This isn’t really a celebrity gossip blog, but I wanted to talk a little bit about Heath Ledger. If you hadn’t heard the news, the 28-year old actor (he was four months older than me) died suddenly at his home in New York. No one’s quite sure how just yet.
Here’s the thing about Heath. (read more below the cut.)
Here’s the thing about Heath. At the end of the ’90s, you might remember, the WB was in ascendancy and everywhere you looked there were fresh faced teeny bopper actors in fresh faced teeny bopper movies. Most of those actors and actresses either faded from view or moved onto indie films or went crazy and married Tom Cruise. However, there was this one movie called 10 Things I Hate About You, which was an updated version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and which remains a favorite among the “Andy’s Female Friends 18-34” demographic.
I must admit, I find a lot of those late ’90s teen comedies to be entertaining, and 10 Things is definitely one of the better ones. In the Petrucio role, there’s this guy Heath Ledger, who no one had really seen or heard of before. He has a presence that someone like, say, James Van Der Beek does not, and we get why Julia Stiles falls in love with him in the end. He goes on to star in A Knight’s Tale, which was such a strange movie (Excalibur meets Cop Rock) that it could have ended his career, but it doesn’t. He keeps taking risks. He manages to be the best thing in two of the most disappointing films of the last 10 years (The Patriot and The Brothers Grimm). Then he stars in Brokeback Mountain.
That was a risky career move. A straight “heartthrob” actor playing a repressed gay cowboy in a film that spans several decades (and thus requires him to age on screen) could have been excruciating to watch, but it worked. Most reviewers singled out his performance, and he was nominated for (and probably should have won) Best Actor at the Oscars. He brought a quiet charisma to the role of Ennis Del Mar, a silence that masked the inner turmoil of a man who was never so good at expressing himself emotionally anyway. He’s especially impressive near the end of the film, where he’s so convincing as an old man that you forget he was about 25 when he made the thing.
Brokeback Mountain, incidentally, proved that a lot of those “teen heartthrob” types had bigger acting chops than we would ever give them credit for otherwise. Consider this: the four leads were played by Patrick Verona, Donnie Darko, The Princess Diaries Chick and Jen From The Creek. The supporting cast featured Cousin Eddie, Lindsay From Freaks And Geeks, and the Scary Movie Girl. Ang Lee really, really, really knows what he’s doing, and we should never doubt him.
And now Heath Ledger, who gave one of the best cinematic performances of this decade, is dead, and no one’s sure why. He leaves behind his wife Michelle (aka Jen From The Creek, aka Best Supporting Actress nominee for Brokeback) and their two year old daughter. This summer, he’s playing The Joker in The Dark Knight. I’m looking forward to this movie, but it’ll be hard to watch Heath. He’ll be there, up on the big screen, just like we remember him: taking a huge risk and making it pay off, for the very last time.