Heath Ledger: The Journey to Brokeback Mountain

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Heath Ledger: The Journey to Brokeback Mountain

Post  Admin on Sat Mar 08, 2008 4:18 pm

Heath Ledger: The Journey to Brokeback Mountain
December 8, 2005 by Lynn Barker

The buzz is hot for Heath Ledger to get an Oscar nomination for his performance in Brokeback Mountain. His response to the suggestion that he might just win? "I'm just a kid from Perth who is acting". It's been a long, varied journey for the young actor from his days wearing a loincloth and riding a horse in the TV series "Roar", through playing a hapless jouster in A Knight's Tale, a soldier in Four Feathers, Mel Gibson's doomed son in The Patriot, a criminal on the run in Ned Kelly, a skateboarder icon in Lords of Dogtown and a ghostbuster for hire in The Brothers Grimm to becoming a Brokeback Mountain cowboy.
Ledger is a studied actor who has to work out the nuances of each part he plays. Transforming himself into a tortured, confused, gay cowboy was one of the biggest challenges he's faced. Determined to get his portrayal just right, Heath poured himself heart and soul into the role. He also met the love of his life on set. "Dawson's Creek"'s Michelle Williams plays his wife in the film and the two now have a new baby daughter. His days on "the mountain" changed Heath's life forever.

TeenHollywood: Why did you take this controversial role when others in the past had said ''no'?
Heath:It was a beautiful story. It was a story that hadn't made it on the screen. It's rare to come upon a script so beautifully well written and it was very exciting to tell a new story. [Director] Ang Lee was attached to it. I don't think I would have done it if it were in anyone else's hands. He was the perfect director for it. I looked at it as a wonderful opportunity to get into the head of this character. I never saw it as a huge risk that everyone else was seeing. It's all relative to the person you are and how relaxed you are with people and the people around you. I was very happy to tell a story that hadn't been told and I thought it should have been told.

TeenHollywood: Did you approach your character from the physical standpoint? The first few minutes of the film have no words at all.
Heath: Definitely. I actually thought it was a gift not to have words to play with. It definitely restricts what you can express. You are stuck with what's on the page. In a sense, I had the freedom to say what I really wanted. In fact, I can make my own decisions and come to conclusions about this character from the physical point of view. First of all, I had to go in and discover what was causing this inability to express and to love. The conclusion I came to was that he was battling himself and battling his genetic structure; he was battling his father and his father's father's opinion and traditions and fears that have been passed down and deeply imbedded in him. So, once I had that and a few other things, I wanted to physicalize it. I wanted it to be hard for him to express and I think any form of expression had to be painful. I wanted him to be a clenched fist; and therefore my mouth became clenched too.

TeenHollywood: What were the biggest challenges for you in this film?
Heath: Well, the challenging thing for me I think was in preproduction, figuring out what to do in so little time. I guess the aging process was probably what I thought was one of the important aspects. Physically aging between 18 and 40 is fairly slim and subtle, and also for Ennis, the character I was playing; he didn't really evolve emotionally within that age at the time. I used my accent to voice the tone of the voice at the beginning of the film when he's younger; it's pitched a little higher and it's a little more youthful and energetic and enthusiastic and it slowly kinda gets deeper and deeper and raspier and more fixed and tighter towards the end. I thought that was just a subtle vehicle I could use to age.

TeenHollywood: Was there anything that was easy or came naturally?
Heath:The easiest thing I found was being a ranch-hand, being on horseback. I can ride backwards if I had to. I'm very comfortable with horses. I love horses and I have grown up around farm-hands and even if I was born in Perth, Western Australia, there's something very universal about anyone who's on horseback night and day. There's a universal trait. Even physically, when you are on horseback night and day, when you get off that horse, you are still walking as if there's still a horse between your legs.

TeenHollywood: Does a meaty, challenging role like this renew your faith in moviemaking?
Heath:It's definitely given me hope. The whole year was about re-igniting enthusiasm for myself because I did The Brothers Grimm followed by Lords of Dogtown, then "Brokeback", then Casanova, and then Candy, which is a love story between junkies; and I think before that I was really bored with the choices I made and with the movies. I was just in the industry. Everything was just boring and it was starting to get stale. This was my year to handpick things for the first time. I really wanted to put together a collection of quality work.

TeenHollywood: Who was the biggest supporter and biggest detractor in you playing this role in regards to the gay aspects?
Heath: No one was trying to detract me from it. Everyone was very supportive of it. I understand that people found it risky. I hate to call it 'daring' or 'brave'; firefighters are daring and brave. I'm acting. I didn't get hurt and I'm not mentally wounded from this experience.

TeenHollywood: In looking back at the ranch-hands you grew up with, do you think any of them might have been gay?
Heath:No, but I have a very good friend of mine, who's actually an uncle of mine. I didn't base this character on him, but he's gay. He's always struggled with his sexuality. He's like 60 now but back when he was younger, his dad kicked him out and said to him, 'Go to the hospital and get fixed or you're not coming back to the family.' My uncle said, 'I can't get fixed' and his dad said 'so don't come back' and he left and hasn't been back since then, but he's also the most masculine person I know; a good example of the level of masculinity, the range of masculinity. It was important for Ennis to be that.

TeenHollywood: Ennis kind of mumbles in the film or talks through clenched teeth. Did you model your voice in the film on any other performance you may have seen?
Heath:It was something I remembered about Australian ranch-hands; they always liked talking like this. (Changes his voice) But I think in Australia, it's just to keep flies out of your mouth, but it was something very clenched about it. When I found this accent, I had to find a regional accent and my mouth was moving everywhere when I got it, but that was part of physicalizing his battle and it was an extension of what was within him.

TeenHollywood: Do you think Ennis could be happy without Jake's character, Jack in his life?
Heath: I don't know. Maybe externally, he would have seemed happier because he was never confronted or tested in any way and he could have continued to live in denial. I'm sure inside he would have to be hollow and rusty and alone. I think he was ultimately internally happier for having the experience because in his life he experienced true love.

TeenHollywood: How was working with Jake?
Heath: Wonderful. I couldn't have asked for a better person. He comes from a beautiful family and he's a wonderful actor.

TeenHollywood: What kind of mindset does a straight person need to be in to see this film?
Heath: Anyone who fears this… they are not going to come out of the movie and suddenly [be gay]. It's not a disease. It's not contagious. They should understand that it's a story of pure love. I guess a little bit of maturity is being asked for because society has been immature in the past. That's about it.

TeenHollywood: How would you feel if you got an Oscar nomination for your performance?
Heath:I think it's a great honor to be in a movie that's been well received. Michelle and I definitely don't really sit around worried about it. It's also a little surreal; kind of a strange concept to me that one performance or one movie can be compared or competed against another and that's what this strange little Oscar season does. Each performance and each movie is running a different race. It's a different sport. We all train for different sports and we all start from different points. There is no one finish line at the end. It's an award season of opinions, so it's full of false sense of success and failure.

TeenHollywood: What's next for you?
Heath: Nothing really, just raising my daughter and that's enough work and has been most enjoyable.

_________________
Rest In Peace Heath Ledger
1979-2008
You will be Never forgotten

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