Actor of the Week: Heath Ledger
This week’s Actor of the Week winner is someone who is close to our hearts, and many peoples, for that matter - the wonderfully talented, and much-missed Heath Ledger. Whilst Heath struggled to shake the tag of heart-throb or hunk, it was clear very early on that he posessed a lot more than just physical attributes, and it is a crying shame that we never got to see more of this supreme talent, due to his death in 2008 from an accidental overdose. Despite his short career, he still hit the big time, starring in a number of high profile films, and making one extremely popular character very much his own…
Ledger’s first bit of real success came in 1999’s Two Hands. Two Hands is an Australian crime-comedy film, and sees Ledger star as Jimmy, a young man who ends up getting into debt with a local gangster, after a stash of gang cash goes missing. Two kids are lucky enough to find the stash and go on a shopping spree. It was not only Ledger’s big debut, but director Gregor Jordan’s too, and was a largely positive debut for them both. The film was generally very well received and set them both up with a hugely big boost early on.
The success of Two Hands helped him land a role in 10 Things I Hate About You, which saw him as part of a young, talented cast, also comprising of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Julia Stiles. A very popular romcom, 10 Things I Hate About You was a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, and tells the story of a girl, or sisters, who can’t date, until this rule is altered by their father, who says the eldest can now date, providing her sister has a date too. Enter Heath Ledger, who plays Patrick Verona, and ends up being paid to date the younger sister, Katarina, played by Stiles. Performing fairly well in both a financial and critical sense, it went a long way to getting Heath Ledger some serious attention, but also brought about some negativity in his eyes, as he felt he was beginning to be viewed as the young, good-looking one and wanted to be taken far more seriously. This saw Ledger accept almost any role offered to him, bringing both positive and negative feedback as a result.
2005 brought him his long-desired recognition, as he received his first Oscar nomination, for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, for his turn as Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain. Brokeback Mountain tells the story of two cowboys, Ledger’s Del Mar, and Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who meet when they get jobs as sheep herders. They go on to get to know each other better, and actually find a spark between them after a night of heavy drinking. The film goes on to tell the story of the rest of that summer, and the subsequent years in their lives. A huge success, Brokeback Mountain won three Oscars, and was widely lauded for the way in which it told the story, focussing on the characters themselves and the plot, and not any outside preconceptions on the matter. Both lead characters deliver fantastic performances, and it is an excellent example of the professionalism and talent of the very best actors out there. Brokeback Mountain also saw Ledger work alongside a previous AotW winner in Anne Hathaway.
It was the role that followed Brokeback Mountain that saw Heath Ledger cemented as an icon, and it came when he starred in the greatest comic book movie ever made, and one of the greatest films ever made - The Dark Knight. Ledger stars as The Joker, Batman’s arch-nemesis, and he delivers one of the best, if not the best, performances I have ever seen. Ledger’s casting was met with a large amount of uncertainty, but this type of reaction has never been more wrong. What Heath went on to do with a character as large as The Joker was absolutely incredible, and it pains me to think that he never got to see the praise he so rightly deserved, as his sudden and tragic death came merely months before The Dark Knight’s release. This praise came in its highest possible form, when he posthumously won the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, delivering the superhero genre its only major-category Oscar, and that is still the case ten years later. Jack Nicholson was previously the highest profile live action Joker, but Ledger took it to another level entirely, delivering a dark, twisted version that has done wonders for an already iconic character. He also worked alongside previously Actor of the Week winners Christian Bale, Gary Oldman and Cillian Murphy, but it was his rapport with the former that contributed greatly to The Dark Knight’s success. Ledger and Bale, as The Joker and Batman, bounced off each other fantastically, and really transferred the long-standing rivalry between the two to the big screen, where ‘an unstoppable force meets an immovable object’. The scene below is a favourite of mine, highlighting their great relationship on screen.
I must have seen this film upwards of fifty times, and its brilliance and artistry never cease to amaze me, and Heath Ledger is a huge part of that. His death was, first and foremost, a tragedy of life, but it was also a tragic loss of a supreme talent, and I will forever wonder how much more he would have achieved, though I’m certain it would have been a great deal.
It was only a matter of time before Heath Ledger was in our Actor of the Week spotlight, as we are huge fans of his. The wonderful thing about artists is that they live on through their work, so for Heath to have given us such a masterful role in The Joker is a true blessing, and one I’ll treasure forever. Thanks Heath, we miss you, man.