The Australian 11/23/2005

Ledger has Rusty on the ropes

Robert Lusetich
23 November 2005

The Australian

Copyright 2005 News Ltd. All Rights Reserved

A FEW months ago it wouldn't have been outrageous to suggest an Australian was a frontrunner for the best actor Oscar. But who would seriously have thought that actor would be Heath Ledger and not Russell Crowe? Rusty seemed to touch all the Academy Awards bases in Cinderella Man, but the film was -- through an odd confluence of events -- largely rejected by the movie-going public. Now, because no one in Hollywood would dare associate themselves with failure, the film colony seems likely to turn its back on it. Of course, it matters not that Crowe is brilliant, if somewhat predictably so, as James Braddock, or that the film is very good -- again, somewhat predictably so -- because the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. Ledger, on the other hand, comes out of nowhere with this mesmerising performance as a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain.

And Hollywood loves pleasant surprises, especially if they are out of left field: think Roberto Benigni, Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Day-Lewis and others.

ALL of which is not to be unkind to Ledger who is, above all, a good bloke. But the 26-year-old from Perth -- a place he calls the most isolated city in the world -- had given no hint that he had this in him. He is honest enough to admit that his perfunctory turns in flicks such as 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight's Tale were hardly going to inspire The Los Angeles Times to call him one of the most wrenching and poignant actors of his generation. "I made all my mistakes on film," he tells the paper. "I never had a black room and a black pair of pyjamas to make mistakes in. I didn't have acting school or an acting coach. It's been a long, slow process of making mistakes and changing it." Ledger recalls watching his television work in Australia and telling his mother how terrible he was, waiting for her to tell him, "`No, hon, you're not, you're just fine.' [But] she was, like, `Well, you know, it doesn't matter."' Even now, Ledger says, his agent expects a phone call soon after he has been cast in a film. "I always believe I shouldn't have been cast," he says. "There's a huge amount of anxiety that drowns out any excitement I have toward the project. Pretty much any time I've signed on to a movie, I've tried to get out of it." That may no longer be the case if he's clutching a golden statuette next February. Ledger has moved to Brooklyn with his partner, Michelle Williams, and their newborn daughter, Matilda, abandoning his bachelor lifestyle in LA.

AT this stage, most of the awards prognosticators have Ledger as one of the top three candidates for best actor. Topping most lists is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who nails the troubled Truman Capote in a biopic that is certainly in the mix for best picture. Other early candidates are the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, in which Joaquin Phoenix -- with due apologies to Ledger -- establishes himself as the most poignant actor of his generation. Although no one has as yet set eyes on Steven Spielberg's re-creation of the terrorist attack during the 1972 Olympics, another Australian, Eric Bana, may throw himself into the best actor race with a strong performance. Among other films considered early candidates for best picture is the thought-provoking Crash, George Clooney's excellent Good Night, and Good Luck and Memoirs of a Geisha. No one in Hollywood is sure what to make of Peter Jackson's hugely expensive remake of King Kong, but it's hard to believe Jackson would follow up the acclaimed Lord of the Rings trilogy with a giant flop.