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Heath Ledger - when a game is no longer a game

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Many people have written about the drug-haunted death of Australian-born actor Heath Ledger. I thought he was sunny and physically comic in A Knight's Tale and an idealistic boy turned courageous man in A Patriot, both roles he inhabited easily. I did not see his darker roles, but I wonder what they cost him after reading a recent warning by Daniel Day-Lewis.

There are endless layers of darkening and brightening veils between ourselves and another person. Heath Ledger seemed to lift a veil in November when he said in an interview, "Dark Knight and last year's I'm Not There took a heavy toll. He said he 'stressed out a little too much' during the Dylan film, and had trouble sleeping while portraying the Joker, whom he called a 'psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy.'"

Perhaps Heath's problem was drugs, and his nightmares were a result of drug use, not psychotic roles, but Daniel Day-Lewis suggests otherwise.

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal described Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis as “a sojourner in other men’s souls”. Day-Lewis, who describes himself as an Englishman with Irish origins, is known for immersing himself in his roles and “recalling one’s own real-life emotions to identify with a character”.

Nominated for his most recent role, ruthless oil prospector Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, Lewis said that he enjoys seeing the world though another man’s eyes, even when “the soul he is borrowing is a deeply troubled one.” But he keenly remarks that there is one great, unbreakable rule – “It’s a game; it always remains a game.”

I had forgotten how dangerous a game it can be.

Do we truly believe that the darkness we see on screen only rarely affects actors, and never affects us?

Heath Ledger, RIP.

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