Heath Ledger had a very high profile after the success of Brokeback Mountain so I was pleasantly surprised when he showed up at my studio alone. No publicist, no manager, no entourage…not even a driver.
He was casual, personable and didn’t make a single demand. It was easy to forget who he was as he comfortably engaged with everyone on set. Like a lot of sessions we sat and chatted for a while to go over what we had planned for the shoot and to get familiar with each other before we got to work. At one point he caught a glimpse of a Tony Kart we had for another project in the back of my studio and he couldn’t resist checking it out. He was from a racing family , grew up racing Kart’s like this one, his father raced cars and his family even owned a track in Australia. It was nice to see that a guy with so much success still carried his childhood passions.
It’s always a gift when you get to work with someone who is in the moment, creative and not self-conscious to the point where they edit themselves. There was no pretense or attitude, just a creative guy trying to collaborate on making compelling images. When you have the good fortune to have a subject with great instincts build up momentum, the best thing to do is just get out of the way and capture their process. We moved quickly through several set-ups before I showed him the old car we had waiting for him behind the studio.
I wasn’t sure about using the car’s interior since it was in far worse condition than I had imagined. It had been exposed to the elements for years and wreaked from whatever had been living in it at the junkyard. I was unsure if we should put him inside but the second he saw it my vote didn’t really count. Inside the car we both climbed.
To my chagrin, we did not have a meal catered as we were misinformed that he would be on a very tight schedule so we only had snacks at the shoot. When we finished we all migrated next door to a Mexican restaurant where it wasn’t uncommon for my shoots end over a game of pool.
It was 6 years ago today when the world reeled at the horrific news that Heath Ledger had passed away at his home in Manhattan at just 28. His much anticipated role of the Joker in The Dark Knight won him numerous posthumous accolades including the Oscar for best supporting actor.
I didn’t get to know Heath. I never saw him after the shoot but he was undeniably genuine and sincere. I know I speak for everyone present at the shoot when I say that we all had a good day…and we had a good day because Heath Ledger was a good guy.