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LEDGER, HEATH: THE PATRIOT

GOING BACK IN TIME AND FORWARD IN CAREER
Heath Ledger made a pit stop at a Sydney press conference (March 29, 2000) between two Hollywood films that will help establish his international (read Hollywood) movie career; the first in The Patriot, as a 18th century son to Mel Gibson's Benjamin Martin, the next as a 15th century jouster and would-be knight, in a Knight's Tale. ANDREW L. URBAN reports.

It was during production on The Patriot over the past few months that Heath Ledger's Hollywood career was sealed. Looking at rushes from the film, the studio execs at Sony Pictures (Columbia TriStar) were so impressed with the young Australian they offered him the lead role in the upcoming historic epic, The Knight's Tale, with a production start in early April 2000, even as post production on The Patriot continues.

"Every decision is trying to live up to the last"

During the press conference, I asked Heath how his choices were being made? Had he acquired "a team of advisors, massaging and controlling your career?"

"Yes, I guess so…. I have my agents and advisors massaging me all the time," he quipped. "But at the end of the day it comes down to your decision. You can have all the scripts in the world thrown at you, and all the opportunities in the world thrown at you, but in the end, it's you that walks into the room and makes the decision. And yeah, it is a little tough from here on in, I guess, because every decision is trying to live up to the last . . .and be aware of the next…"

"That's how I sort through all the crap"

But Ledger is careful "not to get too caught up with … oh my god, how should I create an image for myself…what do I need to do to back up this movie….I just think it always comes down to the material. That's how I sort through all the crap, the gloss, the glamour and the money. Just look at the script and the project."

The press conference was the only media opportunity for Ledger to talk about The Patriot, and he spoke about learning a lot from Mel Gibson, getting stitches in his little finger while firing a musket, and "just doing the job". He explained how he and the dialect coach agreed to toss all lofty notions away and create a neutral American accent for the period ("there is no recording from the era to check how people sounded," he joked).

"I found a new respect for the country"

He also learnt a bit about American history while making The Patriot, set in the 1760s when the young American colonies of England buck the English rule and their "taxation without representation. "And I did get a little emotional about their history as I learned what they went through. And I guess I found a new respect for the country, because they won an impossible, brutal battle. Over the seven years or so that it went on, they lost about 70% of their skirmishes, but they were persistent and they had a passion. So I guess that explains why they are so proud and raise the American flag and sing their songs so loud and proud."

He quipped he could now also understand why "they could have a World American Basketball Championships with just America…"

A preview of the trailer (due in cinemas in late April, 2000) shows The Patriot as a big budget war drama, with Mel Gibson spurred to action by injustice of the English - a sort of Braveheart in 18th century America.

"Good grace and a lack of pretension"

Wearing a denim jacket over a red sloppy joe, and a baseball cap, Ledger admitted to the media he was new "to all this" but carried off the conference with good grace and a lack of pretension. He handled even the most naf questions with ease;

Q: Have you got a girlfriend?
A: Yes (smiles)

Q: Is she Australian?
A: Yes (smiles)

Q: You are the top of the top 100 sexiest men in our magazine's list - how do you feel?
A: Uh..sexy…(smiles)

Q: Do you think American women are sexier than Australians?
A: Uh … I don't really know … (smiles)…no, I don't think so.

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The Patriot: Australian release, July 6, 2000.
Stars Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson,Tcheky Karyo, Jason Isaacs, Tom Wilkinson, Chris Cooper
Director Roland Emmerich

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