So says Gary Oldman, himself a world-class performer, not to mention one of the late and now great Ledger’s co-stars in the summer’s most eagerly anticipated film
“I have a couple of scenes with him and was around him on the set,” begins Oldman, who reprises his role from “Batman Begins” as Lt. Jim Gordon. ”I think from the very first get-go, the very first morning that I spent with him, you knew that the kid was great. Do you know what I mean?
“I thought to myself, 'Fucking hell, this kid is good.' You know that you're in the presence of something really special and I've said this before. It's almost like he's tuned in and he's found a sort of frequency. It's like he's listening to a radio station that we can't hear. He found this thing.”
That’s when Oldman -- whose own grand work in any number of films, including as Joe Orton in “Prick Up Your Ears,” Sid Vicious in “Sid and Nancy” and Lee Harvey Oswald in “JFK,” remain pretty special, too -- really turns on the lavish praises.
“There are actors in their careers, a relatively short career, a young actor, like other young actors have done, where it's like they go on a long subsonic and then they go supersonic. They go through the sound barrier. You've got Jack Nicholson in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,' and you've got Al Pacino in 'Dog Day Afternoon,’ or you watch someone like (Robert) De Niro in 'Raging Bull.'
“I think what happens is that you see their commitment and they can't do it all the time and they don't do it all the time, but you watch these landmark performances. This is one of them. What you're responding to in this movie,” Oldman goes on during a recent interview in Beverly Hills, “is Heath's total commitment to the role. I never see an actor. I feel that I'm always watching The Joker. There's no vanity about the role.”
Adding that he’d love for Ledger to win a posthumous Oscar nod for his complete personification of anarchy, Oldman even finds some humor in it all before turning serious again.
“Yeah, and Heath won't have to do all that fucking (award) campaigning,” he says with a chuckle. “He's probably looking down now and laughing, going, ‘'I'm going to get nominated? Shit.'"
“It's just one of those things I call the cosmic shit-hammer. I do. You know what I mean?
“A friend of mine got sick and went to the doctors and they should've diagnosed spinal meningitis and they didn't and they gave him the wrong medication and at 3 o'clock in the morning, he couldn't breathe and by 5:30 he's at the hospital and his organs are closed down and he died. He didn't smoke. He didn't drink. He didn't take drugs. You just kind of go, 'That's the cosmic shit-hammer.'"
“It comes down to (being) your turn. I must say this: People, not you, but there's that gossipy other thing, that paparazzi sort of thing that wants to find the darker story here. I don't know about substance abuse or what was happening, but I never saw any of that. I saw an actor who was on time, knew his lines, was committed to the part and, in between those takes, was someone who would sit on a curb, smoke a cigarette, have a laugh, and talk about his daughter Matilda.
“It wasn't someone who was so contaminated and weirded out with the part that they went mad. I just really do think that it's a very, very sad and tragic accident. In the words of Sid Vicious: “Then go out in a blaze of glory!’ This is Heath’s blaze of glory. Yeah, hey, it's easy for me to say.”
John M. Urbancich
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