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Friday
Apr042014

Heath Ledger: A Celebration

Here's abstew with a tribute to an actor we lost too soon.

Today, April 4th, 2014, would have been Oscar winner Heath Ledger's 35th Birthday. Tragically, the talented young actor's career was all too brief. (It's crazy to think that 2 of the 5 Best Actor nominees from 2005 are no longer with us.) But let's not dwell on the sadness, but celebrate the life and work of this amazing Aussie.

This past week marked the 15th anniversary of the film that brought Heath to movie-goers' attention, 10 Things I Hate About You. (No, the Fox show Roar does not count as his breakthrough. Even though it co-starred TV's Felicity and I do actually remember watching it.) 

At the time, 10 Things seemed like just another late 90s teen movie based on a Shakespeare play. (You'd be surprised how much that was a thing back then. And they all starred Julia Stiles.) But there was something about Heath's charismatic turn in the film that made you just know he was destined for better things. (It would take us a little longer to realize this about co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt.) Perhaps because Heath, even while playing a teenager, seemed to already be a leading man, carrying a maturity and a masculinity rarely found in one so young. 

My favorite scene in the film has to be when Heath serenades Julia Stiles' Kat with a rendition of "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" by Frank Valli, complete with marching band back-up:

Heath had actually auditioned for the part of Christian in Moulin Rouge! but was deemed too young to play Nicole's love interest. Imagine how great he would have been in a movie musical. Perhaps playing one of the princes in the upcoming film version of Into the Woods?

At the time of his death, he had also started to explore different aspects of his artistic career, directing some music videos and expressing a wish to do a documentary about singer Nick Drake. Having already worked with such great directors as Ang Lee, Todd Haynes, and Terry Gilliam, I'm sure he learned a thing or two from watching them on set.

What might have been?
What other directors would you have loved to have seen Heath work with? What roles do you think he would have tackled? Let's celebrate Heath in the comments

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Reader Comments (14)

I can imagine he would have been a really stupendous Freddie Quell or Dean to Michelle Williams' Cindy.

April 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

John T---

Wow what a fantastic idea to have him take on the Blue Valentine role... I could TOTALLY see that!!

April 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave

I remember being intrigued but unconvinced by his turn in 10 Things I Hate About You. But seeing A Knights Tale with my best friend in the theater was like a revelation. We witnessed a movie star arrive mounted on his noble steed... The combination of his thoroughly period appropriate shaggy bleach blond hair and his loose fitting hippie attire dancing to David Bowie was probably the sexiest thing I had ever seen.

April 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

By the way, I stand by that movie as a glorious celebration of anachronism done right.

April 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

Oh man, but all the truly INSANE things they did with Shannyn Sossamon's hair and clothing... The crimping! The chunky purple highlights! The mall-store Claire's clearance rack polyester realness! I watched A Knight's Tale last week and when she showed up in that lace-up leather sideboob thingy I almost passed out from wtf-ery.

April 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

Remember how gut-wrenching his tragic role in Monster's Ball was?

April 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Margaret: The explanation from the filmmakers was it was supposed to be translating what the classic music and dress styles were into something at least closer to modern analogues. I'd have to watch it, but, taken that way, it's probably at least a slightly undersung modern action movie. I'll certainly take that over stodgy "we have to get all this period accuracy down" like Ridley Scott's version of Robin Hood.

April 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

john t - I love the idea of him in both! another pairing with michelle williams, especially after they had already broken up in real-life, would have added so many more layers to BLUE VALENTINE.

san francinema - so amazing in MONSTER'S BALL! glad he got to do the role after wes bentley dropped out. "well, I've always loved you."

April 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

Yeah, Monster's Ball was the first time I appreciated the depth of his talent--I always knew he had something special, but this showed so much more. "Well, I've always loved you." is one of the great line deliveries and took a touch of madness to make it hit so hard. After that, I caught everything he did.

April 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

I love the sweet playfulness he brought to Casanova. He struck just the right note of gentle masculinity in that film. Then again, he often did that in his movies. He oozed star quality.

April 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

First discoverd heathy in 10things. But one of our favorite roles
Of his has been Connor from Roar avaible on Dvd.
He was so charming and adorable. Also Cassonova
And Candy is amazing. Every fan should see that
Also Four Feathers. He would have been great in Moulin Rouge

April 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAthena

Late to the party but whatevs.

The Blue Valentine mention above struck a chord in me thinking that Ryan Gosling's career would probably be a bit different if Heath was still around. And I don't mean in a replaceable way but nearly all of The Goz's roles are something I can totally see Ledger doing or even gravitating towards. Dark, introspective material with interesting directors. Maybe an absurd comedy here and there.

Or maybe he would've followed his auteur itch and kept on that path with the likes of Von Trier (Shia's part in Nymphomanic?), another Gilliam definitely, a re-team with Ang or Nolan (Inception lead?), surely a Terrence Malick or a Wes Anderson at one point, Soderbergh would've been an intriguing tonal choice for him, maybe he would've been a solid addition for the current crop of David O. Russell's troupe o' actors.

I personally would've loved to have seen what Andrea Arnold, Jane Campion or The Coen Bros would've done with him. Especially Campion since I'm sure he would've loved to have worked with a respected and unique director from his part of the world.

April 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

this is too depressing for me to think about. He was so hitting his creative peak from 2005-2008 so who knows what he might have done with all the opportunities he would most certainly have had after The Dark Knight. Honestly I could imagine him being in the David O. Russell camp even.

April 9, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Yeah, sorta like the perpetual James Dean question of what could've been? The answer is anything and everything.

I just kinda had creative fun thinking about directors that could've fit his style and then thinking about which directors might've been the most interesting to have seen them mold him into their world. I can't stop thinking about how he would've fit in with Soderbergh's clever slick style or Campion's emotionally complex tones.

April 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

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