It should only be another day or so before the shock of Heath Ledger’s death wears off. That’s when fingers are going to be pointed at those around him. Don’t be surprised if a lot of people want to blame someone for negligence in not helping the troubled young actor.
The first name that’s already come up is Michelle Williams, Ledger’s former fiancée and mother of his 2-year-old daughter, Matilda. Insiders tell me the couple was rarely happy and that Williams had her own issues. The break-up with Ledger was her idea, they say, which left him bereft.
Of course, no one knows what really goes on between two people in a relationship, so unless Williams one day talks, it’s likely we’ll never know.
And then there are the friends. Ledger remained close to "Brokeback Mountain" co-star Jake Gyllenhaal and his sister, Maggie. Maggie took Katie Holmes’ place in the new "Dark Knight" movie alongside Heath as the new love interest of Batman (Christian Bale).
Ledger was also close to his "Casanova" co-star Sienna Miller. And there’s former flame Naomi Watts, who was at the Sundance Film Festival and just about to do interviews promoting a movie when the news broke. She immediately, and appropriately, canceled all publicity.
Still not heard from, also, are Ledger’s current director, Terry Gilliam, who also guided him through the 2005 disaster "The Brothers Grimm." Former director Todd Haynes, who turned him into a version of Bob Dylan, did issue a statement: "Heath was a true artist, a deeply sensitive man, an explorer, gifted and wise beyond his years. There was no finer person on this earth."
My old friend Mara Buxbaum, a great PR "girl," is having a bad week. On Tuesday morning the Academy snubbed client Sean Penn’s excellent and deserving film, "Into the Wild." By the afternoon, another client, Ledger, a great guy and friend, was dead. My deepest sympathies.
In the case of Penn, I do think that the announcement of his divorce from Robin Wright Penn before the Oscar voting closed didn’t help. Their news came on Dec. 28, right in the middle of the holidays, when most voters were supposed to be watching "Into the Wild" on DVD. My guess is they didn’t bother once they heard what was happening. It was a turn-off.
That’s too bad. "Into the Wild" really elevated Penn to a new level as a director. It also put young actor Emile Hirsch on the map. Catherine Keener also got lost in the fray. Only veteran actor Hal Holbrook survived the cut and received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. I think he will win after 50 years of quality acting.
Recently, I ran into Holbrook at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts/Los Angeles tea in Hollywood. He told me an interesting story about how he met Penn.
"My wife Dixie Carter and I did a TV movie that Sean was in in 1981. It was called 'The Killing of Randy Webster.' I think he was 20 or 21. It was just about his first job ever. We loved him. He was always watching what everyone was doing, studying it. When we got home, he sent us a letter, thanking us and telling us how much the experience meant to him. No one does that!
"So when the script for 'Into the Wild' came, he just sent a note and said, ‘It would be great if you’re not busy. I hope you can do this.’ I called him right away and said, ‘Even if I were busy with something, I’d cancel it.’ I reminded him about the letter. And he said he’d been waiting all this time to find the right thing.’"
Holbrook’s never been nominated for an Oscar before, by the way. He’s still never been up for a Golden Globe, either. They ignored him this year. If he wins the Academy Award, it will be another sign that the Globes have no bearing on the real movie awards.
Gorgeous British pop singer Julia Fordham is off to do a string of shows next month in an unlikely place: the Philippines.
Word is the old Fordham track "Love Moves in Mysterious Ways" has become a hit there. Why? Who knows? Just don’t question it.
Fordham — she of the hits "Happy Ever After," "Lock and Key," "Porcelain" and many others — will be testing out songs from her new jazz album, "China Blue," which just went online exclusively at http://juliafordham.novatunes.com/artist for downloading. A conventional CD will probably come later this spring.
One listen to "China Blue" on the novatunes site, though, will make you want it. The full album is there for streaming (this means listening, if you’re over 40). Check out her remake of "I Keep Forgetting" with Michael McDonald, and her original songs "Holiday" and "I Want to Stay Home with You." They’re just three of Julia’s 11 new gems.
"China Blue" is this year’s Valentine’s music.
We’ve left Sundance, alas, after a fruitful week of movie viewing and even a few parties. If there were swag suites, we never saw them. But that’s the way it goes: As I’ve often pointed out, it’s a film festival.
The big news so far this year is no news, however. Still dangling in the wind with no buyers is a raft of films with big names, actors and directors. Inexplicably, Christine Jeffs’ "Sunshine Cleaning," with Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, awaits a deal. This seems very strange to me.
But the movie has a marketing issue. Too many people at the festival may have gone in thinking it was the sequel to "Little Miss Sunshine." But the title, and the inclusion once again of Alan Arkin as the grumpy grandpa, didn’t help. Still, "Sunshine Cleaning" is really terrific. Whoever gets it should change the name.
Also awaiting word are the folks behind "The Wackness," the hippest film at Sundance this year. So many people have told me they "loved" Jonathan Levine’s coming-of-age story that, again, it seems impossible no one’s snatched it up.
One problem with "The Wackness" is that it’s going to be rated R for drugs and a little sex, which means teens would be officially cut off from it. But that’s never stopped them before!
Meanwhile, as I predicted, Paramount Vantage and MTV films picked up Nanette Burstein’s wonderful doc, "American Teen." Just watch: I told you they’d turn it into a reality show. Hey, Viacom, send us a check for that idea. We’ll send the money to charity!