Ten things you will love about Heath Ledger

Paul Benedict

In a span of merely four years, Heath Ledger has watched his acting résumé blossom, beginning with his American debut in 1998 as heartthrob Pat Verona in the surprising hit, “10 Things I Hate About You.” Ledger easily could have chosen the “teenybopper” route like several other young male actors, but instead decided to choose roles that he actually felt passionate about. His initial breakthrough came when he played a major role alongside Mel Gibson in the epic Revolutionary War drama “The Patriot” (2000).

From then on, his talent as an actor demanded attention and Ledger began to field awe-inspiring offers from all across the globe. He garnered impressive approval from critics and the public alike in his first American starring role with “A Knight’s Tale” (2001), then put forth a strong supporting effort in last year’s independent critical darling, “Monster’s Ball” (2001). Now comes his most important role to date as Harry Feversham in the upcoming Oscar contender, “The Four Feathers.” If the film triumphs like many believe it will, expect Ledger to be the one to reep the most recognition as the film essentially lies on his portrayal of the heroic Harry. The Villanovan recently discussed with Ledger his new film and up-and-coming acting career:

Question: First I’d like to say that your performance in “Four Feathers” was your most impressive to date. What was the most difficult aspect of preparing for the role of Harry Feversham?

Answer: The most difficult? I don’t look at my roles like that. I found Harry to be an especially interesting character and when you take such an interest, it makes preparations easier and more enjoyable. We did spend about four weeks just discussing the film with the entire crew. But [director] Shekhar Kapur was very well prepared and this made the process much easier. I’d have to say the most difficult part of making the picture was the filming itself.

Q: What triggered your desire to take over the role of Harry after Jude Law left the project to work on “A.I.?”

A: I have long been an admirer of Shekhar and just couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work with him. Plus the role of Harry is intriguing. I was very curious about the character when I first learned of him. He almost appeared in black and white and this allowed me to add a lot of my own craft to the role.

Q: Can you describe what the filming process was like?

A: (Sighs) Oh, man. I’d get up a little before 3 a.m. and sit in the makeup chair until about 5 p.m. And then we’d work almost nonstop until 8 p.m. with only very brief breaks in between. Then I’d probably head to be at 10-ish and maybe get four or five hours of sleep before the process began again. This was an epic film, and to shoot it in merely three months is almost remarkable. But it’s one hell of a lot of work, let me tell you.

Q: How did you mesh with the cast? Particularly Djimon Hounsou; I thought the best scenes in the film featured the two of you. Did you two have as good chemistry off-screen as you did on?

A: Oh, Djimon and I got along so well. Brotherly. I mean, here’s this guy with a huge, gigantic presence. You would think he’s intimidating, but he’s really just a loveable, gentle giant. He’s such a great, nice guy. The rest of the cast, particularly the guys and I, had a blast on set. I’d say everyone got along pretty well. It was an extremely fun film to make.

Q: So what’s your goal for “The Four Feathers?” Are you trying to appeal to a new audience?

A: My goal? A full belly of popcorn. I don’t really try to please anyone or meet anyone’s expectations. I go out there and do my job the best I can, and if I’m proud of my work by the end of the day, then I’m satisfied. Either way I’ll still have my paycheck and my confidence, and no critic or box office can take that away from me.

Q: How do you feel about the legions of female fans you have and all those websites dedicated to you?

A: I don’t mind being recognized, but I also don’t really deal with the fame. As for the websites, I never go online. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, nor do I care to.

Q: I take pleasure in seeing megastars like yourself take small, risqué rolls like the one you did in last year’s “Monster’s Ball” with Billy Bob Thorton. Is this a trend we should continue to see, varying between large-scale productions and smaller ones?

A: I like to vary my roles a lot and I especially like choosing them and will continue to do so. Taking a role like Sonny in “Monster’s Ball” is a real nice change of pace. The film was shot in four weeks and I spent just two days on the set. It takes a lot of pressure away from the lead roles which require so much time and energy.

Q: So what’s up next for Heath Ledger?

A: Currently I’m taking some time off. But I have two films coming out: the first is “The Sin Eater” by Brian Helgeland [director of “First Knight”], and I just finished work on one of my dream roles as Ned Kelly in “The Kelly Gang” which comes out next year.

Q: Okay, last question: Is “Foster’s” really Australian for beer?

A: (Laughs) No! Seriously you don’t find Foster’s that much around here. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it on tap. “V.B.” (Victorian Bitter) is the true Australian beer.