MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The actor Heath Ledger has died. The New York Police Department reports that the star of "Brokeback Mountain" was found dead earlier today in his Manhattan apartment. They say drugs may have been a factor. Ledger was 28 years old.
Our film critic, Bob Mondello, joins us to talk about Heath Ledger's career. And, Bob, for a lot of people, Heath Ledger will be that character in "Brokeback Mountain," Ennis Del Mar, this tortured, closeted gay cowboy.
BOB MONDELLO: Yeah, and as somebody who almost didn't speak. He was very quiet as opposed to the other character in the film. And he was agonized. I mean, it was a tortured part. He had been sort of building up to that for a little while in other tortured parts. If you remember from "Monster's Ball," for instance, when he played the son of Billy Bob Thornton who committed suicide, if I'm remembering the film correctly.
BLOCK: Heath Ledger's character did, yeah.
MONDELLO: Yeah. It's a - it was something - it's odd to think that he burst on the scene as such a kid. He was quite young. In Australia, he began his career playing teen heartthrob types. And that's sort of how we met him too in a picture called "10 Things I Hate About You," which was essentially a remaking of "Taming of the Shrew" in a high school setting. He played Petruchio. And he was kind of wonderful, but you didn't really think of him as a major actor. I don't think anybody did. Everybody thought he was handsome and had a deep voice.
BLOCK: He did play a number of dark characters, dark roles. What did you see in him on the screen? What sort of actor was he for you?
MONDELLO: Well, he kind of smoldered once he got past - you know, the one thing he was not great at was comedy most of the time. And when he - he did a lot, initially, in films like "Four Feathers" and just silly pictures. When he - what he was really good at, I think, was looking tortured. He looked like there was something really there. And I don't know to what extent that was helped by the fact that his voice was so deep, that he was - he seemed more substantial somehow than a lot of other actors do at his age. He felt as if he had classical training. I don't know if he actually did, but he felt that way because of the projection that he could get into his voice. I thought of him in terms of stage actors I had seen like him.
BLOCK: And we will be seeing him on screen this summer.
MONDELLO: Yeah. He had already finished playing the part of the Joker in the new "Batman" movie that's coming out shortly. He's essentially a young Jack Nicholson, I suppose, in that picture. That'll be a sad thing to see.
BLOCK: Our film critic, Bob Mondello, talking about Heath Ledger, the actor who was found dead today in New York. He was 28.
NORRIS: And this is NPR, National Public Radio.
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