Heath Ledger, with hair shorn off, retains a quiet reticence when dealing with the press. The Australian actor, based in Los Angeles for almost five years, and about to relocate to Brooklyn, has had a busy 18 months or so, with Brothers Grimm finally opening, Brokeback Mountain due out later in the year, not to mention Casanova and the Australian drama Candy.
Ledger concedes that his need to work so hard lately was based on a desire to find genuinely god material, which he feels has been lacking in most things offered him. “I guess it was after Grimm, when I felt that I was heading down a path where it was starting to get difficult to find good material and good people to work with. So I thought, ‘Screw this’ and I just wanted to show what I could do, in many different colours of myself. So I really picked four different stories and four really diverse characters to portray.”
But after such a tough work ethic, the busy Aussie actor concedes that it’s time to slow down. “I quite literally tell my agent not to call me or send me anything. I just don’t want to know about it. I might do something mid-next year, but I’ll have had a year off by then.” That is partly due, he says with obvious reluctance, to impending fatherhood. “That’s exactly why I want to create the time,” he says, and leaves it at that.
Ledger has always managed to avoid opening up, even in his early days, as a brash young actor from Australia, trying to make headway into Hollywood. But when discussing the work, Heath is at least, a semi-open book. He was more than enthused to work with ex-Python Terry Gilliam on the wildly fanciful comedy adventure The Brothers Grimm, not the least concerned that like Gilliam’s previous film, Don Quixote, production would come to a standstill.
“If anything, we wanted to do anything and everything in our power to make it work and get it finished,” says Ledger, who adds that his attraction was partly due to Gilliam, but also “We also had a good script, but it was definitely Terry, and the opportunity to work with him.” On the director, Ledger says he “brings everything that I expect plus more, with his eccentric energy, enthusiasm and passion for creating. It’s just so infectious, which just kind of bleeds into your performance.”
Ledger laughs when asked to appear the iconic Gilliam wit the more serious Ang Lee, his director on Brokeback Mountain. “Terry knows everything about me while Ang knows NOTHING about me. The only conversation you really ever have with Ang is just really kind of obscure, profound little bits of direction or insights to a character, but at the same time these were also just two completely different movies to work on. Brokeback Mountain was a very lonely experience and it was supposed to be and my character was extremely lonely and I think I carried that through the whole experience. They’re both wonderful directors and definitely both have the same level of attention to detail. Sometimes Ang will be like, ‘Okay, drag cigarette. Okay, blow out. Okay, look at mountain. Okay, now look at feet. Look back at mountain. Okay.’, ” he says, imitating the Asian director. “You try to take this in, make it look natural. Terry does that too in a way, but when he yells things out to you, it’s kind of in different tones. Plus Terry laughs a lot more.”
Equally diverse, is Casanova, with whom, Ledger says smilingly, he has little in common, “particularly in THIS movie. This isn’t the Fellini version of Casanova, but more the Walt Disney version. It’s really entertaining and just a light-hearted romp,” Heath explains. Ledger also returned to Australia to star in the low-budget Candy, directed by Neil Armfield and also starring Abbie Cornish and Geoffrey Rush. “It is the love story between two junkies,” says the actor, adding how relieved it was to shot a film back home. “I tell you, it was such a relief to act in my own accent, which was the first time in eight years. It was just amazing and I forgot how easy it is, just being able to breathe and let your voice breathe and mumble or just say whatever you want”.