It’s been more than nine years since Heath Ledger’s tragic and unexpected death in January 2008, but Ledger remains fixed in our cultural consciousness. The latest tribute to the Oscar-winner’s brief life and career is I Am Heath Ledger, a documentary chronicling his rise to stardom.
Featuring commentary from the late actor’s closest friends (Ben Harper, Naomi Watts) and family members, the film attempts to present an intimate portrait of the man behind the craft—but in doing so, it becomes abundantly clear that there was no real separation between the actor and his art. We learn how Ledger was intrinsically tied to his work in life and death, his creative energy both propelled him into the spotlight and led to his untimely passing.
I Am Heath Ledger is more of a celebration than a deep dive, a surface-level look at the life of a legend through the words of those who knew him best. Here's what we learned from the film:
Heath Struggled with Insecurity
As the film opens, we see the actor through his optimistic beginnings, his confidence bordering on cockiness—“I have a lot of fun saying no” he jokes off-camera, a testament to his drive to diversify his career, his refusal to be typecast.
But then we see a different side.
“He kind of almost pulled out of every movie he ever ended up doing,” Heath’s agent, Steve Alexander, shares in the film, noting the actor’s inescapable feelings of self-doubt.
“It’s kind of a rule of thumb for me to self-doubt,” Ledger is heard explaining off-screen, “always think that I shouldn’t do it and I don’t know how to do it and I’m going to fail, that I fooled them, and I always try to find a way out.”
He Was Passionate About Directing—and Obsessed with Cameras
Heath’s creativity didn’t cap at acting. At the time of his death, Ledger and his director friend Matt Amato started a small production company, The Masses. Heath had been honing his directing skills on several music videos, including one for his friend Ben Harper (below).
In addition to film, the Aussie nurtured a fascination with photography. Friends claim he was rarely without a camera. “He just got you in your most authentic self,” model Christina Cauchi said of Ledger’s photography. “He’s really saying, through his photographs, ‘I see you.’”
He Had Trouble Sleeping
Ledger’s abundance of creative energy kept him kept him wide awake in the early hours, plotting his next move, his next project, his next opportunity to shine. Friends and coworkers noted that’d he’d often call at odd times of the night.
The Door to Heath’s Home Was Always Open
Ledger’s Los Feliz pad welcomed guests regularly—often up-and-comers and struggling Australian actors. Joel Edgerton, Rose Byrne, and Naomi Watts were among the ranks of famous residents. “Heath’s place in L.A. was sort of a renowned pre-Entourage kind of Entourage house,” actor Ben Mendelsohn explained.
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Heath Commissioned a Lullaby for His Daughter from Ben Harper
Ledger gifted Harper a grand piano ahead of the birth of his daughter, Matilda. The generous present had just one catch—Harper was asked to write Michelle and Heath’s baby a lullaby. “He became more of a dad than an artist,” Harper said of his friend’s transition to becoming a father, “and to say that about Heath… That’s it! That’s a huge thing.”
I Am Heath Ledger will air on Spike TV May 17.