By Tim Nasson
New York City – Heath Ledger, one of the world’s sexiest men (People Magazine), is on top of his game in more ways than one. But more about that in a minute.
On a recent chilly, snowy, Sunday morning, I had a chance to sit with Ledger in a suite at one of midtown Manhattan’s finest hotels.
Ledger, twenty-six, who with current girlfriend, (and mother of their first child, Matilda, born October 28th, 2005), and Brokeback Mountain co-star, Michelle Williams, keep a place in Brooklyn, NY, arrived late to our interview, what with all of the seasonal traffic in festive NYC.
“Sorry I am late,” apologizes Ledger, who looks the father of a newborn, and host of a houseful of out-of-town guests – all the way from Australia, his childhood and teenage stomping grounds. “My mother and sister are in town visiting and it’s just nuts. And the f****** traffic.” As if on queue, Ledger’s assistant, who is lurking in the background delivers up a steaming cup of coffee, which after sipping, seems to immediately put some oomph into Ledger’s demeanor.
2005 may just turn out to be Heath Ledger’s most successful year. This year’s Venice Film Festival showcased Ledger’s three latest films, The Brother’s Grimm, Casanova (opening Christmas Day), and Brokeback Mountain, which won the fest’s Best Picture award and is destined to land on the top of many critics’ Top 10 lists. Some even go so far as to predict that the film will not only earn a Best Picture nomination at the next Academy Awards (March 2006) but that Ledger himself, even, will garner a Best Actor nomination.
Having seen every Heath Ledger movie, including Brokeback Mountain, and Casanova, it can be said with about as much degree of certainty as there is that Ledger will not be getting any kind of acting nomination for Casanova. The film, Lasse Hallstrom’s lastest, (director of The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, and My Life As A Dog), ia a spectacular farce yet, many wonder if Ledger chose the film – opening in most cities the same day as Brokeback Mountain – about a man, in Victorian era England, who sleeps with thousands of women – as the antidote to Brokeback Mountain, a film in which he ‘tops’ (polite, gay slang for ‘f****’), Jake Gyllenhall’s character.
“That’s so f****** ridiculous,” Ledger says, when I ask him about the rumors going around Hollywood and the gay community.
“You want to know the truth? The short story, [Brokeback Mountain] was published in 1997. It was optioned to become a movie in 1998. My first American movie was 10 Things I Hate About You in 1999. There were so many actors during the past seven years who have been attached to Brokeback Mountain, yet who have been convinced by their managers, agents, publicists, or all three combined, not to do it, because it would ruin their career. I was approached to make the movie, maybe because I was the last on the list, in early 2004 and didn’t think twice about it. The same can be said about Jake (Gyllenhaal). Neither of us needed to have ‘permission’ from our agents to make this movie. It was our decision alone. To be honest, nobody advised me to not do the movie. Fear is manufactured by the studios putting up money. Focus (the studio releasing Brokeback Mountain) has had a track record with quality hard-to-market films, including Far From Heaven, which also just happened to be a film with gay undertones.
“The reason I chose to play Ennis in Brokeback was, I thought it was about time I take on a mature role.”
Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhal both age twenty years in Brokeback Mountain.
They meet on Brokeback Mountain during the summer of ’63. Both are nineteen years old. The story, before it ends, progresses twenty years. While the movie is not gay, per se, it tells the story of Ennis (Ledger) and Jack (Gyllenhaal), sheep herders, who meet on assignment, fall in love, but because of the year, the time period, and the area in which they reside, cannot truly express their love and devotion for each other, more than one or two times a year, in the woods or in a shady motel. Both marry, have kids and carry on with their lives, but very unhappily and depressed, because they cannot be in a committed relationship with each other.
“Making Brokeback wasn’t difficult, at all. I started riding horses when I was a kid in Australia, so the horse riding in the movie was nothing. Actually, I rode horses in Four Feathers, too, come to think of it.
“The challenge wasn’t the gay aspect of the movie. In fact, in this year, 2005, I can’t understand why anyone, agent, manager, publicist, would even question any actor taking any gay role. But, back to the challenge of the movie. I age twenty years. That was a huge challenge. As was getting the accent of my character just right, since, as he gets older, his voice gets deeper.”
O.K. Hold on a minute. We all know Heath Ledger has one of the most masculine, deepest voices of any in movies today.
“Well, I meant, I had to get the accent right in the mid-western sense,” says a blushing Ledger. “And go from a twenty year old to forty year old sounding voice in a mid-western, American accent.”
While we were on the subject of challenges, I had to ask Ledger which movie, Casanova or Brokeback, had the most difficult sex scene. The initial sex scene between Ledger and Gyllenhaal, in Brokeback Mountain, may be considered by many, the film’s most graphic. (Although, there is no nudity in the sex scene.) Yet, the most graphic sex scene in Casanova takes place with Ledger sitting at a table, surrounded by dozens of other people at a royal ball, getting a blow job by one of his most ardent suitors.
“Honestly,” says Ledger, who instantaneously becomes animated, “that blow job scene was the most difficult. There was no girl under the table. I had to pretend and the scene went on for literally two minutes. I had my best friend (a guy) under the table trying to help make the scene look natural. He was grabbing my legs, sliding me off the chair, to make it look all the more real.”
Heath Ledger Brokeback Mountain Interview by Tim Nasson.