Heath Ledger, 1979-2008
by Paul Fischer
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I first met Heath Ledger in the winter of 1998. It was nighttime, and a young ex-TV star was oh the set of his first film, Two Hands, the laconic Australian gangster films. He was 18, fresh faced, shy but embracing the future. We were in the Sydney suburb of Kings Cross and Heath had a cigarette dangling between his fingers. I remember him telling me how much he loved acting and how much he was looking forward to his first Hollywood role opposite Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You. Life was going well for the then 18 year old. Over the years we had done countless interviews throughout his evolution as an actor. You put two Aussies together and the conversation is different to the usual interview. Even with the success he attained, there was nothing pretentious about Ledger, nothing even gloomy or despondent as some are suggesting. Ferociously intelligent and very private, Ledger was always impassioned about his work, and I remember not long after Matilda was born, he was clearly the doting father.
We got along because I was never intrusive into his private life and we had a similar, cheeky sense of humour. That side of him was rarely exposed in the media, because Heath never courted publicity and hated the process. The last time we saw each other was at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival where he was promoting the Australian film Candy. Yes, ironic that he was starring as a drug-addicted artist, but his performance in that film exemplified his individual artistry. We were sitting in a quiet corner restaurant joking away as we usually did, and he spoke about his daughter and how fatherhood impacted on his choices. “Matilda is just awesome and being a father has also helped me become even more selective now with work because for me, to go away from home for a day, let alone five, is tough.”
We also talked about his latest role, that of The Joker in the new Batman and his initial reluctance to take it on. “He says that ordinarily doing something like that would not be of interest to him. “I actually hate comic book movies, like f***ing hate them, they just bore me shitless and they’re just dumb. But I thought what Chris Nolan did with Batman was actually really good, really well directed, and Christian Bale was really great in it.”
Those who barely knew him will write much about Heath Ledger and there will be endless speculation over his tragic passing, but at the end of the day, he was an audacious talent, a smart human being with a zest for life and a passion for his craft. He was a doting father, and in the 10 years I knew him, I marvelled at his personal and professional evolution. Rest in peace mate, you’ll be sorely missed.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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