Remembering Heath Ledger

It’s 10 years since Heath Ledger died an early, unexpected and shocking death. This is the piece I wrote in the hours after the news broke on January 23, 2008. I had actually forgotten that I had interviewed Ledger for ITV Yorkshire, which prompted my producer to call me later and remind me. Perhaps I was in another place, experiencing vicarious grief. Whatever it was, I’d erased the meeting from my mind. I remembered it later and revisited the tape that featured it. Our time together was extremely brief, but I’m glad to have had that time and, all these years later, to recall it – and him. What a loss.

Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger in The Four Feathers, the film for which I interviewed him for ITV Yorkshire.

I was halfway through writing another piece when the terrible news broke about the death of young Heath Ledger.

It came via my father, calling from his home in the States. Ledger’s death was headline news all over the country. Even Dad, hardly a follower of the latest young stars, knew how I would react: open-mouthed shock.

The difference between Heath Ledger and so many others who fall by the wayside – Brad Renfro, star of Apt Pupil, died only last week aged 25 – is that he had talent, real talent.

And his death at 28 puts him among those junior icons who never lived to fulfil their promise. The most obvious comparison is James Dean, killed in a car crash in 1955 aged 24. Or River Phoenix, only 23 when he died in 1993.

Their loss to cinema in incalculable. Both were phenomenally talented. Both were on the cusp of truly massive things. Now 28-year-old Ledger joins them in that exclusive club.

Unlike Dean and Phoenix, Heath Ledger wasn’t seen as a wild child. He wasn’t a party animal, a speed freak or, apparently, into drugs. He was, however, a phenomenally talented actor whose work was growing in stature. Brokeback Mountain proved that.

I was invited to meet Ledger in 1997. He was in the UK promoting The Patriot, in which he co-starred as Mel Gibson’s son. I turned down the opportunity because I had the chance to interview another, bigger, star.

Colleagues told me later I had missed out. “He’s very good,” they said. “A smart lad. And he can act. He holds his own against Gibson and comes out of the film with some kudos. Watch out for him.”

Over the next ten years Ledger came to the UK on a variety of projects – Ned Kelly, The Brothers Grimm, Brokeback Mountain – but our paths never crossed. In that time he had grown considerably as a performer. He was a serious-minded young man who put his all into a role. He was often the best thing in a lacklustre movie and, occasionally, brought a touch of greatness to it.

There were the inevitable comparisons with the likes of Marlon Brando and Paul Newman, both of whom enjoyed early success and the rewards it reaped. Yet Ledger always struck me as even smarter than both of them – a hard worker who strove to make the right choices and give of his best.

While still in his mid-20s Ledger distanced himself from the teen idol image that had enveloped him and began seeking out harder-edged work. Movies like Monster’s Ball proved he could handle dark, serious material. His Oscar-nominated turn as a taciturn homosexual cowboy in Ang Lee’s acclaimed Brokeback Mountain elevated him to a new level.

Ledger will be seen in the second Batman remake The Dark Knight as a particularly malevolent Joker. What will happen to Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which Ledger was making at the time of his death, is another matter.

His death brings down an early curtain on a career that was going places. Like his Brokeback co-star Jake Gyllenhaal, Ledger was an exciting, engaging, ever-watchable talent on the screen. He had something. Mel Gibson called it “the unknown factor”.

Perhaps Gibson couldn’t put his finger on it. Maybe Ledger didn’t want to. But he brought magnetism to his acting, just like Dean and, to a lesser extent, Phoenix.

Now he’s gone at the ridiculously young age of 28. And that is something to be shocked about.

Modern cinema doesn’t get many Heath Ledgers. They are rare creatures and they should be regarded as special. Like James Dean, Ledger will be remembered for a handful of movies and make the transformation from actor to icon to myth. A cult will grow, accelerate to full throttle and, eventually, slow down. But it’ll be a while before this tragic episode becomes yesterday’s news.

I wonder how long it will be before New York’s 421 Broome Street becomes a shrine like the Dakota Building. And who will play him when it comes to the inevitable movie…?

Heath Ledger 1979 – 2008 

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Dylan Thomas… and zombies

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The title of this blog entry isn’t indicative of my recent work, though I have written about Dylan Thomas and I have penned a short story about a zombie in an ambulance, but the two are not linked other than the fact they both came from me. If you get my drift.

