I'm not going to talk about the acting here. Critics wiser than I will have plenty of time to dissect his clearly impressive albeit all too small body of work.
I do want to talk about the man — the man I encountered — and why I, like many, am truly heartbroken today.I didn't know Heath Ledger. The sum of our time together was about 10 minutes at a junket two months ago in New York. Still, for good or for bad I often make snap judgments about actors based on these quick interactions. You can tell a lot in a few moments, and I remember telling my girlfriend how much I genuinely liked Heath that day.
I remember when I sat down we talked about chess a bit. Heath told me he was obsessed with it, played every day since he was a kid. He said he often played in Washington Square Park. The thought of an actor of Ledger's fame mingling among the other chess fanatics made me smile.
He was smoking up a storm and we laughed about his two addictions: nicotine and chess. Now I wince at the memory, hoping those were the only two compulsions he truly had. Ledger was jittery during the interview. He moved around a bit and laughed easily. He struck me as a man almost ill at ease with his own body. But it all came off as charming, none of the self-possessed bullsh-- cocky facade so many actors show. He was what he was sitting there: raw, uneasy, but fiercely intelligent and sweet.
We talked about New York that day. He told me he had left Brooklyn for Manhattan. When he asked me where I was from I told him I was a born and bred New Yorker. He gave me a thumbs up and smiled. It's a moment now burned into my memory and sadly suddenly feels horribly bittersweet.