There he was, Heath Ledger, posing beside Mel Gibson for some photos, asked to look
relaxed, as if they were father and son. "It was odd meeting your hero and trying to
play cool," says Ledger as he prepares to fly back to Los Angeles to work with Gibson
on Gabriel, the movie in which he plays Gibson’s son, the title role.
"I wouldn’t have got a look in without having a
film out like 10 Things I Hate About You."
Ledger’s star continues to rise after his yet-to-be-seen role in Two Hands (opens
July 29), in which he co-stars with Bryan Brown (who plays a mustachioed crim) and his
first Hollywood role in 10 Things I Hate About You, which has already propelled him into
He’s in pretty good company all round: the director is Roland Emmerich, who
directed blockbusters like Godzilla, Independence day and Universal Soldier; the writer is
Robert Rodat, who wrote hits like Saving Private Ryan and Fly away Home.
"I wouldn’t have got a look in," he says, "without having a film
out, like 10 Things I Hate About You."
His Los Angeles agent arranged the audition, which was followed by a big screen test at
Columbia’s studios. Gibson himself couldn’t read with Ledger because his wife
(Gibson’s) was having a baby that weekend. "We had to read three scenes, and
they set up a studio with sets, wardrobe, make up, the lot. There were two of us left in
the running, and the tests were taken and shown to studio executives and their families,
Mel, everybody – except us. Anyway, Mel apparently liked both of us and said
he’s leave the decision to Roland the director …. who went away and a couple of
weeks later – while I sweated – he came back ….. obviously with the right
"Ledger is spending July training for his American
Production on Gabriel begins in August 1999. The 20-year-old Ledger plays Gabriel, son
of Gibson’s character, a farmer who reluctantly takes up arms against the British
when the fighting reaches his town. The two have a major difference of opinion but end up
battling side by side in the quest for U.S. independence. Ledger is spending July training
for his American accent, and then goes to the Carolinas (North and South) for the four
month shoot, working six days a week, playing a young American in a period drama.
This is a big jump from his totally contemporary character of Patrick Verona in 10
Things I Hate About You, a cool dude with long dark hair, a self contained and laconic
nature, almost a misfit but self confident about it – and deep down, a romantic yet
strong young man. "Basically he is an adaptation of the classic character, Petruchio
(from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew). I’m using bits and pieces of Richard
Burton’s portrayal of that character in perhaps the best known The Taming of The
Shrew film, but my Patrick has also got a Jack Nicholson edge to him with his cheekiness
and his smiles."
Patrick is the young man who ‘tames’ the shrew, Kat, played by Julia Stiles.
Ironically enough, Ledger has already been called the new Mel Gibson by some critics
(including yours truly). In his first film, Two Hands, he plays a young Sydney crim,
Jimmy, who is spruiking at a strip club in Sydney’s Kings Cross. Jimmy hopes to move
up in the underworld when the top dog in the area Pando (Bryan Brown) offers him a courier
job, delivering $10,000. Jimmy’s attention to the task is distracted by the lovely
Alex (Rose Byrne) and the money is stolen, leaving him in dire straits with Pando. Jimmy
seeks help from his dead brother’s wife, Diedre (Susie Porter) to get him into a bank
robbing job with her contacts so he can repay the money and get Pando’s thugs off his
back. (His dead brother’s spirit also plays a small part in helping Jimmy. )The heist
goes horribly wrong, but is not entirely unsuccessful. When Jimmy finally sorts things
out, he realises that Alex is more attractive than a life of crime.
"I’m just following where life’s
Ledger and Byrne are magic together; Ledger displays a screen presence coupled with
strong characterisation which augurs well for his film future. He is at once tough and
vulnerable, much like Humphrey Bogart was, and his ruggedly handsome features give him
extra ‘bite’ at characters. It’s interesting to speculate whether this film
and this role alone would have attracted the media interest that his Disney-made film has
generated – which is a considerable. He is now a media-registered face.
Ledger is feeling "pretty good" about it all, though and he says he is
getting used to the media attention, even though "it feels a bit odd. But I’m
trying to keep it together."
Ambition doesn’t come into it, he says, or at least "not
consciously…maybe it’;s subconscious. I’m just following where life’s
Perth-born, trained in theatre, theatresports and Shakespeare courses, Ledger began
playing small roles on tv. "My sister used to do a lot of school theatricals and I
went along to watch. I always felt I wanted to get up there…" he says.
"Some teenagers shave their heads to scream through their adolescence… I did it
But the key to his entire movie star future was a short series madde for US television,
shot in Australia, called Roar. "Roar was the key," he says.
"It gave me
time in front of the camera and to sort out my shit. It was pumped in the US and led to me
getting an American agent…but at the time it was just a gig and a chance to learn on
set. I didn’t think it would be such a huge boost for me."
"I’m really hoping to do another good Australian
As he prepares for his second major Hollywood film role, Heath Ledger is also eyeing
his future options; "there are a few things in the wind, but I’m really hoping
to do another good Australian film." There will be no shortage of offers, Heath.