Heath Andrew Ledger (4 April 1979 22 January 2008) was an Australian actor.
At the outset of his career, Ledger was cast in several roles as a handsome young heartthrob. Eventually, he broke out as a well-respected actor, particularly for his performances as Ennis del Mar in Brokeback Mountain and The Joker in the Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight.
He was a method actor who really got into the heads of his characters; in an interview with Empire Magazine on his role as the Joker he revealed: "I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices ... it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath ... someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts." He also said that director Christopher Nolan gave him absolute freedom with his interpretation of the character. Despite his methods, Ledger was never really twisted by this role; during filming of The Dark Knight, he could be seen skateboarding, and having regular conversations with cast and crew in his Joker ensemble. Needless to say, Ledger was considered very friendly, and The Dark Knight co-stars such as Christian Bale had nothing but nice things to say about him.
Unfortunately, Ledger developed insomnia during and after the completion of his roles in I'm Not There and The Dark Knight. He used various sleeping pills to try to curb the insomnia, but when that didn't work, he combined different pills together, which sadly resulted in his death on January 22, 2008. He was only 28 at the time of his death, and completed only half of his work as the character Tony in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
Ledger's death threw the production of Parnassus into chaos, as his participation was one of the selling points to getting financial backing for the film. In order to compensate for Ledger's death, Tony would also be portrayed by Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell, playing the character one at a time as he changes appearance during his bizarre, fantastical journey. All three of Ledger's replacements donated their salaries to Matilda Ledger, Ledger's young daughter with actress Michelle Williams.
On July 18, 2008, The Dark Knight was released to rave reviews and became one of the highest grossing movies in the US box office, raking in half a billion dollars. Ledger's terrifying—and at times funny—portrayal of the Joker was widely praised, and Oscar buzz was abound.
This performance would win Ledger a lot of posthumous awards, including the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (which was presented to Ledger's family); prior to that, he was also nominated (although he didn't win) to the Academy Award for Best Actor thanks to his performance in Brokeback Mountain.
He also dabbled in directing music videos, however, his only major video, an animated one for the song "King Rat" by indie rock band Modest Mouse, was not released until a year and a half after his death. His hip-hop video for "Cause and Effect" by rapper N'fa was also not released until after his death.
Due to the circumstances of his death and the films he had at various stages of development at the time, he is the first actor to be eligible for an Oscar in each three consecutive ceremonies after his death. (I'm Not There in 2008, The Dark Knight in 2009, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus in 2010)
- Connor, Roar (1997)
- Patrick Verona, 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
- Jimmy, Two Hands (1999)
- Gabriel Martin, The Patriot (2000)
- Sonny Grotowski, Monster's Ball (2001)
- Sir William Thatcher, A Knight's Tale (2001)
- Harry Faversham, The Four Feathers (2002)
- Ned Kelly, Ned Kelly (2003)
- Skip Engblom, Lords of Dogtown (2003)
- Father Alex, The Order (2003)
- Giacomo Casanova, Casanova (2005)
- Jacob Grimm, The Brothers Grimm (2005)
- Ennis del Mar, Brokeback Mountain (2005)
- Dan, Candy (2006)
- Robbie Clark, I'm Not There (2007)
- The Joker, The Dark Knight (2008)
- Tony, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
Tropes invoked by this actor's works:
- Actor-Inspired Element: 10 Things I Hate About You made Patrick an Australian to accommodate him. It was one of the few Hollywood films of his career where he got to use his own accent.
- Awesome, Dear Boy: After reading the script for Brokeback Mountain, he said he would have flown out all the way to Taiwan just to audition for Ang Lee.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Out of respect for Ledger, Christopher Nolan decided against having any glimpses or mentions of The Joker in The Dark Knight Rises, even though the film makes reference to almost every other aspect of the two movies that came before.
- Even the Guys Want Him: Gil Junger recalls Heath coming in to read for 10 Things I Hate About You and going "I hope this man can act because he's gorgeous".
- Fake American: Monster's Ball, The Patriot, Brokeback Mountain, The Dark Knight to name a few.
- Fake Brit: Most famously in A Knight's Tale, and in The Brothers Grimm (though his character is technically not English).
- Male Frontal Nudity: Famously in Brokeback Mountain when Ennis jumps into a lake. The nudity was supposed to be edited out of the movie, but Papparazzi had already taken photos of it - so it appears in the Australian and European editions.
- Nice Guy: Ledger seemed like a somewhat eccentrically passionate method actor but nevertheless a nice fellow who was rather considerate and generous.
- No Stunt Double: Did all his own stunts in The Patriot.
- Playing Gertrude: Thanks to Brokeback Mountain covering twenty years, Heath was in his 20s playing a man in his 40s by the time Kate Mara plays his daughter (there was only a four year difference).
- Production Posse: He starred with Shannyn Sossomon and Mark Addy in the Brian Helgeland films A Knight's Tale and The Sin Eater. The former two play love interests in both.
- Romance on the Set:
- Short-Lived, Big Impact: First got fame in 1999 and had already passed away by 2008, but is still fondly remembered to this day - thanks to starring in films considered classics now such as Brokeback Mountain and The Dark Knight. Nostalgia for A Knight's Tale and 10 Things I Hate About You has certainly helped.
- Star-Making Role: 10 Things I Hate About You got the ball rolling, but The Patriot and A Knight's Tale solidified it.
- Younger Than They Look: Although only 28 when he died, he was noted to look like he was already in his thirties. In Brokeback Mountain he actually played his character over twenty years.
- What Could Have Been:
- In Monster's Ball, he was a last minute replacement for Wes Bentley, who pulled out due to his heroin problems.
- He was offered the lead in Spider-Man, but he turned it down because he wasn't interested in doing any more heartthrob roles.
- He and Matt Damon were supposed to play the other's role in The Brothers Grimm but asked to swap.
- Had he not tragically passed away after filming The Dark Knight, the third film in the trilogy would have had him reprise the role of the Joker.
- At the time of his death, he was preparing for his feature film directing debut.