Remembering Heath Ledger’s Performances
Heath Ledger was perhaps the most gifted actor of his generation when he died tragically on January 22, 2008. He was only 28 years old, and it seemed as though his career was just entering a new phase of acclaim and prestige when his life was unexpectedly cut short.
To mark this, the ten-year anniversary of his untimely death, we’re looking back at some of our favorite Heath Ledger roles from a career that was far too brief.
7. Conor – Roar
If you’ve never heard of this show, please do yourself a favor and watch it immediately. Ledger played a Celtic prince in Ireland who was trying to resist the advance of Roman troops. It definitely shared the same DNA as Hercules and Xena, but it was loads of fun to watch and boasted a pretty solid cast. (Vera Farmiga was also in the show, as was a pre-Felicity Keri Russell). Ledger’s performance elevated the short-lived series, and he proved himself to be an actor to whom you should be paying attention.
6. Patrick Verona – 10 Things I Hate about You
If people didn’t know Heath Ledger before this movie came out, they certainly knew him afterwards. This movie was his first big Hollywood film – and what a debut it was! What girl didn’t fall in love with Heath Ledger in this classic 1990s high school rom-com? His Patrick Verona wasn’t the same kind of stock rom-com hero you’d get from some of his contemporaries (cough*FreddiePrinzeJr*cough); instead, Ledger’s character was edgy and reminiscent of a complicated John Hughes hero.
5. Gabriel Martin – The Patriot
No, this movie is definitely not a history lesson. But, it sure is entertaining – even more so with Heath Ledger in the role of Gabriel Martin, an idealistic and headstrong patriot. Ledger proved that he had the command and presence to share scenes with Mel Gibson and make a deep impression on the audience. And, yes, Heath Ledger looks mighty fine in 18th-century costumes.
4. Ned Kelly – Ned Kelly
Heath Ledger was particularly excited about this project, since it was a big ole slice of Australian history that centered on one of Oz’s most notorious folk heroes. Ned Kelly also shows the kind of unconventional choices that Ledger made throughout his career. Instead of signing on for another rom-com or big-budget blockbuster, he took a step back from Hollywood, returned to his roots in Australia, and made a relatively small period piece about a folk hero.
3. Jacob Grimm – The Brothers Grimm
This was Ledger’s first film with whimsical director Terry Gilliam. (Their next collaboration produced Ledger’s final, unfinished performance in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnasus.) Ledger’s performance as the bookish and brilliant younger Grimm stood out– Jacob is a neurotic, fidgety dreamer, and we loved him for it.
2. Ennis del Mar – Brokeback Mountain
This movie had a flawless cast, but Ledger was easily the standout. Ledger’s physicality as an actor comes across most clearly in his performance as Ennis. The way Ennis moved– tight and slightly hunched over, as if he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders– and the way he talked– restrained and wound up like a fist– told you everything about the character. And this final scene, when Ennis strokes his deceased lover’s bloodied shirt and jacket, still drives me to tears every viewing.
1. The Joker – The Dark Knight
There is nothing that I can say about this role that hasn’t already been said. Heath won a much deserved posthumous Oscar for his performance as the maniacal, iconic Joker.
Photo credit: Focus Features