Heath Ledger Film and Career
Already something of an established actor in his native Australia, Heath Ledger first came to the attention of American audiences in 1999 with his winning turn in the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You. Playing the rebellious Patrick Verona in the update of The Taming of the Shrew, Ledger managed to arouse many an adolescent hormone with his thorny, charismatic performance.
Born in Perth, Western Australia on April 4, 1979, Ledger first became interested in acting while attending the all-boys Guilford Grammar School. He began his career performing onstage with the Guildford Theatre Company and was soon appearing in substantial roles on Australian television shows.
The 1996 series Sweat featured him as a gay cyclist, while the following year’s Roar cast him as a medieval Celtic prince–and also won him the beginnings of a fan base. After moving across the Pacific to Los Angeles, Ledger landed his lead role in 10 Things I Hate About You opposite Julia Stiles in 1999. The movie proved to be a summer hit, and it succeeded in introducing Ledger to a legion of new fans.
That same year, he starred in Two Hands, an Australian action comedy that cast him as a Sydney teenager who finds himself in debt to an underworld kingpin, played by Bryan Brown. The film premiered at that year’s Sundance Film Festival. Following a prominant role in Roland Emmerich’s The Patriot (2000), Ledger brought Excalibur sensabilities into the new millenium with A Knight’s Tale (2001).
With its tradition shattering blend of modern slang and music balanced with the classic tale of jousting mayhem, A Knight’s Tale served as an exciting star vehicle for the popular young actor. The young actor also garnered a fair amount of praise for his supporting role as a deeply depressed prison employee in the Oscar-winning film Monsters Ball (2001).
Though the film did not fare well critically or otherwise, Ledger nonetheless proved himself a versatile actor in The Four Feathers (2002), in which he starred as a cowardly officer-in-training who resigns from the British Army shortly before being shipped off to Sudan. In the same vein, though The Order (2003) was shunned by critics, Ledger was praised for his intense performance as a tortured, knowledge-seeking priest.
Australia’s Ned Kelly (2003) features a then 24-year-old Heath in the title role of sixteen-year-old outlaw Ned Kelly, and places him among a skilled cast including Six Feet Under star and fellow Australian Rachel Griffiths, the Oscar-winning Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, and Naomi Watts.
After Brokeback Mountain, Ledger costarred with fellow Australian Abbie Cornish in the 2006 Australian film Candy, an adaptation of the 1998 novel Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction, as young heroin addicts in love attempting to break free of their addiction, whose mentor is played by Geoffrey Rush; for his performance as sometime poet Dan, Ledger was nominated for three “Best Actor” awards, including one of the Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards, which both Cornish and Rush won in their categories. Shortly after the release of Candy, Ledger was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
As one of six actors embodying different aspects of the life of Bob Dylan in the 2007 film I’m Not There, directed by Todd Haynes, Ledger “won praise for his portrayal of ‘Robbie Clark,’ a moody, counter-culture actor who represents the romanticist side of Dylan, but says accolades are never his motivation.” Posthumously, on 23 February 2008, he shared the 2007 Independent Spirit Robert Altman Award with the rest of the film’s ensemble cast, its director, and its casting director.
In his next to last film performance, Ledger played the Joker in The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan, first released, in Australia, on 16 July 2008, nearly six months after his death. While still working on the film, in London, Ledger told Sarah Lyall, in their interview published in the New York Times on 4 November 2007, that he viewed The Dark Knight’s Joker as a “psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy.” To prepare for the role, Ledger told Empire, “I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices — it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath — someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts”; after reiterating his view of the character as “just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown”, he added that Nolan had given him “free rein” to create the role, which he found “fun, because there are no real boundaries to what the Joker would say or do. Nothing intimidates him, and everything is a big joke.”
For his work in The Dark Knight, Ledger won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, his family accepting it on his behalf, as well as numerous other posthumous awards including the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor, which Christopher Nolan accepted for him.
At the time of his death, on 22 January 2008, Ledger had completed about half of the work for his final film performance as Tony in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.Related Information: