Warner Bros., Focus react to tragedy
Heath Ledger, who was found dead Tuesday in his Gotham apartment, had two outstanding projects: He plays the Joker in Warners’ upcoming Batman pic, “The Dark Knight,” and has a key role in “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” a Terry Gilliam pic that has been shooting in London.
Principal photography on “The Dark Knight” finished in the fall; as of Tuesday, the pic is still skedded for a July 18 bow.
The status of the pic’s marketing campaign, however, is uncertain. The first phase is built around the Joker and pics of his character are particularly ghoulish. Warner execs were still grappling with the news on Tuesday and had no comment on how they would proceed.
“The studio is stunned and devastated by this tragic news,” said Alan Horn, president-COO, Warner Bros. & Jeff Robinov, president, Warner Bros. Pictures Group. “Heath was a brilliant actor and an exceptional person.”
The 28-year-old Ledger was Oscar-nommed two years ago for “Brokeback Mountain.” This year, he appeared in “I’m Not There.”
News about Ledger’s demise cast a pall over the celebratory mood at Warners, which received a slew of Oscar noms in the morning, and at Focus Features, which had scored a major Sundance deal earlier in the day.
A Focus rep said the specialty label, which had close ties to the thesp from his role in “Brokeback Mountain,” was in shock over the news, and CEO James Schamus, who produced Ang Lee's pic, issued a statement lamenting the loss. “Heath Ledger was a courageous actor, and a great soul,” Schamus said. “He gave us the gift of sharing his fearless and beautiful love — of his craft, and of all who worked with him — for which all of us will be eternally grateful.”
In Gotham, a crowd of several hundred media members, looky-loos and bereft fans gathered late Tuesday afternoon outside the apartment building on Broome Street where Ledger’s body was found. The actor had been living in the Soho neighborhood since splitting last year with partner Michelle Williams.
Flashes from paparazzi and cell phone cameras lit up the building’s narrow façade next to the Nanette Lepore clothing boutique next door. As a lone policeman guarded the entrance, several people stood on window ledges across the street to get a better view of Ledger’s body being wheeled out on a gurney.
The “Dark Knight” rollout will present more than a few challenges en route to opening weekend. One poster shows the Joker character drawing a clown’s smile on a mirror with red lipstick and scrawling the words, “Why So Serious?” Tagline was also used to launch a Joker-centric website that the studio used to bow new photos from the pic and a viral scavenger hunt, among other games.
“The Joker character is dealing with chaos and life and death and a lot of dark themes,” one insider with knowledge of the campaign said. “Everyone is going to interpret every line out of his mouth in a different way now.”
Born in Perth, Western Australia, Ledger came to America after several small roles in Australian films. His role in Aussie pics “Blackrock” and “Two Hands” drew some attention, but it was “10 Things I Hate About You” that started his reputation as a teen heartthrob.
He turned to more serious fare with “The Patriot” and “Monster’s Ball,” and appeared in “Ned Kelly,” “A Knight’s Tale,” “The Brothers Grimm” and “Lords of Dogtown.”
After this diverse array of roles, he shot straight to the top when he was cast as a closeted gay cowboy in Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.”
Ledger has a two year old daughter with Williams, who co-starred with him in “Brokeback Mountain.”
He was set to appear in Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia” before dropping out to star in “The Dark Knight.”
(Marc Graser, Pamela McClintock, Dade Hayes, Sam Thielman and Pat Saperstein contributed to this report.)
Report by Diane Garrett from Variety.com
This really saddens me. I was a big fan of Ledger and his movies except for Broke Back Mountain. But I couldn't wait to see him in the new Batman: The Dark Knight film coming out this summer. Now the movie will not be the same but yet I still cant wait to see Ledgers last work. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.