Heath Ledger and his ‘gentle way’ Even as a teen-idol, he showed signs of being separate from the pack. By Michael Ordoña
The late Heath Ledger’s stunning, almost unrecognizable turn as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
It was far from the first time he had transformed himself for a role, whether drastically, as the scruffy skateboarding impresario in “Lords of Dogtown,” or subtly, as the repressed, gay cowboy in “Brokeback Mountain.” Here, the recollections of some who worked with the supporting actor nominee add detail to a picture of a complex man and challenging artist whose creative fire and generosity of spirit lifted those around him.
“His energy and enthusiasm for life will never cease to inspire me,” said Ledger’s longtime friend and business partner Matt Amato. “A friend of mine said after Heath died that we must continue in Heath’s 'gentle way.’ Those words sounded perfect to me – Heath’s gentle way.”
From Heath Ledger’s American debut in the underrated “Taming of the Shrew” adaptation “10 Things I Hate About You” (1999) through “The Patriot” and the Chaucer-inspired romp “A Knight’s Tale,” the handsome young actor looked to be on a teen-idol trajectory. But even then, he showed signs of being separate from the pack.
“I was intimidated by how worldly wise he seemed to be and how much he understood himself,” said Jason Isaacs, who played the sadistic Col. Tavington in “Patriot.” “He took a house in the forest while we all lived together in a condo. Like many in my profession, I seem to need company and to fill the silence with noise; he didn’t need that, and he was very happy in his house in the forest. I know 21-year-olds; I’d never met a 21-year-old like him.”
In 2001’s “Monster’s Ball,” he made an indelible impression in a brief appearance as a tough death-row guard’s sensitive son. It was an understated, soulful turn in a supporting role – hardly the stuff of a teen idol lusting for fame.
Indeed, Daniel Day-Lewis, who had never met Ledger, cited that performance last year while dedicating his SAG win for “There Will Be Blood” to the young actor just five days after his death, saying his character “seemed to be almost like an unformed being, retreating from themselves, retreating from his father, from his life, even retreating from us, and yet we wanted to follow him, and yet were scared to follow him, almost. It was unique.”
After a few relatively unremarkable lead turns, he flexed his acting muscles in an offbeat supporting role in “Lords of Dogtown” (2005), directed by Catherine Hardwicke.
“With his physicality, he had style,” said Hardwicke ( “Twilight”). “He didn’t just surf or skate, he did it with his own weird, funky Heath style.”
His metamorphosis to play the real-life Skip Engblom was startling. With long, ratty hair and eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, he insisted on wearing prosthetic teeth, causing much fretting among those who hired him in part “for his beauty,” Hardwicke said.
But Ledger, then a grizzled veteran in his mid-20s, brought more than quirky talent to the production.
“The younger actors, he was kind of like the godfather to all these boys, the Fagin,” Hardwicke said. “He would encourage them, take them under his wing. He had half a trailer, he was so modest but he set up a camp outside it. He set up tiki torches and people would play guitars and call it Camp Heath.”
Next, a more delicate transformation earned Ledger his first Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. Beyond his rich emotional life as Ennis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain,” his subtle technical choices in the film were the fine strokes that completed the painting. His clenched jaw, tight shoulders and habitual mumbling spoke of a man stoically refusing to express his true self. It was only with his secret lover that Ennis could allow his muscles to relax, his voice to come out clearly.
In 2005, Ledger joined Amato in the Los Angeles-based arts collective the Masses to hone the skills to direct films, starting with music videos. A rapidly developing visual style is apparent in the handful of his videos released so far, for artists such as Ben Harper. His steep growth curve can be seen in two pieces he directed for rapper and childhood friend Nfa: The first, “Seduction Is Evil,” is a fairly straightforward presentation, possibly inspired by “Chicago”; the second, “Cause N Effect,” is something much freer, abstract and striking. Two more are complete and awaiting release: one of Australian singer Grace Woodroofe covering David Bowie’s “Quicksand” and an animated clip Ledger designed and storyboarded for Modest Mouse, completed after his death.
“Both these new videos reflect Heath’s talents as a visionary artist. Someday, there will be an exhibit of his stunning photographs,” said Amato in an e-mail exchange. “What Heath brought to us at the Masses was his pure creative energy, chessboards and surfboards.
"One fond memory I have is how he assisted me on a difficult edit. My carpal-tunnel syndrome was acting up … so Heath said, 'I’ll be your hands.’ And he was.”
Ledger’s next projects included the gritty drug-addiction drama “Candy” and the Bob Dylan tribute “I’m Not There,” making it possible to trace the evolution of his sexual cool from the charming teen of “10 Things” to the swaggering musical star he played in the Todd Haynes movie. Then came “The Dark Knight.” With his terrifying alchemy as the Joker – which may earn only the second posthumous acting Oscar – Ledger gave his final completed performance.
“Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan, at a recent DGA symposium, spoke of Ledger’s deep commitment to the role for months before shooting even began, saying the actor would call him up to talk about the character, how he should play him, and about other actors, movies and TV shows that had influenced him.
