Following what would prove to be an unforgettable turn in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger’s star was on the brink of an astronomical rise when his life and career were tragically cut short on January 22, 2008.
To coincide with the recent launch of Heath Ledger: A Life In Pictures, the NFSA will be screening an assortment of films showcasing Ledger’s performances alongside several other classics which inspired the actor and budding director.
At the dawn of the noughties, Heath Ledger burst onto cinema screens in two iconic roles merely one month apart. In Ten Things I Hate About You – the American High-School re-imagining of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew – Ledger conjured up a real song and dance as Patrick Verona. Scarcely a month later, he hit screens again as the rough and ready Jimmy in Two Hands. Considered a contemporary Australian classic, writer/director Gregor Jordan’s distinctly Aussie black-comedy/drama launched not only Ledger’s career but also that of co-star Rose Byrne. In what marked a breakout role, Ledger found himself toe-to-toe with Australian acting royalty as he faced off against affable antagonist Pando – the iconic Bryan Brown.
With otherwise only assorted TV credits to his name – Ship to Shore, Sweat, Roar, Home & Away – and the lesser-known feature Blackrock (1997), which today still remains (unfortunately) thematically relevant as ever, Ledger forged ahead with a career in Hollywood. Locally, he again linked up with Gregor Jordan who steered Ledger as the notorious Australian folk anti-hero in Ned Kelly (2003) alongside Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean).
In his short career, Ledger appeared alongside a wealth of thespian talent, partnering with Mel Gibson (The Patriot), Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball), Matt Damon (The Brothers Grimm), Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain), Abbie Cornish and Geoffrey Rush (Candy), Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) and Cate Blanchett (I’m Not There) among many others. He also worked with notable directors such as Terry Gilliam (twice), Todd Haynes, Ang Lee and Christopher Nolan. With Lee and Nolan, in particular, Ledger would achieve unprecedented critical acclaim in Brokeback Mountain and The Dark Knight respectively.
Domestically speaking, while Two Hands announced Heath’s arrival on the Australian cinema landscape and touted his promise in ’99, it was Candy in 2006 which consolidated his dramatic credibility and artistic flair as heroin addict and tortured soul Dan, who falls hard for Candy, played by Abbie Cornish (Somersault; Bright Star; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). Promoting the launch of the Ledger exhibition in Canberra last week, Cornish spoke about Ledger being like a brother to her and how his career was clearly tracking towards the eventual inevitable transition from actor to director. A fledgling director with three credits already under his belt for music videos from Ben Harper, N’Fa Jones and Modest Mouse, it was Ledger’s collaboration with a director from whom he would have undoubtedly absorbed so much behind-the-camera expertise which ultimately catapulted him to on-screen immortality.
One of the luminaries of his generation, Christopher Nolan ushered in a new era of cerebral blockbusters with Memento, Inception, The Prestige and Interstellar. It was his dark, muscular and modern take on Batman which turned Ledger into a legend as his transformative role immediately entered the movie (and method) hall of fame. The Dark Knight currently sits at no. 4 on IMDb’s Top Rated Movies, and there is no denying Ledger’s joker cemented his place in the pantheon of popular culture. Previously nominated for an Academy Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild Award in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain, Ledger posthumously swept the 2009 awards season with his maniacal portrayal of the DC villain in Nolan’s visionary contribution to the Gotham comic canon. His phenomenal performance garnered him a 32 award-haul including an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
Despite so much more to give, Ledger delivered an impressive oeuvre in his mere 28 years. This season takes a look back at Ledger’s developing screen-craft over the course of his career, hinting at the cinematic chameleon he was poised to become. There are a few oldies thrown in too which inspired him along the way as per his personal journals, which are on display as part of the accompanying exhibition.
Heath Ledger screenings include: Ned Kelly, Monster’s Ball, The Brothers Grimm, I’m Not There, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, A Knight’s Tale, Casanova, The Sin Eater (aka The Order), and Brokeback Mountain.
Also screening: James Dean classics Rebel Without A Cause and East of Eden, as well as Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, reflecting Ledger’s love of chess.
Screenings are currently scheduled until November. All screenings are $10.
For an overview of the season’s events – including several pre-film talks about costuming (A Knight’s Tale), men’s fashion (Casanova), along with two additional interesting discussions (free) – visit Heath Ledger Season | NFSA.