It’s been a gloomy few weeks up here in darkest Yorkshire. The sun has barely had a chance to creep out from behind low cloud or through generally grey skies, rain, hail, snow and, yes, thunder snow! I didn’t even know such a thing was meteorologically possible. But it is, and we’ve had it.

But the murkiness of January has been lightened by a flurry of positive vibes. First, I was invited to contribute to a new compendium entitled Literary Landscapes. A follow-up to Literary Wonderlands, it is a reference book to some of the great worlds as imagined by the great writers. My chapter is on Under Milk Wood, a Play for Voices by Dylan Thomas, and the invitation was extended to me after the publishers saw Under Milk Wood Revisited – The Wales of Dylan Thomas, a book from 2014 on which I collaborated with ace photographer Mark Davis.

I took a few days to research the chapter and write it. I’m eager to see it in print.

Time Machine chapter

A typical entry in Literary Wonderlands – on H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.

Then there’s the zombie story. I wrote “A&E” after mulling over the notion of a zombie in the confined space of an ambulance. I don’t get much time to pursue my fiction so I’m always gratified when someone selects one of my pieces. I can’t say where “A&E” will appear yet but it follows a previous story, “Flies”, into print. And I’m delighted.

More news as I have it. In the meantime I have some amends to my Masters thesis to complete and then the year’s big delivery, the story of Yorkshire rockers Saxon in Saxon, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll, to be published by Tomahawk Press.

Rockers!

Graham Oliver, myself and Steve Dawson at our first meeting to discuss their memoirs Saxon, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll. (Image by Bruce Sachs)

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Tony’s winter movie jumble now underway

IMG_2305I have 25 years’ worth of stills, press kits and other goodies in my archives, and I’m staring to sell them off.

Here is my first list. More to come. Email me on antony_earnshaw@sky.com if you’re interested in anything.

PRESS KITS FOR SALE

Absolute Power – colour synopsis/cast list, production brochure

The Abyss: Special Edition – 5 b/w stills and production notes

A Good Man in Africa – 3 b/w stills, colour synopsis card, production notes

A.I. Artificial Intelligence – colour folder with production notes

Alien – colour folder with production notes

Alien 3 – colour folder with 5 b/w stills and production notes SOLD

Alien Resurrection – Colour synopsis card, production notes

Alien vs. Predator – production notes

Army of Darkness – colour cast list, production notes, 2 b/w stills

The Avengers (TV series) – 10 b/w stills for 1990s Lumiere VHS release, plus notes, VHS video covers Batman begins – colour folder and production notes

Batman – 8 b/w stills

Batman Forever – 9 b/w stills, production notes and cast list (with biro marks)

Batman Forever – production notes

Batman Returns – colour folder with 10 b/w stills and production notes

Bats – production notes

Beetlejuice – production notes IMG_2305

Big Trouble in Little China – synopsis/cast list (1 page)

The Blair Witch Project (1999) – colour brochure and 2 b/w stills

The Blair Witch Project (1999) – colour brochure with 11 b/w stills and production notes

Day of the Dead (1985) – production notes – WILL COPY ONLY

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – production notes

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – 52-page production brochure SOLD

Lost Highway – 4 b/w stills, 1 colour postcard

Michael Collins – colour folder with 13 b/w stills, colour synopsis and production notes RESERVED

Michael Collins – 11 b/w stills

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – 3 b/w stills, 2 colour stills

Night of the Living Dead (1990) – production notes – WILL COPY ONLY

Point Blank – 1 b/w still, 2 postcards, production notes for re-release SOLD

Razor Blade Smile – production notes

Return of the Living Dead Part II – colour brochure/cast list with production notes

Rolling Stones At the Max – production notes in colour folder

Seven – 3 b/w stills with production notes in glossy black folder

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie – 4 b/w stills and production notes

Terminator 2: Judgment Day – colour brochure, colour sticker and production notes

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me – 5 b/w stills and colour brochure

The Wind and the Lion – 1 b/w still

Withnail & I – 2 b/w stills SOLD

The World is Not Enough – 8 colour transparencies

Wrong is Right – 1 b/w still

 

 

 

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O2 Media Awards Yorkshire

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It was gratifying to receive a nomination as Best Writer in this year’s O2 Media Awards Yorkshire, which take place next week (September 28) in Leeds.

