Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Chris Nolan's final words on Heath Ledger (and mine).

Newsweek ran an excellent piece by Chris Nolan regarding the untimely death of Heath Ledger. Nolan directed Ledger in his final film, The Dark Knight and should have been one of the first people the press sought out when the horrible news broke -- not Jack Nicholson.

Here is an excerpt from Nolan's article. It includes a potential spoiler about how the Joker could be riding a skateboard in the upcoming film:

One night, as I'm standing on LaSalle Street in Chicago, trying to line up a shot for "The Dark Knight," a production assistant skateboards into my line of sight. Silently, I curse the moment that Heath first skated onto our set in full character makeup. I'd fretted about the reaction of Batman fans to a skateboarding Joker, but the actual result was a proliferation of skateboards among the younger crew members. If you'd asked those kids why they had chosen to bring their boards to work, they would have answered honestly that they didn't know. That's real charisma—as invisible and natural as gravity. That's what Heath had.

Heath was bursting with creativity. It was in his every gesture. He once told me that he liked to wait between jobs until he was creatively hungry. Until he needed it again. He brought that attitude to our set every day.

One time he and another actor were shooting a complex scene. We had two days to shoot it, and at the end of the first day, they'd really found something and Heath was worried that he might not have it if we stopped. He wanted to carry on and finish. It's tough to ask the crew to work late when we all know there's plenty of time to finish the next day. But everyone seemed to understand that Heath had something special and that we had to capture it before it disappeared. Months later, I learned that as Heath left the set that night, he quietly thanked each crew member for working late. Quietly. Not trying to make a point, just grateful for the chance to create that they'd given him.

You can read the rest of what Nolan said here.

Far be it for me to speculate on what may have caused Ledger's death. I'm not one of the NYPD detectives assigned to the case. However, the press has so far implicated suicide, drug use, depression, playing the Joker against Jack Nicholson's warnings, and yes, an Olsen twin.

But the one angle few reporters have mentioned yet - especially now that there's a chance Ledger could have died of natural causes - was exhaustion. Here was an actor who played the villain in a movie about a nocturnal super hero. That meant a lot of both day and nighttime shooting. It's almost certain that it wrecked Ledger's sleeping routine. Also, in Nolan's article, we read that Ledger had asked the crew to work late one evening, making it obvious that Ledger was never afraid to push himself beyond his limits.

When principal photography for The Dark Knight had wrapped, Ledger jumped immediately into his post-production duties so he could have those out of the way in order to play a lead role in Terry Gilliam's next film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Certainly, Ledger didn't 'need' to appear in the film as was his custom according to Nolan. He probably just took the role because he was good friends with Gilliam from their days working on The Brothers Grimm, and he knew the perpetually unlucky filmmaker would probably not be able to secure financing for his film otherwise.

So by doing a solid favor for a friend in need at a time when Ledger should have been recouperating from the hectic Batman shoot, the actor may have simply pushed his heart to the brink of failure. I've seen something similar happen to my own father. He worked non-stop when I was a kid, traveling up and down the highway. Then one day he collapsed on our couch and had to go to the hospital. He almost died. A few weeks later his hair turned completely white.

One of the virtues of the modern age is exhaustion. It's a sign of sacrifice and determination, but on the other side of the coin, it's also telling people who are unable to enjoy the things they have. What did Ledger have? A fortune, an Oscar nomination, the ability to star in any movie he would have liked, and more importantly, a daughter he loved dearly. Then again, if we were in Ledger's shoes, we might have agreed that he didn't have enough.

Perhaps no one can.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article! Very insightful.

Kaykee Kupps

10:48 PM  

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