A new feature-length documentary pays homage to late actor Heath Ledger's life as an actor, artist, friend, and father.
“I Am Heath Ledger” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival Sunday, and director Derrik Murray hopes audiences will come away understanding what an inspiring person Ledger was.
“We started to learn little by little about his fascination with film and photography, and it started at a really young age,” Murray told Fox News. “Then when we talked to his friends we realized this wasn’t just a hobby, but something he was really serious about. That was something most people didn’t know about him. His fans didn’t know he was infatuated with being a director.”
Ledger died at the age of 28, in 2008, of cardiac arrest due to a prescription drug overdose. The film is told through interviews with those closest to the Oscar-nominee, including Ledger's parents, siblings, his “Brokeback Mountain,” director Ang Lee, and famous friends Ben Harper, Naomi Watts, and Djimon Hounsou.
The doc is packed with raw film footage taken by Ledger, outtakes of music videos he’d shot, and photos of him behind the camera on film sets.
“He was optioning scripts and he choose movies based on who was directing, so he could learn more about the craft… This guy was a true artist beyond what we see on the screen,” Murray said.
Ang Lee talks about how Ledger was fearless looking at dailies of himself. His friends talk about how he used his camera on himself to see how he moved and looked, all in an effort to hone his acting skills.
But off the set, on red carpets or press tours, Murray says, Ledger was uncomfortable. At one point in the doc, several of Ledger's friends talk about his almost eerie premonition that his life would be cut short.
Murray says it stemmed from Ledger’s interest in artist, Nick Drake, a 70s British singer-songwriter, who at the age of 26, died from an overdose. His death was determined to be a suicide.
“Besides being a multifaceted artist, Heath was influenced by and loved music, and when you see that section of the film, and friends talk about Heath’s own mortality, it’s in sync with the story around Drake and to some degree his [Ledger’s] new fatherhood [Ledger's girlfriend, actress, Michelle Williams had recently had a daughter together] – you bring a new person into the world and you think, 'I'm not going to be there forever.'
"With the depth of his sensitivity it was certainly something in his mind. It wasn’t thematic to the movie or reoccurring. It was around the time of the breakup [Ledger had recently broken up with Williams] and the filming of the ‘The Dark Night,’” Murray said.
Williams was not interviewed in the film, but Murray says he never would have made the doc without her full support.
“At the end of the day, you get a sense of the depth of their relationship and their beautiful daughter and Heath’s story somewhat continues.
"Heath really kept his friends close. For us, it was really important that we had their trust and bring his school friends on-camera along with the family. They were very valuable and all of them are respectful and few people would have come in front of our cameras without the support of Michelle and the family,” Murray said.
The film portrays Ledger as being at his happiest and most proud of his work as the Joker in “The Dark Night,” but very near to the time of his death, Murray says the actor was suffering from insomnia, had pneumonia, was traveling a lot, and was taking prescription drugs.
In the end, Murray says the film is an important testament to Ledger’s willingness to live life to the fullest. “He was immersed in taking risks, whether it was creating images, videos or acting, it all provided him with a very inspired life. He was excited about every breath he took and loved life. I hope people will come away with that,” Murray says.
After the Tribeca festival, “I Am Heath Ledger” can be seen on May 3 for a one- night special event in select theaters across the country.
Spike TV premieres the film at 10PM ET/PT on May 17.