Ledger's legacy lingers in Tinseltown
The SpotLight On series will be a profile of an actor; actress or director whose work has impacted the world of cinema. The Essential Film section will consist of the one film that distinguished the artist and defined their career thus far.
For Heath Ledger, 2008 will be remembered as year of unbelievable tragedy as well as an incredible triumph. Six months after his untimely death in New York, Ledger's ultra dark portrayal of The Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight hit theaters like a bomb. It raised the bar for any actor who follows and will, more than likely, wind up earning him an Oscar nomination, if not the award. For Ledger, acting was not only an occupation; it was a way of life. He simply couldn't do a character; he had to become the character.
Born in Perth, Australia on April 4, 1979, Ledger was bitten by the acting bug at the tender age of 10 when he got the lead in his school's performance of Peter Pan. He tested out of school at age 16 and headed to Sydney in pursuit of his dream.
After landing roles in the TV series' Sweat, Roar and Home and Away, Ledger made the leap of the big screen in the Australian feature "Blackrock". From there he made the movie Two Hands, which grabbed the attention of those in Hollywood and lead to him getting his first U.S. feature, 10 things I hate about you, opposite Jessica Stiles.
Out of fear of being typecast, Ledger dodged teen flicks for almost a year, surviving on "Ramen noodles and water" just to get by. After a self-described horrible audition for The Patriot, he was surprised to learn he'd earn the part opposite another Australian actor, Mel Gibson. Based on his performance in The Patriot, Ledger earned the ShoWest Award for Male Star of Tomorrow.
He went on to perform in a series of critically acclaimed roles, including his turns in movie such as Monster's Ball, The Four Feathers and Ned Kelly. 2005 also turned out to be a stellar year for Ledger as he appeared in four films Casanova, The Brother's Grimm and Lords of Dogtown, but it was Brokeback Mountain that thrust him into the stratosphere. For his role as Ennis Del Marr, he was honored with his first Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations and won the both the New York and San Francisco Film Critics Circle for his portrayal.
He returned to Australia to shoot the film Candy in 2006 and appeared in the ensemble production of the Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There in 2007 with fellow Dark Knight actor Christian Bale.
Buzz about Ledger's interpretation of The Joker had been fast and furious on the Internet for months, but when he was found dead of an accidental prescription drug overdose on Jan. 22, they went into overdrive. Pictures were leaked and "autographs" by the late actor appeared in droves on Ebay. People saw an opportunity and they began to capitalize.
Even the journalist world was not immune. Writer Lisa Taddeo published a fictional account of Ledger's final day titled The Last Days of Heath Ledger in Esquire. Although a completely fictional account, it caused quite a stir.
At the time of his death, Ledger was filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus with Brother's Grimm collaborator Terry Gilliam. After learning of Ledger's death, Gilliam suspended production on the film and toyed with the idea of using computer graphics to complete the project. To honor a fallen contemporary, actors Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law signed on to play the different aspects of the character's personality, ensuring Ledger's last film would be completed.
In addition to his acting career, the other aspect of Ledger's life that he took great pride in was his role as a father. He and Brokeback Mountain costar Michelle Williams had a daughter, Matilda Rose, on October 28, 2005. Ledger wanted to pay tribute to his new daughter and enlisted friend and musician Ben Harper who wrote the song "Happy Ever After in Your Eyes" for Ledger. Listening to the lyrics now seems like a haunting forewarning of things to come.
With 19 films to his credit and a legion of devoted fans, Ledger's legacy in Hollywood seems assured. His collection of work travels the gamut of raucous comedy to down and dirty dramas. He showed the audience his light side and wasn't afraid to reveal the inner demons that made a character tick.
Essential Film: With films such as A Knight's Tale, The Patriot and Brokeback Mountain, the movie that defined Heath Ledger's career was his supporting role in Monster's Ball. Up to that point, he had shown he could do the lead in teen comedies and hold his own opposite Hollywood heavyweights, but it was in Ball where we saw the actor Ledger was going to be. He rolled up his sleeves, dug into a character and made the most of his limited time on screen. Halle Berry was awarded for her performance in Monster's Ball, but I couldn't tell you one thing about her role. I can remember every second Ledger was in frame. That is the sign of a true artist.