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Remembering Heath Ledger: In His Own Words

[IMG:L]As we try to puzzle out the factors that led to the loss of one of the most gifted and promising actors of his generation, I can’t help but recall my own encounters with Heath Ledger, who was a compelling puzzle in and of himself. I remember being taken aback at how a young actor could be so fearless about exposing himself on screen, so effortlessly hard-wired to the emotions he was playing, so capable of projecting the kind high-beam magnetism that distinguished a film performer from that entirely different animal, a movie star.

The Heath Ledger I encountered off-screen seemed quite different, yet not completely dissimilar. He struck me as shockingly ill at ease when playing no one but himself in front of watchful eyes, and he reigned back on the easy charisma of fame he could have employed to win people over, as so many other stars do. But he never seemed less than honest and thoughtful, and was self-revealing to the limits to which he was comfortable.

And he appeared grateful for small courtesies: I remember a sense of appreciation after I allowed him to calm jangled nerves with a few pre-interview sips of wine, and I was paid back when in the height of his Brokeback Mountain trek toward the Oscars on an evening when the focus was solely on him. When he spotted my only passing familiar face among a slew of other journalists clamoring for him on one of what had to then seem to him an never-ending series of press lines, he chose me to approach with a little less anxiety than he seemed to have facing the others and conversed with some relief when the questions focused on his work and not his personal life.

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Ultimately, he delivered on both–to myself and others. Here, then, is Heath Ledger talking about his work, which was always personal and certainly a huge part of his life.

“It has taken a long time for me–I’ve had to really carve a course out and make mistakes and learn and evolve. Every movie has kind of led up to now, to today, and it’ll continue to grow. So I’m a little hesitant to give [Brokeback Mountain] the sole credit for my career. It’s definitely given me probably the most wonderful opportunity of today in terms of the character and how intricate he is, and kind of textured and tragic. So it was definitely the best opportunity to sort of bite into something and spit it out.”

“What I genuinely get out of [acting] is an enthusiasm and curiosity for life and how it operates and how different people operate, and I’m forced into asking questions about them and therefore asking questions about myself. So I get a lot out of it personally, and it’s a bit hard when people chase you around and the whole celebrity thing. But you either chose to buy into that and you become a celebrity or you chose to kind of play along with it, but then go home and think about what you’re going to do the next morning.

[IMG:R]”I don’t have to hide in front of a mask to go out and observe life. I’m amongst life. I’m participating in life. But I think that I feel like a lot of Hollywood celebrities’ performances get stale when you spend too much time working and too much time in Hollywood because they start to kind of imitate themselves and actors around them. So you’ve kind of got to not work and go out and breathe and feel normal.

“I got called back [for The Patriot] and I went in and I was reading for Roland Emmerich the director and then I just stopped halfway through the reading and I apologized. I said, ‘I’m wasting your time. I’m wasting my time. This is silly.’ I stood up and I shook their hands and walked out. Then I got the job. I couldn’t believe it … I did it every time after that, too, to see if it worked. It must work.

“I never have great expectations of my performance or the film. I try not to think about the outcome. I think that if you look that far ahead, it sort of taints your choices as an actor. I kind of try as hard as I can to believe that no one is ever going to see it and that it’s not even a movie, and then you can allow yourself to bare more.

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“It’s hard to really explain to you why or how you chose a role. You just read it and you either get it or you don’t. There are things inside of you that can understand or observe and you feel like you have something to give to that story or that character or you don’t. It’s very easy to sort of sit here and intellectualize it, but it’s really kind of left up to the Gods. It just feels right or it doesn’t. That’s probably the best way I can describe it.

“I try not to have any regrets in life. I always look at it and see holes and I see what I can do better.

[IMG:L]”Fortunately or unfortunately, I was never exposed to the environment of an acting school and a black pair of pajamas and I didn’t have a black room to experiment within, to privately dance within. My dance is on film. These directors trusted me and offered me their film sets and their friendships as the safe environment for me to study and make discoveries on. So I apologize for the bad discoveries made along the way, but I do stand by the theory that in order to evolve and further yourself as an actor you have to be fearless enough to allow yourself room for error. Sometimes you must scream out loud in order to discover how to whisper. I thank all of these beautiful minds and these wonderful crews around them in the past years for putting up with my screams and I thank everyone for their patience in waiting for me to find the whisper within the words. And here’s to making more mistakes.”

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