When Heath Ledger sits down to promote his new film “The Four Feathers” one would not expect that ensuing conversation to include references to “Police Academy” and a discussion on the difficulty of acquiring Foster’s, the self-proclaimed beer of Australia, in his home country. But then again, Ledger is only 23 and he likes to take part in the same things other people his age do.
“I never sit around and think about my career that much,” Ledger admits. “I’m a pretty lazy person. I mean once I hang up the phone I’m gonna go home and sit in front of the TV and, ya know, cook and clean my shit. I don’t really sit around and get all calculated about everything.”
Ledger won’t let his superstardom get to his head, purposely avoiding the hundreds of websites devoted to the young Aussie star of “A Knight’s Tale” and “The Patriot.”
“I don’t have an e-mail address, and I’ve never seen any of (the websites). I hang out with my best friends that have been my best friends since I was three.”
But Ledger’s Clark Kent-like vision of his own life is anything but the truth. Not many people his age get to spend months in the beautiful deserts of Morocco or play-kissing some of the world’s most beautiful women, such as Kate Hudson, his co-star in “Four Feathers” and past film lovers Julia Stiles and Shannyn Sossamon.
In his new role, Ledger gets to play antique dress-up once again, commanding the role of a young British officer Harry Haversham during the end of the 19th century. But the movie was not just playing war as Harry makes the difficult decision to desert the military as they ship out to a battle he doesn’t understand.
The intriguing character, along with the charm of one of his favorite directors brought him to the project.
“Initially, it was Shekhar Kapur (the film’s director). I was and still am a huge fan. And secondly, just the character and his journey is so epic, that he really starts in one place and ends in another.”
He continues: “I was curious about this character because on paper, and in the day and the time, he was labeled a coward. It really read black and white; he was cowardly on paper. He didn’t want to go to war, and he was using his wife as an excuse … it was very straightforward, but in that cowardly act I found him to be courageous, because he was standing up for what he believed in, he was standing against a systematic and regimental lifestyle that he’d been spoon-fed his whole life.”
Ledger recalls the actual production with fond emotions, despite hours of being put in makeup and filming in the hot temperatures, he still came away with a great shooting experience on and off the set.
For one scene, Ledger got to live out that epic dream of crossing the desert, making that grand journey that has been so beautifully filmed in numerous classic films, most significantly in “Lawrence of Arabia,” a film “The Four Feathers” has been compared to.
“I jumped on my camel and rode off into the sunset for hours and hours. I had a turban on over my head and I had Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon playing, it was just magical”
Ledger developed many close relationships with his co-stars but speaks the most glowingly of Djimon Honsou, the “Amistad” star who plays a guardian angel role to Ledger’s Harry.
“He is my brother and he’s got such a beautiful soul; a big heart and generous to work with. And he’s got such a huge presence. At first he can be intimidating, he’ll walk in the room and, he’s massive, and in actual fact he can pick you up and snap you over his knee. But you know, he’s just big and gentle and you can push him over with one finger. We had a ball.”
Part of that “ball” included a weekly musical jam with some of the locals.
“Every Tuesday night we would play drums with this Sudanese drum band. We’d just kind of get blind drunk on red wine; we’d keep a constant beat for like three hours straight, and that was fun. Out in the middle of desert and just playing away.”
Still, with all the joy “The Four Feather” was to make, Ledger feels a real affinity for making smaller films, and even taking smaller roles like in last year’s “Monster’s Ball.”
“It keeps you alive doing smaller movies and smaller roles. There’s less pressure. ‘Monster’s Ball,’ the whole movie was shot in four weeks and my work was over in two days. It’s fun to be able to just walk in and walk out and not have the pressures of creating this huge arch for the character to carry a movie. You can just go in there and pretty much do what the fuck you want.”
Having finished two other films since “The Four Feathers,” Ledger does not have any upcoming plans for his career, instead taking a momentary break and keeping a return to theater a possibility for the future.
This short vacation does not mean he’s unhappy right now with the way things have worked out for him so far; on the contrary, when asked to compare the century he lives in now with the numerous ones he has lived through in his films, he replies, “I’m pretty happy in this one, no matter how fucked up it is.”