“Patriot” costar Isaacs witnessed it firsthand. Just before “Dark Knight” started shooting in London, he ran into Ledger and his then-partner Michelle Williams and their baby daughter. The new father was carrying around a notebook in which he was jotting ideas about the Joker. Remembering the 28-year-old Aussie’s “boundless energy” and love of life and his daughter, Isaacs said of the young actor’s fatal overdose of prescription drugs, “I knew in my heart there was no way it was suicide.
"I’ll tell you an odd thing that happened,” he added. “He died and everybody who had known him and worked with him on 'The Patriot,’ we all phoned each other. Not like everybody didn’t know; it was all over the headlines. None of us had anything particularly interesting or profound to say; we just wanted to say his name out loud. And be sad together. Because he was a lovely person.”
I recently came across these cross stiches when looking for a quirky gift. They’re the product of Alicia Watkins creative slant on the tiny world of microbes, bacteria and more. A great way to look at some serious microbes, my personal favorite FFI.
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THE OFFICIAL REVIEW
Mobile Orchestra by @owlcityofficial
Released July 10, 2015
In his fifth studio album, Adam Young A.K.A. Owl City weaves a labyrinthine sonic novel of Homerian proportions. Mobile Orchestra is a collection of 10 impeccably crafted electronic compositions. Each track plays like a short film with different characters and arcs, soundscapes and tempos, colors and styles, and in the end (which Young proclaims “This Isn’t”) the listener is left with a diorama of memories to observe and ultimately let go of. For this journey Young calls upon a small army of globally talented contemporaries such as Aloe Blacc, Hanson, Jake Owen, Sarah Russell and Britt Nicole. Their individual talents shimmer in the dreamscapes Young designs for them.
“ain’t too sure what I believe in, but I believe in what I see, and when I close my eyes, I see my whole life ahead of me” A mercurial and contemplative Aloe Blacc utters, almost as if questioning himself in a rare moment when one’s guard is let down and we are able to listen in on one’s inner monologue. Like a friend from long ago, Young’s voice chimes in, “these are our hours, this our time”, accompanied by high hats and arpeggiated guitars. A quick EDM rise accelerates into the first chorus of the album. This subtle coloration of introspective verses and soaring choruses sets Young apart from his contemporaries. In “I Found Love” Young delivers an unconventionally structured ballad full of orchestral strings and arpeggiated synths. It should be noted this may be the first deliberate personal love song in a five album catalog. And while the subject matter may be second nature to most normal suburbanites, Young is neither. The artist known for writing stories of strange cosmic journeys may have found a new story to tell here on plain old earth.
Thunderstruck is one of the most innovative EDM songs we will hear this year. Sarah Russell delivers a beautifully nuanced vocal performance, her angelic voice lilts perfectly within Young’s agile sidechaining synths. This is Owl City’s space, and he does this sound better than anyone in the world. He made is name doing tracks like this that combine wildly melodic vocals and berzerk electronica. Young knows this territory like the back of his hand and it shows in this perfectly pitched smash.
My Everything is a revelation. Music is older than the internet. Believe it or not. And Young expertly draws on eternal themes to propel this song forward. Hallelujahs fill our ears once again, as they have for thousands of years or more in this modern hymn suitable for arenas and headphones. Unbelievable with Hanson plays incredibly well, as seen on The Today Show. Full of sugary energy, the song bounces around 90’s nostalgia and lands on the floor laughing at 3 a.m. Bird With A Broken Wing is new territory for Owl City, one of his largest sonic productions, chugs along under a quadruplet pattern, harkening a full band sound reminiscent of Brit Rock circa Doves, Starsailor, and Travis. In Back Home with Jake Owen, Young tries his poker hand at pop country. How’d the river treat him? Aces up. If Adam wanted to retreat into the safe walls of his picturesque Sky Harbor studio and become a kajillionaire producing and writing hits for country acts, he could. Can’t Live Without You is a daft Americanized Armin Van Burenesque festival anthem designed for live performance, which we’ll get to hear in his tour of the U.S. later this fall. You’re Not Alone with Britt Nicole is a lovely contemporary Christian ballad reassuring the listener, and himself, that we are indeed, not alone. In this musical prayer it is clear Adam Young is driven by forces beyond popular culture. Instead of an album of slick EDM bangers, we are given stories and affirmations, questions and quasi-answers. This Isn’t The End closes the album on a bittersweet note. A mildly sordid tale of abandonment, suicide, and atonement. Amid atypical key changes and lilting drums, if one isn’t paying attention, one will just hear the surface production, which remains coated in iridescent lacquer throughout. But this is an Owl City album and nothing is as it seems, that would be too easy. For some reason Young takes the road less traveled once again, mixing genres, utilizing quirky production techniques, collaborating with unconventional artists, ignoring blogtastic fads, further proving he is on his own journey, fulfilling his own destiny, regardless of what anyone says or thinks. This is just the beginning and time is on his side. - Brian Bradley, August 5, 2015.