Heath Ledger arrives in Toronto for the North American premiere of his Australian film, Candy, without an entourage. There’s no publicist and no fanfare. “When I’m not working I don’t need a publicist”, Ledger says, as we sit in the quiet corner of a Toronto hotel restaurant.
Here for just a day, he already misses wife Michelle Williams and daughter Matilda. “Matilda is just awesome and being a father has also helped me become even more selective now with work because for me, to go away from home for a day, let alone five, is tough,” says Heath, with a wistful smile. Ledger, though, was more than happy to leave Montreal where Michelle is shooting Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan film I’m Not There, in which he also appears, to talk about Candy.
In another unforgettable performance, the now Oscar nominee plays a self-destructive heroin addict, also ferociously in love with the beautiful Candy. The actor, who hasn’t made a film in his native Australia since Ned Kelly or with is own accent since 1999’s Two Hands, says it was a release to go back to Australia and work there. “I mean I’m constantly looking for material back there for that reason and it was so liberating to talk without an accent. But I also love to tell Australian stories and they’re just so very few of them back there right now, because any half decent or half talented writer, actor or cinematographer just gets ripped up and taken out of there, so the pickings are slim.” Ledger was happy to get paid far less than usual to take on another challenging role. “I really loved working on it, I was so comfortable and relaxed and I was working with wonderful people like Abbie. Cornish.”
Ledger and Cornish both took the job of research very seriously, almost too seriously it seems. :”We grabbed a video camera and went down to this place in Sydney called NUA, which is the Narcotics Users Association. There we met this gentleman who has been and still is a junkie for something like 25 years. So he took us into this little room, pulled out what looked like a rifle case, opened it up and there was a prosthetic arm in it – like a really lifelike arm, and at the end, on the shoulder, there are two tubes that have blood bags and you put fake blood into them and they’re fully functional veins in the arm that you can inject into and pull out blood. I mean they’re designed to teach nurses and stuff like that how to find veins, but they have one here to teach kids how to inject safely. And so he was like, oh, look at that vein, that’s a good one, ooh, ooh, and he was salivating at the mouth, and he was like let’s get one here, so there was that,” he recalls, laughingly. We filmed it and so I gave the DVD to Geoffrey Rush, one to the Art Department and one to Neil, just as reference.”
The film, Candy, which is being released in the United States by ThinkFilm later this year, was loosely based on the real life experiences of addict Luke Davies “who was on set all the time and was there to say things that we wouldn’t know – like when you’re stoned high on heroine, your eyes aren’t like that but your eyebrows are up.” But the actor concedes he could have survived without too much of the research. After all, he says laughingly, “I feel that I’ve read a million books and articles and have seen a million movies and TV shows on heroine and heroine addiction, I just feel like we all kind of have seen it.”
Since the first time we met, on the set of Two Hands in Australia, Ledger has evolved into one of Hollywood’s true A-list stars. Last year, he joined that elite group of Oscar nominees for his sensitive and much acclaimed performance in Brokeback Mountain. Looking back, the actor is genuinely surprised that the film took off like it did. “I was definitely surprised and my expectations for the film were really down here,” he says laughingly, moving his hands towards the floor. “I was really pleasantly surprised and so grateful to have been given that opportunity and really proud of it but I’m really happy it’s all over too, because it was really exhausting,” Ledger says, recalling the awards season and the lead up to the Oscars. But he also admits almost shyly, that his nomination has opened up even more doors. “I think there’s a new level of interest kind of thing but I haven’t really acted on it, since the only thing I’ve really done since is this Todd Haynes film and The Joker.”
It is his decision to play The Joker in the new Batman film The Dark Knight that has caused much interest in the industry. He says that ordinarily doing something like that would not be of interest to him. “I actually hate comic book movies, like fucking hate them, they just bore me shitless and they’re just dumb. But I thought what Chris Nolan did with Batman was actually really good, really well directed, and Christian Bale was really great in it.”
Ledger says he’s looking forward to playing a truly evil character. “He’s going to be really sinister and it’s going to be less about his laugh and his pranks and more about just him being a just a fucking sinister guy.” Asked if he decides to do a big movie like this, because of agent pressure, Ledger pauses then laughs. “I’m sure they’re super happy that I’m doing this, because this is the first time I’ve really kind of taken something like that, so they’re over the moon. But I think it’s just going to be a really fun experience, and I love to dress up and wear a mask.” No costumes have been designed, but the actor says that “I’ve seen a few interesting designs on the look and I think that it’s going to look pretty cool.”
Who would have thought that when young Heath decided to move to Los Angeles at age 17, he would ultimately end up as a gay cowboy and Batman’s nemesis in a matter of a year or so? But life turned out differently than even he could have imagined. After all, we both moved to LA for the same reason, as I discovered during this conversation: For love. “I also moved to LA to follow a girl,” he recalls laughingly. “I did Roar, was dating a girl in the TV show, she went back to LA and I had to go with her. I stayed there and lived with for her for two years.” Then he landed his first major film role – back in Australia- Two Hands. The rest, as they, is history. Now Ledger says he’s at his happiest, both professionally and personally. “When you’re this happy everything seems to fall into place.”