LOS ANGELES: The Oscars are eight months away and the film hasn’t even been released, but Heath Ledger’s performance in his last film is already generating talk of a rare posthumous Academy Award.
Australian heartthrob Ledger, who died of an accidental drug overdose in New York in January aged 28, appears in cinemas later this month as comic-book hero Batman’s chilling arch-enemy, The Joker, in “The Dark Knight”.
Ledger’s creepy rendition of the classic role has already wowed a handful of critics invited to sneak previews for the film, which opens in North America on July 18, with several describing the performance as Oscar-worthy.
“I can only speak superlatives of Ledger, who is mad-crazy-blazing brilliant as the Joker,” wrote Rolling Stone’s film critic Pete Travers.
“If there’s a movement to get him the first posthumous Oscar since Peter Finch won for 1976’s ‘Network’, sign me up,” Travers added.
Sam Rubin, a respected entertainment correspondent for Los Angeles KTLA network, said Ledger would “absolutely be nominated for an Oscar, and at this point in the year is a hands-down favourite to win it posthumously”.
“Ledger offers perfect pitch, perfect tone, his Joker hits all the right notes,” Rubin added.
The cast and crew of “The Dark Knight” were similarly wowed by Ledger’s presence on set.
British actor Gary Oldman, who plays Gotham City police officer Lieutenant Jim Gordon, is among those who believe Ledger’s performance is Oscar-worthy.
“The Academy doesn’t always recognise work in this kind of genre, but I think he’s probably going to get an Oscar nomination,” Oldman told reporters at a publicity event in Beverly Hills.
Oldman said he was captivated by Ledger’s acting as soon as he saw him on set.
“I got a sense of it the first morning I worked with him. And I thought ‘This kid’s a bit good’,” he said.
“It’s like he’s found a radio station that the rest of us can’t hear. And that happens to actors sometimes.
“Over the years when I’ve seen great performances – (Jack) Nicholson in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, Al Pacino in ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ – you go ‘wow, there’s something really special at work here’. And I think Heath’s done that here. It’s like he’s gone through the sound barrier.”
The film’s director Christopher Nolan said Ledger, renowned for taking on difficult, edgy roles during his career, was chosen for the film precisely for that reason.
“For the role of The Joker I was looking for fearlessness,” Nolan said. “I needed a phenomenal actor, but he (Ledger) also had to be someone unafraid of taking on such an iconic role.
“Heath created something entirely original. It’s stunning, it’s captivating and it’s going to blow people away.”
Oldman, meanwhile, was sceptical of suggestions that the disturbing nature of Ledger’s last role was somehow a contributory factor in his death.
“People want a dark story,” Oldman said. “You know, ‘He was so obsessed with character’, ‘He was contaminated by the Joker’, ‘He couldn’t sleep’, that sort of thing. But in between takes he would sit on the kerbside, smoke a cigarette and have a laugh and talk about his daughter Matilda. I thought he was just a beautiful kid, wonderful.
“I had a real affection for him. Charismatic doesn’t even begin to describe it. You need a whole new word for charismatic.”
Oscar-watchers said that Ledger’s performance could easily win a nomination, but cautioned that most of the films expected to be in contention at the Academy Awards were yet to be released.
“It’s early in the year and people are looking for things to talk about as possible Oscar contenders,” said Maxim film critic Pete Hammond. “I would say Heath Ledger has got a good chance now, but it depends on what opens later.
“Getting a posthumous nomination is rare, but it does happen. I think there’s a lot of goodwill towards Heath. People are looking at this performance as the last chance to do something for Heath, and he’s certainly deserving.
Channel News Asia