Heartland is certainly a unique fixture in primetime television. Now in its sixth season, the equestrian-saturated CBC drama chronicles the lives of Amy Fleming (played by Amber Marshall) and her sister, Lou (Michelle Morgan,) as they fulfill their late mother’s dream of caring for and healing abused and neglected horses. Set against the beautiful backdrop of the Canadian Rockies in rural Alberta, Heartland’s peaceful setting nicely balances its deep and thoughtful plot.
Heartland’s star, Amber Marshall, describes the show as “a breath of fresh air.”
“With so many cop and hospital dramas on air these days we all need something to wind us down,” she says. “We spend each day rushing around at work, or at home, so the last thing we need to do in our ‘relaxation time’ is watch something to get our hearts racing again. Heartland will make you want to slow things down and remember what is truly important. It will bring your family closer together.”
Among the friendships Marshall has formed on the set of Heartland is one with a non-human co-star on the show, the horse that plays the role of “Spartan.”
“After spending six years on set with the same horses, you really form a strong bond,” she says. “‘Stormy’ [who plays 'Spartan'] has been by my character’s side from day one. This means, of course, that him and I have personally spent many hours together. He is quite a character and really does know when the camera’s rolling. He will be fast asleep in his stall and as soon as he hears ‘Action!’ he will wake up, lean his big head over the stall door and become engaged in the scene.”
“It makes us all laugh,” she says.
Marshall has been riding horses and acting–separately, albeit–since childhood, so working on Heartland gives her the opportunity to combine her passions.
“I always say I have the most perfectly suited job to me… Someone who is allergic to horses and does not like the outdoors would probably hate my job. But to me, it’s a great fit,” she says. “Work never feels like work, and when I have time off, I miss Heartland. That has to be the sign of a great job, right?”
Because of Marshall’s level of comfort around horses, several of the stunts performed by her character are executed by the actress herself. Not all, however.
“If I could, I would do all of my stunts!”, she says. “I am close friends with the stunt coordinator and therefore get away with a little more than maybe I should, but I love the excitement.”
“I understand that I need to be very careful as if I were to be injured, many people would be out of work,” she says. “I am cautious with what I take on and only do the stunts I feel very comfortable doing. When you see my character fall off a horse in the show, it is typically not me. Not only is there a risk of injury, but many people watching the show don’t realize that stunt person had to fall off six or more times just to get the right shot. After the scene is done – the stunt person can have a long rest to recover for aches and pains.”
Off-set, Marshall has used her notoriety to launch an apparel line and more recently a lifestyle magazine. She has a very modest attitude when it comes to her brand, however.
“My opinion is: If you are open and hard working, the right opportunities will find you. I think many people get set on one specific goal or career path and they don’t notice the millions of potential wins that are flowing right by them,” she says. “What I am most interested in are animals, real estate, staying busy and being happy. Therefore, I can see all those things in my future.”
Anyone doubting Marshall’s animal credentials need only look in the actress’ backyard. Her “31(ish)” pets are listed on her website, and include four horses of her own, as well as dogs, cats, chickens, peacocks, doves, and even a turkey.
“Things get a little more crowded in the spring when the chickens start hatching out young ones,” she admits. “At the moment I have lots of free time, so caring for the critters is not a problem. During filming, when I work 60-70 hours a week, it is a little more challenging!”
Written with files from Theresa Bailie and Amanda Graff.