Oscar 2005: Heath Ledger, America's Hottest Actor, Talks

With four films to his credit this year alone, Heath Ledger, 26, has impressed critics and audiences in a variety of genres and roles. In 2005, he could be seen in “Lords of Dogtown,” Terry Gilliam's “The Brothers Grimm,” Ang Lee's “Brokeback Mountain,” and Lasse Hallstrom's satire, “Casanova.”

So far, Ledger has won one important award, Best Actor from the N.Y. Film Critics Circle for his reticent gay cowboy Ennis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain,” in which he renders a heartbreaking, understated performance that's already been nominated for a Golden Globe and Spirit Award and comes January 31 his first Oscar nomination. Ledger's only rival in the touch Oscar race is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Truman Capote in “Capote.”

Ledger talks about his career, choice of roles, lifestyle, and being a father at the young age of 26.

Doing a love story between men

It does not really bother me. I'm aware that it's probably going to make some people uncomfortable, but I think the good news is that it's a pure story of love, and it's a story of two pure souls coming together, and the fact that they're two men really has nothing to do with it. They're representing love on a grander scale but it doesn't really concern me. If people don't want to see it, then they wont' go.

On the courage to play a gay man

I don't have an issue with it. I was handed what I was considered to be a perfect script, with whom I consider the perfect director for it (Ang Lee), and so all the elements were there and I just didn't want to fuck it up. I knew I was the last part of this puzzle and I just wanted to bring more life to this, and that got me really nervous. Everything was so perfect, and I always have self-doubt.

Usually, when I get a role, I'm on the phone to my agent trying to get out of it straight away, and I ask him to get me out of it. I feel I don't know how to so it and I shouldn't be doing it, and it seems to be necessary like kind of breaking myself down like that and self-doubt. But on this one, I never felt I was risking anything, I never had much at stake. It was just a beautiful opportunity to tell a story that hadnt been told. It's so rare to come across that.

The Challenge of playing a cowboy

The biggest challenge was to capture the stillness of Ennis Del Mar, because I have a semi-frantic nervous energy. Harnessing that aspect was something I had to work on. However, once we began shooting in the wilderness, the stillness became like an innate quality.

Working on his Role

What I really wanted to do was discover Ennis Del Mar. What exactly he was fighting, and why it was so difficult for him to express and love. Ennis was battling his genetic structure. He was battling the beliefs and fears and traditions of his family and that his father and his father's father had installed in him.

I wanted to physicalize this battle through his words, through his inability to express vocally or in any possible way. I wanted that to affect the way he walked, his lack of posture, so I put a lot of thought into that. Then there was his accent, and I wanted to stage that in a way that would help me subtly age with him so. I divided it into three parts. It started off in a kind of higher pitch and got a little lower and raspier.

Brokeback Mountain Vs. Casanova

They were completely different. In Brokeback, the characters were so beautifully described, and there was such a clear picture of them in the short story and in the script.

Motivation to do Casanova

I was aware that Brokeback Mountain was going to be an exhausting process, and it was. I was so wound up from that process. I needed to unwind and the only way to unwind was through my profession, and that's what Casanova became, a working holiday essentially.

It was a time not to take myself too seriously, and I knew that story itself was not taking Casanova too seriously. I had four weeks in Venice before we shot Casanova, so there was enough time to loosen off my top lip and regain some posture and figure a kind of confident walk for him and his accent. I really didn't go over the top in investigating who Casanova was. We decided to just essentially borrow his name and his legend and have fun with it.

Shooting in Venice

Casanova and Venice were all about wine and pasta. I really just wanted to enjoy myself, and I didn't want to take acting too seriously, and so I did not. I had a wonderful time, and I was blessed to be working with people that we all got along. We really liked each other's company.

On sudden success

This has been a long slow process for me. At an early age, I somewhat had a career somewhat spoon-fed to me. It was handed to me on a platter, and it was at a time when I didn't really feel like I deserved it, and I didn't feel like I could act. I didn't feel like I knew what I was doing. I didn't have any experience. I didn't have any reason to be in that position, and so that made me uncomfortable that people on a grand scale were seeing my performance, which wasn't really ready to be seen.

I never had a theatre space to kind of make all my mistakes in. Fortunately and unfortunately, my mistakes were on film, and so, I tried to put the brakes on, and I've really tried to walk away from the path that was in front of me. I wanted to deserve the position I'm in, and I wanted to learn more about how to act. It's been a kid of slow, gradual process getting to a position where I'm comfier in my performance, and more flexible. And it just comes from making mistakes and adjustments. No, I can finally say I've worked to get where I am.

On becoming a father

Matilda is the most beautiful baby I've ever seen. Walking away from the birthing experience, I have never felt so useless. Witnessing this innate primal strength and determination that's injected into women when they have to push out that baby is just the most spectacular thing ever. I definitely walked away feeling that as men over time we have over compensated for our lack of strength. This intimidating experience of women just being that much stronger than we are. We've gone out and created battles and war. But now I happily relinquish power and respect to Michelle (Williams), because I'm not about to go out and create a war.

On his current position

I'm just at a very comfortable place in my home life. Work-wise, there's a very safe way to act. There are safe choices you can make. There's a very easy way to just be Ok or good in everything you do. There's an easy way to play everything. There are projects that have success just comes with it, financial, commercial success

But I needed to go out and test myself, and I like to push myself and do stuff that frightens me, and that I want to learn more, I want to grow. I never want to be comfortable with the position I'm in. I never want to say, well, I am good or I've done it. I always want to be better and I always want to do better and grow.

New Duties in Life

The flame in my life is at home right now, and I'm definitely a moth that's flickering around it. My life right now is reduced to food. I wake up, cook breakfast, clean the dishes, prepare lunch, clean those dishes and go out to the market to get fresh produce, cook dinner, clean those dishes and sleep, if I can.

On Marriage

I really don't feel like I need a piece of paper to verify or validate the love I have for Michelle. She's my soul mate and we couldn't love each other any more.

Choice of Roles in the Future

Brokeback Mountain changed my perspective on film. I'm not doing a movie unless it means something to me. Nothing scraes me anymore.