My category looks like this:

Tony Earnshaw – The Yorkshire Post

Roberta Mothersdale – The Dalesman

Helen Mead – Bradford Telegraph & Argus

Ian McMillan – The Dalesman

Kevin Shoesmith – Hull Daily Mail

It’s a solid line-up with poet Ian McMillan, the Bard of Barnsley, being a particularly strong contender.

My old home The Yorkshire Post has a total of nine nominations, with Tony Johnson and James Hardisty both up for Image of the Year (Still photography), the YP investigations team up for Best Team, Rob Parsons and Rob Waugh up for News Reporter (Print), Rob Parsons up for Most Memorable (Print), Dave Craven as Sports Journalist, and then for Best Magazine and Best Newspaper (Daily).

And the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, for which I’ve been working as a freelance for the last year, is nominated as Best Newspaper (Daily) and for On-Line Journalism.

It will be good to catch up with colleagues old and new. I suspect it will be a boozy affair. I, of course, will behave impeccably…

 

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Brady music quiz leaves BBC stunned

Ian-Brady23454If you’ve read the papers today you’ll have seen stories on this frankly bizarre piece of radio programming. As I’m writing about the taboos around serial killers for my MA I am looking at Ian Brady and our responses to him. However I never expected this

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We are the Martians… landing soon!

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I’m pleased and proud to be among the contributing writers to this magnificent piece, edited by Neil Snowdon. It allowed me to make contact with, and meet, the legendary TV director Herbert Wise and to speak with him about his version of The Woman in Black. The film was adapted for TV by Nigel Kneale, which is why Herbie’s interview (along with producer Chris Burt) is in this book. Sadly the implosion of the original publisher Spectral Press meant the book has been massively delayed; in the intervening period Herbie sadly died. However I know he would have approved of this book and its championing of his film.

Read more on its imminent release by PS Publishing here.

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HorrorCon 2017 – another winner

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It was a lot of fun hosting Q&As at this year’s HorrorCon – the third and the best so far.

My duties were with Heather Langenkamp – Nancy Thompson from A Nightmare on Elm Street. And what a lot of fun she was. (Image above by Scott Kellaway)

The first of our interviews has popped up on YouTube. So if you could’t get along to HorrorCon to see her in the flesh, here she is courtesy of someone’s iPhone.

Great to see lots of friends, and to hook up with me old mate Christopher Frayling. That’s Professor Sir Christopher Frayling to the rest of you…

Enjoy. And maybe see you next year.

HorrorCon guest pic

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Extra! Extra!

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Look close at tonight’s transmission of King Charles III on BBC2 and you may see me in the background as a Member of Parliament.

My scenes were shot in the Council Chamber at Bradford City Hall last December. The key sequence featured King Charles (the late, great and much lamented Tim Pigott-Smith, above) entering Parliament and taking on the assembled MPs.

I’m just one of about 60 extras in that scene, all waving our papers and making a great deal of noise about the king and his controversial speech.

King Charles III blurb

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TV debut for The First Film

12243381_1087121271306271_1405922919681207111_nA labour of love for its director, The First Film receives its TV debut this coming Sunday, March 5, on Film Four.

The First Film is the story of Louis Le Prince, the ex-pat Frenchman who invented moving pictures in Leeds, Yorkshire, in October 1888.

One of the key moments in the documentary is the recreation, 125 years to the day, of ‘Roundhay Garden Scene’, a brief sequence shot by Le Prince and widely regarded as the first film ever shot. I was privileged to be a part of it.

I wrote about Le Prince and his pioneering work in my 2008 book Made in Yorkshire, which is referenced in The First Film. A marvellous piece of detective work, it is a long overdue tribute to a remarkable man.

Made in Yorkshire

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Rondo Hatton rears his head again

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I was delighted to see my name among the nominees for this year’s Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards.

The nod  – my fourth – is for my 2016 release FANTASTIQUE – Interviews with Horror, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Filmmakers, published by BearManor Media, a book that has been well-received and reviewed and that I’m particularly proud of.fantastiq-front-cover-final

But there’s some stiff competition from other books and other writers including my friends and colleagues Dennis Bartok and Jon Towlson. What’s more the compendium Unsung Horrors, to which I contributed, is also up for the same award. So I am competing against myself!

The voting ballot is here.

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