I spent many years at The Arizona Republic working the movie beat. I had a column called “Hollywood Q&A” where I would interview a different actor every week in support of their upcoming film’s release. We had a main movie reviewer and he often took the A-list stars like Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage, and would pass along the up-and-comers to me. These were mostly indie films, or studio films that did not have good buzz.
Actually it worked out the best for me because I was able to talk to dozens of then little-known actors like America Ferrera, Gabrielle Union, James Marsden – who went on to have big careers. Heath Ledger was among them.
It was fall 2002, and he was promoting his film The Four Feathers.
Let me back up a sec – right before this phone interview, I interviewed Jake Gylenhaal for his film, The Good Girl. He called my work phone and my interview was to be 15 minutes. At 14 minutes he had answered all of my questions super lively and very personable. He told me how he and Heath Ledger were among the final three contenders for the lead in Moulin Rouge, which ultimately went to EwanMcGregor.
I had one minute to spare with JAKE GYLLENHAAL – hello? who in their right mind would hang up early? I didn’t know what to ask him to make the most of that minute so I asked the first thing came into my head:
ME: “What is in your pocket right now?”
HIM: “Hmmm, lemme see…” (I hear him move around) “Oh,” he said. “I have your phone number in my pocket!” He chuckled and we said our goodbyes.
Ahhhh, what a way to end a conversation with Jakey…with my phone number in his pocket! I ended up using it in the story I wrote about him. I’ve been a hardcore Jake fan ever since. Afterwards, I was thinking how clever I was, how the best questions come when you don’t plan them.
Now time came to interview Heath for Four Feathers. This movie was a serious epic that took place in the Sudan desert. Heath was really serious too, he seemed kind of bored by having to do phone interviews. Some actors love the art of acting, but not the publicity angle. I think he was one of them. He was super polite though. It was a tough interview and it seemed to last forever because he gave very short answers. I became really nervous, and wasn’t sure if I liked him. I noticed all my questions had been answered, and I still had a couple minutes to spare. I decided to, again, ask the first thing that popped in my head.
OK, remember that climatic scene in Ghostbusters when Bill Murray tells Dan Ackroyd to think of something to fight off the evil monster and he accidentally thinks of the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man?
Well, I kinda did the same thing here.
ME TO HEATH: “Wow, you answered all my questions. We still have a couple minutes. Can I ask one more thing?”
ME (very nervous!): “You filmed in the desert for this film. You must have been hot and thirsty. Did they have big water trucks?”
HIM: “Water trucks? What for?”
ME: (realizing how stupid I am, hiding my face with my hands in shame: “Um… to… drink from?”
HIM: (Laughs really hard) “No. They did not have water trucks. But they did have bottled water.”
Yes, I purposely smacked my head. Luckily I had 10 seconds left and I quickly apologized and told him I was flat-out nervous, and normally don’t ask such stupid questions. He told me no prob, that it was cute and he that got a good laugh out of it. I immediately relaxed. That moment made me a hardcore Heath fan forever. He went on to do all these fabulous movies, but I always knew he was a very quiet guy inside, I could hear it in his voice. I still h ave my tape of the interview, but I don’t want to listen to it. Like everyone else who loved his work, I’m so, so, so sad that his life ended way too early. This weekend I do plan to rent Four Feathers in his honor.
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