One afternoon back in the fall of 2005, the actor, Heath Ledger, was walking through his Brooklyn neighborhood with Christine Spines—then a writer for Entertainment Weekly. Ledger’s film, Brokeback Mountain, was about to be released. He had recently become a father. Michelle Williams, whom he had met on the set of Brokeback Mountain, had given birth to a baby girl. And that’s where we begin: their meeting in rural Canada. This is Heath Ledger on role playing.
Christine Spines: Michelle was saying how great it was to live in those trailers on this [Brokeback Mountain].
Heath Ledger: Oh, yeah.
Christine Spines: That it was very romantic.
Heath Ledger: It was really beautiful. Yeah it was very romantic. We were suddenly thrown into a little husband-wife situation. Our bed, honestly, was no bigger than that little round table there. My legs would hang off this far at the end. But it was worth it. And it was comfortable, somehow.
Christine Spines: Yeah, you guys really were that couple.
Heath Ledger: (confirmation) Yeah exactly. Yeah, it was sweet. It was very, very sweet. I could have stayed like that for years. It was very, very, very sweet.
Christine Spines: You’re fidgety.
Heath Ledger: Exactly. Fidgety. My nervous energy is usually the easiest form of energy to tap into. It’s a pattern for me, going into any job carrying a certain level of anxieties and doubt, self doubt, fears toward my inabilities and not being able to... I fooled them, or I can’t do them. I’m not an actor. I shouldn’t be here. I think everyone goes through that. I certainly do, and I recognize it as a pattern. I recognize it as necessary because without it I wouldn’t try as hard to overcome it.
You have to be willing to be manipulated in the first place, because you can either recognize that in your director and then fight it because you don’t trust them, but I’m not going to let them manipulate me. Or you think they’re on to something and that they’re manipulating something out of you which is interesting and new. So you kind of go with it. There’s as much self manipulation as there is directorial. I mean in terms of trying to convince yourself to believe the story and believe your characters. To me, I believe acting truly is harnessing the power of belief.
I find just hanging out more useful than rehearsal time. I really don’t like to rehearse at all. I think getting to know someone and gaining someone’s trust, the people you’re working with around you, is really important, particularly when you find yourself in such vulnerable positions in the story.
People generally express more in between their sentences when they’re not speaking. Words are usually there to disguise who someone is or what they’re feeling. So sometimes words are too complicated and they over-intellectualize moments—
Christine Spines: Well they’re a crutch, that’s what they are.
Heath Ledger: Yeah, and they’re red herrings, too.
Heath Ledger: If having true love and love that is expressive and free outside of work affects a project where you have to be restrained and in denial and fixed and closed off. This doesn’t mean you go out and just destroy your love outside of your life and kind of mirror your movie. We’re actors at the end of the day. I don’t take it home with me. My experience outside of work, I love… when I hear wrap, it’s the most exciting part of my day. I’m the first to have my make-up off, in the car, out. I’ve gotta go home. I want to get back to my life. I love it back there.
There’s one more bite from the interview I wanted to play. Christine asked Heath Ledger about the trailers on the set of Brokeback Mountain and where director Ang Lee fit in. Here it is.
Christine Spines: Was Ang in the mix, or—
Heath Ledger: Ang was our next door neighbor! I remember one morning waking up and Michelle and I were making coffee and having a cigarette. Going down to sit on the little stairs of our tiny little trailer. And then our eyes kind of come to and start adjusting to this cold morning. Ang is like sitting on a park bench in front of us. You can kind of make out that he’s holding something and you can hear this sound. Then you realize he’s sucking the eyeballs out of a fish. And his son had caught rainbow trout in the river and is eating the lips and eyes off of the face of the fishes at 5 o’clock in the morning.
Christine Spines: Ang is so fascinating!
Heath Ledger: Yeah. But he’s not alone. There are hundreds of millions of people that do that. I’m just not into eating fish face!