What was expected to be a short term setback has brought tinsel town to its knees with thousands losing jobs and many more stuck in a rut caused by the lack of creative talent at their disposal. Premier awards ceremonies are in danger of being cancelled with the Golden Globes being the first casualty. TV shows have run out of material and have cancelled announcements of lineups and concepts in development. A quiet reign of chaos settled in as 2008 swung around but it was just the beginning. Less than a month has passed in the New Year but sad events have already taken control.
Heath Ledger was a rare talent who inspired the actors who had the opportunity to work with him. At 28, he had already acted in such a diverse group of films that there was no questioning his talent and love for the medium. From his childhood in Perth, Western Australia, he had dreams of being an actor and at 16; he left for Sydney to make his dream a reality. Parts on TV series and Australian film productions soon followed. But it wasn’t until age 20 that he would really get noticed with 1999’s Australian film Two Hands and Hollywood teen drama 10 Things I Hate About You in the same year. Both roles showed his promise but Hollywood seemed intent on slapping him with the ‘just another pretty boy’ tag and Ledger wasn’t having it. He instead chose to immerse himself in one character role after another. He went from starring opposite Mel Gibson in The Patriot and appearing in the fantasy drama series Roar to showing his comedy chops with A Knight’s Tale (2001).
It was the year 2005 that forever altered people’s minds and showed the world that Ledger was a force to be reckoned with. Four of his films released that year and one would be hard-pressed to find four more different characters. From a skateboarder in Lords of Dogtown and playing one of The Brothers Grimm to a thief of hearts in Casanova, Ledger never gave less than this best.
He only got better after that. In 2007, he was one of six actors to portray Bob Dylan in the film I’m Not There. His last completed film The Dark Knight is yet to be released but it is also perhaps the most eagerly-awaited of all his films. He took on the character of The Joker last played by Jack Nicholson in 1989’s Batman and prepared for it by cutting himself from the world for a month and burying himself in the source material. If the trailer for the film is any indication, we might get to see Ledger redefine the character and make it his own later this year.
Looking ahead, one can only hope that the rest of this year will focus on recovery for Hollywood from the writers’ strike as a means to honour the craft that actors like Renfro and Ledger stood for. One can perhaps learn from the inspiration provided by people like Ledger, who once said: “I like to do something I fear. I like to set up obstacles and defeat them. I like to be afraid of the project. I always am.”