The Heath Is On

He touched teen hearts with 10 Things I Hate About You, then grabbed everyone else with The Patriot. Now Heath Ledger is starring in a rockin’ medieval adventure, Brian Helgeland’s A Knight’s Tale, and has already shot Elizabeth director Shekhar Kapur’s Four Feathers. Here Ledger explains how he keeps his sanity in the mounting storm of stardom [and] provides a plausible theory on why Aussies are stealing the best parts in Hollywood films…

While fame may be relatively new to Ledger, acting isn’t. He landed his first professional gig at age 10 in a local stage production of Peter Pan. In high school he was the president of the drama club, but Ledger was also the school’s field hockey star. Various jobs, including a starring role opposite Keri Russell on the TV series Roar, elevated him to teen-idol status. That gave him the courage to try his luck in America…

When I meet Ledger in the coffee shop of L.A.’s trendy hotel The Standard, his mere physical presence is something to behold. At six feet four inches, with broad shoulders and a wildass mop of fashionably tangled bedhead, Ledger commands the room.

[STEPHEN REBELLO]: What did you learn from Mel Gibson while working with him on The Patriot?
[HEATH LEDGER]: Q: A: He knows how to run a business and to run himself as a business. He’s also incredibly detached from it all and focused on his life and his family. Mel is like a gigantic king sitting up on his throne laughing and enjoying his banquet but at the same time running his city. It was really cool to have the first movie star I worked with be someone like Mel, as opposed to an asshole.

But during that year and a half, didn’t you almost get the role Jason Behr eventually won on Roswell?
I wasn’t as close as you think. Yes, it was one of the things that I went for. I had been in New York for four months and had no money. Absolutely nothing. There were a lot of hard decisions during that year and a half where I was like, “Oh, … should I take this part?” Then you talk yourself into it thinking it’s a good idea. I figured I could do the series and get out in five years.

I live every day by the second, not by the minute, hour or day. I don’t have a diary or a schedule. I never have. I don’t even carry cash. Can I borrow a dollar to pay the valet later?

Thanks, man.

You were offered the starring role in Spider-Man, but turned it down, allowing Tobey Maguire to snap it up. Any regrets?
I think it’s going to be a fantastic movie, but they’ve got the right guy now. Tobey is going to be great and he’s got a passion for it, whereas I never read the comics. I’d feel like I was stealing someone’s dream.

What’s your take on why Americans are taking to Aussies like Hugh Jackman and yourself?
My friends and I have a theory about the stagnant quality of acting that is coming out of Hollywood right now. It’s some strange circle of actors imitating actors, all living in the same city, all breathing down each other’s necks, going to the same places, the same parties. It’s a matter of Hollywood reaching out for new blood. And it’s fashion—Australians right now are in fashion.

What types of films would you love to do?
Musicals, like those amazing ones with Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. They’re what made me want to do movies in the first place. Musicals transport us to other places, where actors can really play it up. I guess in some peoples eyes, guys dancing around can look queeny, but I think it’s very, very cool.

Have you taken up painting again?
That’s slowed down. I’ve been doing a lot of photographic art. I took so many pictures in Prague. I have a bunch of paintings and photos I’ve done that I really like, all for different reasons. Some that make me happy, some that make me sad. I’m basically documenting my life in terms of what I see. I don’t narrow myself to doing “landscapes” or “faces.” If it’s a landscape or a person, I’ll paint it or photograph it because it interests me. Faces are the most interesting, though.

How satisfied with things are you right now?
Well, I’m doing movies I like. When I go to London next week I’ll meet with Peter Weir about a project. Now there’s someone who’s brilliant. It’s another costume and battle movie, but I can’t wait to sit down and talk to him. So, I’m very excited about things right now. I’m after happiness, longevity, slowing down time. I have no great expectations or future goals. I’m attached to the present. I don’t know what I’m doing right after I leave you. I’m that disorganized. Oh, can I borrow that dollar for the valet? Thanks, man.

This article has been edited for The complete story appeared in Apr.2001.

April 1, 2001 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links