville, Alberta, Canada,—my office has the best view I could ever imagine. We’re outside in some of the most beautiful places in the world and I think to myself every day, This is my job. I am paid to come here and ride horses in some of the most beautiful locations. How did I luck out on this? So, I’m still very blessed every day to be able to do what I do.
CG: The Amber Marshall Enterprise. Tell us about your magazine.
AM: For me it’s a way to connect with people and let them know who I really am as a person. Because a lot of people have been watching the show for over a decade and they know my character so well, and although I’m very similar to my character there are differences as well. For me, my magazine is a way to connect with the viewers and the fans of the show. It gives me the opportunity to show them a little bit inside my life—it’s a way for them to step into my world. And it’s fun! I love it. I’ll be doing something and I’m like, Oh, this will make a great article, or I’ll be taking pictures and I say, Oh yeah, I can put this in the magazine. It’s a labor of love. It is sometimes hard to find the time, but when it’s a rainy day, I just curl up on the couch with my laptop. It’s just something different for me to do.
CG: Tell us about the Amber Marshall clothing and jewelry line.
AM: You know, it’s funny for me because I’ve never been big into fashion. I’m not someone who likes to shop. I wear a lot of the same things that I wore in high school. I’m always of the mind that if it’s comfortable and it works, then why throw it out? So my style and items I create for my clothing and jewelry line are practical. They’re things that I can wear every day and not feel like, Oh, I shouldn’t wear this out in the barn because it might get wrecked. It fits into my everyday life, and that’s why I wanted to design products that people could just be comfortable in and still look good.
CG: You have a pretty substantial fan base. How do you stay connected?
AM: Social media has made that so much easier. I talk to people all over the world, and get instant feedback on things that we’re doing on set, and what they want to see in Heartland—what kind of pictures they want to see, my animals and projects I’m working on. For me, Instagram has been a great outlet because I love taking photos. I like to share my experiences with everyone else. I’ve never been into the whole selfie thing, so on my social media I make a point of showing things through my eyes as opposed to seeing myself doing those things. So you’ll find a lot of animal photos, that’s primarily what takes over my Instagram. I find it’s rewarding for me to be able to share with other people in hopes they’ll get some joy out of it too.
CG: What does Amber like to do?
AM: I think that Amber and my character, Amy, are very similar people. You know, I love horses, I love the ranch lifestyle, so for me, on my off time, I do a lot of things that my character does on screen. One of my favorites is coming out to my friend’s ranch to gather bulls in the hills, or go down to the river and just go for a nice ride, or even take the tubes down and just go for a nice river float. It’s a time to relax and enjoy and not worry about the hustle and bustle of everything that’s going on. I’m not much of a city person. I don’t like going into town unless I have to. So whenever I have time off, I like to just relax, go for a ride, go fly-fishing, do something where it’s just quiet.
CG: Tell us about your husband Shawn.
AM: It’s funny. Shawn and I were living across the country from one another, but we were both born in the same hospital in a small town in Ontario. I went back to my hometown for an event, and Shawn’s family was running the event. So he was put in charge of getting me from point A to point B. It was just one of those things. We instantly had a connection. I was like, You know, this kid’s really cool. But I put it right out of my mind because I was like, I’m not doing a long distance thing. There’s no way. Then I just said, You know what? Maybe it’s worth just inviting him out that night. So I said, “Hey, like I don’t know you’re probably busy with this event, but I have some tickets to a concert if you want to come with me.” My mother was coming with me as well, so this wasn’t a date. It was just like a, thank you for doing such a good job with the event, and taking care of me. We had such a good time, and he was spinning my mom around on the dance floor and coming back and taking me. It was an instant connection and I thought, You know, this isn’t something that comes around very often. Maybe it’s worth trying to make a long distance thing happen. And it was only a few months later when Shawn said, “You know, I can move to Alberta if you want.” And sure enough, within three months he was living in Alberta. The rest is history.
CG: What’s on the horizon for you professionally?
AM: I never, ever thought Heartland would go this long. I think this is every actor’s dream, but it’s very rarely a reality. I’m going to hang out here on this ranch as long as I can. I think it’s one of those jobs where you can’t become complacent, because every day is something new and you’re working with animals and beautiful places. I hope Heartland goes on for a long time, but when it doesn’t and when that day finally comes, I want to take some time just to enjoy my animals and my family and my ranch. I would like to dabble a bit in real estate, and do something that’s different. For me it’s always about keeping things fresh. I don’t know if I will pursue acting after this. I love it and if things come to me, I’m not going to turn them down, but I’ll always keep my eye open for different doors opening. CG