Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Farewell Heath

Heath Ledger was one of those character actors that you knew was going to keep taking on challenging, and interesting, roles for the rest of his career. Like Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando, it didn't mean every film he would do would be brilliant, but he would always be watchable.

In his far too short career, Ledger turned out some magnificent performances in some good to excellent movies - BlackRock, Two Hands, The Patriot, A Knight's Tale, Ned Kelly, The Brothers Grimm, Brokeback Mountain and I'm Not There. His completed work in the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight, will likely prove to be the most interesting and powerful work of his career, judging from the few minutes of footage I've seen of him playing The Joker as an utterly unhinged manic-depressive.

Ledger didn't have a great relationship with the media, and didn't do a whole lot of interviews. One of the best and most revealing was with, of course, Andrew Denton on Enough Rope.

When the interview was conducted, shortly before the Iraq War began, Ledger had been copping a disgusting amount of vitriol and and filth from the pro-war media, particularly the usual suspects in the Murdoch columnists' stable. Ledger led one of the biggest pro-peace marches in Melbourne. From the Denton interview :
Andrew Denton : ....You were in Melbourne the other day, leading the march. I saw you on TV last week, after a bit of thought referring to our Prime Minister (John Howard) as 'a dick'.

Heath Ledger: Yeah.

Andrew Denton: You stand by that?

Heath Ledger: Well…yes, I do stand by that, absolutely.

Andrew Denton: There are those…and they've written over the weekend to suggest that you've been duped, that you're grandstanding.

Heath Ledger: Well, you know what? It's like… Screw it, man, everyone has their right to their opinion and that's mine. And, look, I'm not alone, am I?

Audience: No.

Andrew Denton: And to those who'd say, "Get your hand off it, Ledger, what do you know?"

Heath Ledger: ....the unfortunate truth is none of us know enough and we will never know enough. But, screw it....This is the first time in the history of our country that we're an aggressor, and we're not an aggressive nation or people. I'm certainly not, and I'm very proud of my country and I'm the very proud of the people here. We shouldn't be a part of this. It's not a fight for humanity. It's a fight for oil....I think we should all pull out and live a peaceful existence down here.

Andrew Denton: Are there people around you saying, "Just pull back, Heath. Don't say this, don't blow it?"

Heath Ledger: Yeah, but at the end of the day, what am I going to blow? My career? At the end of the day, my career is so insignificant in this…this war. It just is, and I'm willing to lose a few jobs over it. God. Yeah. I'll start to cry soon....I don't know how much effect it will have on it, but hopefully we can stop this thing before it's too late. Unfortunately, you know, within the human kind of instinct, we don't… It's like, I could tell you, Andrew, "Don't touch the fire because if you touch it you'll burn yourself," and you'll go, "OK." But then when I'm looking that way, you'll go over and you'll touch it and burn yourself and then you'll learn. I just hope we don't take it that far. I hope we learn before something disastrous happens.

You can see the Denton interview, and read the transcript, here.

One of Ledger's best performances was as Australian bush ranger legend Ned Kelly. Fantastic role and Ledger absolutely carved. The closing moments of the movie, with Ledger's voiceover contemplating the death Kelly knows is coming for him, at only 25 years old, are some of the most powerful in Australian movie history. Definitely worth seeing if you haven't already seen it already.

Here's a clip of Ledger as Ned Kelly :

Below is the trailer for the new Batman movie, 'The Dark Night'. With Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) directing, it should prove to be a memorable last role for Ledger. No doubt, the mentally unstable, death-fixated character of The Joker will go down as some of Ledger's best work :

One of the last in-depth interview Ledger gave was to a journalist from the New York Times, in November last year. Some excerpts :

He is here in London filming the latest episode of the “Batman” franchise, “The Dark Knight.” (Mr. Bale, as it happens, plays Batman; Mr. Ledger plays the Joker.) It is a physically and mentally draining role — his Joker is a “psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy” he said cheerfully — and, as often happens when he throws himself into a part, he is not sleeping much.

“Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night,” he said. “I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.” One night he took an Ambien, which failed to work. He took a second one and fell into a stupor, only to wake up an hour later, his mind still racing.

Even as he spoke, Mr. Ledger was hard-pressed to keep still. He got up and poured more coffee. He stepped outside into the courtyard and smoked a cigarette. He shook his hair out from under its hood, put a rubber band around it, took out the rubber band, put on a hat, took off the hat, put the hood back up. He went outside and had another cigarette. Polite and charming, he nonetheless gave off the sense that the last thing he wanted to do was delve deep into himself for public consumption. “It can be a little distressing to have to overintellectualize yourself,” is how he put it, a little apologetically.

An open bag with clothes spilling out lay on the floor of the master bedroom. “I’m kind of addicted to moving,” Mr. Ledger said, perhaps on account of having had to shuttle back and forth after his parents’ divorce, when he was 11. He carries his interests around with him, and his kitchen table was awash in objects: a chess set, assorted books, various empty glasses, items of clothing. Here too was his Joker diary, which he began compiling four months before filming began. It is filled with images and thoughts helpful to the Joker back story, like a list of things the Joker would find funny. (AIDS is one of them.) Mr. Ledger seemed almost embarrassed that the book had been spotted, as if he had been caught trying to get extra credit in school.

Mr. Ledger now lives in Manhattan, and, when he’s home, likes to play chess with the chess sharks who hang out in Washington Square Park; sometimes he beats them. But mostly he likes to hang out with (two year old daughter) Matilda— “it’s kind of like your whole body has a lump in its throat,” he said, of having to be away — and goes back as often as he can to see her.

Mr. Ledger was born in Perth, Australia, a place so far away, he said, that “sometimes when you’re there, it feels like the earth really is flat, and you’re sitting right on the edge.”

He acted in some Australian soap operas before moving to Hollywood in pursuit of a girlfriend. (The relationship did not last.) He was cast in “10 Things” opposite Julia Stiles, starred in a brief-lived television series and began appearing in movies like “A Knight’s Tale,” playing a swashbuckling medieval lover-jouster.

“I was more concerned with having a good time than with focusing on work,” he said.

But suddenly he realized that he cared. “I started to look at the work and think, ‘Oh, God, maybe I should be taking this seriously, because people are going to see this,’” he said. “All I saw were mistakes — a lack of care, lack of attention to detail.”

Among his next projects are a film directed by Terry Gilliam, and another by Terrence Malick. Mr. Ledger is learning to play the piano and to sing. He also directs music videos, has a small independent record label called Masses Music in Los Angeles and is planning to direct a film at the end of next year.

“Some people find their shtick,” he said. “I’ve never figured out who ‘Heath Ledger’ is on film: ‘This is what you expect when you hire me, and it will be recognizable.’”

He continued: “People always feel compelled to sum you up, to presume that they have you and can describe you. That’s fine. But there are many stories inside of me and a lot I want to achieve outside of one flat note.”

Damn shame.

Ledger Family : "He Didn't Kill Himself"