Shekhar Kapur, who directed Heath Ledger in the 2002 epic “The Four Feathers,” has paid fulsome tribute to the late actor as the 15th anniversary of his death approaches this weekend.
Ledger had a brief but bright career as a leading man, scoring Oscar and BAFTA best actor nominations for Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” (2005). He was found dead on Jan. 22, 2008. He was 28. He went on to win both the Oscar and BAFTA for supporting actor posthumously for playing the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.”
At the time of Ledger’s death, Kapur was working with him on a satire on the media titled “The Nine O’Clock War” and was one of the last people to speak with the actor.
“Heath and I became very close. He used to write to me and he called me my brother from another mother, we became that close,” Kapur told Variety. “Heath, even for his young age, was a very spiritual person and our conversations meandered through the ideas of space and the ideas of consciousness and all of that, and he tried to bring all those ideas into the film. And if you ever look at the film [“The Four Feathers”] again, you realize that his performance has a far greater depth than just playing Harry Faversham.”
In “The Four Feathers,” based on the 1902 novel by A.E.W. Mason, Ledger plays Faversham, a British army officer accused of cowardice who finds redemption in military action in the Sudan.
Kapur said he traveled to New York to meet Ledger to discuss “The Nine O’Clock War.” The actor had just returned from a shoot in Vancouver and said he was tired. They planned to meet the next day after Ledger had a massage. Kapur was staying with his friend, the author and alternative medicine practitioner Deepak Chopra.
“I remember going home and Deepak Chopra sat me down. He said, ‘Heath Ledger is dead.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean, he’s dead? He’s coming to see me soon.’ Then we switched on the television,” Kapur said. “And then I got a call from the New York police. They said that the last call on his cell phone was mine. And what do I know about it? I think they were just trying to examine the circumstances of his passing.”
Kapur emphasized that he and Ledger had “became extraordinarily close at that time.” He added that Ledger’s presence was “stunning” and was “deeply affecting” because of his honesty.
“He was good at revealing himself in anything that he did. I remember him saying no to ‘Alexander’ when we were in Rome together. I said Heath, ‘Alexander,’ Oliver Stone, why would you say no to that?’ And he said, ‘Shekhar, I can’t find the conqueror inside me,’” Kapur said. “But then when he said yes to the Joker, and I thought about how did he find the Joker inside him? Actually, the Joker is famous not because of his cruelty, but because of his compassion. When you see that there is a man that is killing people, and yet there is in the eyes compassion and understanding and wisdom. And so he related.
“I think it must have taken a lot out of him — to believe that you are the Joker, which is what he would always do. He would believe in what he was doing and saying and playing on screen. It must have devastated him,” Kapur said. “I knew that, we were constantly in touch.”
The filmmaker said that Ledger sent him initial sketches of the Joker character, but once filming began, he got wholly into character.
“My message to fans is, a few of us are lucky to have come across him and even luckier to have worked with him,” Kapur said.
Kapur’s new film “What’s Love Got to Do with It?,” starring Lily James and Emma Thompson, begins its global rollout at the end of January.