Following the death of 28-year-old, Oscar-nominated actor Heath Ledger , Hollywood is left trying to determine how best to proceed with several projects he had in development. His last projects include anticipated “Batman Begins” follow-up “The Dark Knight” and Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” the latter of which has been halted, a manager for the film’s road crew informed People.
“[’Imaginarium’] is currently listed as force majeure,” Greg Chambers, business manager for the Association of Canadian Film Craftspeople West, told the magazine. “Force majeure” is French for “major force,” which is more extensive than an “act of God” clause. It comes into play when events normally outside anyone’s control — like war, death or natural disaster — prevent a party from fulfilling its end of a contract. It releases all parties from liability.
In a statement released to MTV News on Friday (January 25), a representative for the film said, on behalf of its director and producers:
“Heath was a great actor, a great friend, and a great spirit. We are still in a state of deep shock, saddened and numb with grief. Over the coming days Terry and the producers will be assessing how best to proceed.” The rep added, “There is no other information at this time.”
A video has emerged from the flick’s London set that is thought to be the last footage of the actor. A British Web site, TheLondonPaper.com, posted the clip, which the site claims was shot Saturday night.
As the cast’s biggest name, Ledger’s involvement was critical in funding the $30 million independent feature, Variety reports. After filming in London, shooting for the movie moved to the Bridge Studios in Vancouver, Canada, for intensive interior and green-screen work.
“Oh, there’s an enormous amount left to do. This is why we were going to Vancouver,” “Parnassus” co-star Christopher Plummer told Entertainment Weekly. “All the technical stuff, the green-screen [work], was to be done in Vancouver. God knows what’s going to happen now.”
The Faustian story centered on the boisterous Dr. Parnassus (Plummer), a 1,000-years-old performer who offers audience members a chance to enter fantastical worlds of imagination in a race with the devil for the life of his daughter. If audience members make a righteous choice, their soul is awarded to Parnassus. If they make a heinous one, their soul belongs to the devil. Ledger was set to play a mysterious outsider who embarks on his own quest to save the girl.
In an interview with MTV News in November while promoting his newest feature, the Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There,” Ledger called the film “mind-bending” and “a hoot.”
“It’s going to be fun,” enthused the actor, who starred alongside Matt Damon in Gilliam’s 2005 flick, “The Brothers Grimm.” “I love Terry. I’d really do anything for him. I’d cut carrots and serve catering on his movies.”
If derailed, this would be the second Gilliam feature to suffer an abrupt end due to the health of his cast. The director’s 2000 feature, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” with Johnny Depp, was stopped within a week of filming due to the dire health of actor Jean Rochefort.
“We’re all a bit befuddled at the moment. It’s so sad. Heath did have a terrible, lingering bug in London, and he couldn’t sleep at all,” Plummer told the mag. “We all — I thought he’d probably got walking pneumonia, which they seem to think he had. I just left a very laughing, happy fellow, practically a few minutes ago.”
The direction of “The Dark Knight,” meanwhile, is at once both more and less complex. Ledger’s performance as the nefarious Clown Prince of Crime is front and center in the recently released first trailer for the movie, and he told MTV News in November that his work on the flick was “done.” He had finished all post-production work in order to be available for the Gilliam flick.
But his untimely passing may still send shock waves through Warner Bros., particularly when it comes to advertising the film. The early buzz on the movie rested almost entirely on the 28-year-old actor’s head, with poster after poster teasing his performance. Today, those very same posters, many of a grinning Ledger as the Joker asking “Why so serious?,” stand as grisly reminders of his fate.
Stepping into the shoes of the psychopathic, demented Joker, a character Ledger described as having “zero empathy,” left the actor “exhausted,” he told MTV News.
“It was an exhausting process. I actually had quite a bit of time off between scenes — weeks sometimes. But it was required because whenever I was working, it exhausted me to the bone,” he said. “At the end of the day, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t talk. I was absolutely wrecked. If I had to do that every day, I couldn’t have done what I did.”
Representatives from Warner Bros., as well as director Chris Nolan, offered no comment about the movie’s promotion at press time.
Variety reports that Ledger was beginning work on what would have been his feature-film directing debut, “The Queen’s Gambit,” which revolved around a young chess prodigy (a role reportedly offered to Oscar nominee Ellen Page). Ledger, who was known to frequently play chess in Washington Square Park when in New York City, had previously directed a music video for Nick Drake .
For more on Heath Ledger’s tragic passing, read reactions from his peers and other admirers, as well as casting directors he worked with. Also, watch Ledger talk about his evolution as an actor in a 2005 interview with MTV News.
[This story was originally published at 4:50 p.m. ET on 01.23.08]