Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I had the pleasure of interviewing the late Heath Ledger this past November. Here's that story...

It takes a special kind of actor to willingly step into as bizarre a role as the one of Robbie, one of six incarnations of music legend Bob Dylan in the trippy new flick I’m Not There. But let Heath Ledger tell it, saying yes to Todd Haynes’ movie was nothing. Good director. Good part. When do we start? Such a response shouldn’t be shocking from the Australian hunk though. Over his impressive 15-year career, Heath’s boldly portrayed a gay (Brokeback Mountain), a straight shooter (The Patriot) and a crooked lover (Casanova), all in convincing fashion. Next summer he’s upping the ante big time and going after Gotham City as The Dark Knight’s Joker. As for now, he’s with us, shedding some light on being Bob, being Batman’s nemesis and being a daddy.

A lot of younger audiences today aren’t as aware of Bob Dylan as their parent’s generation. Do you feel an audience needs a certain awareness of Dylan in order to understand I’m Not There?
I don’t think you need to be a Dylan genius in order to appreciate it. As a story, as a film, the experience of it, ‘cause it is a film, it is a movie. It’s not a quiz, there’s no Q & A afterwards. Quite frankly I think the less you know the better off you’re going to be because you’re not going to be straining yourself to try to digest every single line of dialogue. You’re just gonna strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.

Your character “Robbie” represents Bob’s tumultuous personal life. What did you discover about the man himself in preparing for this role?
About “Robbie” or about Bob?

About Bob.
Umm, I dunno, because essentially Todd kind of dissected Bob and I was like an amputated limb, so I was just concentrating on one arm of Bob Dylan. Likewise Todd dissected the script too and handed us little short films, and we just concentrated on our individual stories. I tend to feel that the story of my character and Charlotte’s (Gainsbourg) character lives with him and the circumstances of the era represented more a portrait of Dylan than perhaps the individual. I dunno, at the end of the day I read the books, I watched the documentaries, my catalogue of Dylan’s music was expanded, but the beauty of Todd’s film is I can’t tell you that I know anything more about Bob Dylan than you do. I think that’s beautiful, that Todd attempted to respectfully preserve Bob Dylan’s mystique, and has respectfully kept him in the shadows still.

How has music affected your life?
Oh gosh. Where do I start? Music? On so many levels, it has affected my life and still continues to. One example, to me, singer/songwriters, poets, Dylan or whoever, to me it’s such a pure expression or song from the soul and it deeply connects to mine. It has always been the key to kind of unlock or enable me to express anger or pains of any sort. So, it’s always been a wonderful excuse for me to express creatively and personally.

When you’re playing an iconic figure like Dylan or, say, the Joker, is it helpful to go back and read all of the past stuff and look at all of the past stuff based on that character?
I think it’s a little bit of both. I think it’s necessary and I think it’s unnecessary. We can prepare. We can over prepare. We can under prepare. It’s all just to feed our superstitious needs and to comfort ourselves. At the end of the day, you usually just have an understanding about what it is you’re going to do. It’s innately it’s kind of embedded somewhere inside. I was definitely a fan of Dylan. Dylan was definitely someone I had felt I had scheduled somewhere in the future down the line to become obsessed by. I do become obsessed by people, musicians and artists. But I think Todd prematurely invited me into that experience on this film. And the Joker, yeah, I was definitely a fan of what Jack Nicholson did and the world Tim Burton created. I can tell you now that if Tim Burton was directing The Dark Knight and he came and asked me to play the Joker, I’d say, No. You couldn’t reproduce what Jack did. The reason why I confidently stepped in those shoes was when Chris [Nolan, The Dark Knight director] asked me, I had seen Batman Begins and I knew the world that he created. I also knew that there was a different angle to be taken. That’s why I did it.

Heath, as a dad, how do you relate to this role?
The same as if I wasn’t a dad. (Pause) No, okay. I guess just like anyone in this industry, like yourselves or the crews on movies, it’s a fairly Gypsy-esque lifestyle. I can certainly relate to that, struggling to keep a consistency with family life (Heath has a child with Brokeback Mountain co-star Michelle Williams) and your social life and your professional life. It’s both an annoyance and also an addiction. I can definitely relate to it. I didn’t agree with Robbie and a lot of his actions and his words, it’s not my job to agree, but I can try to relate and understand.

No comments: