SANTA MONICA, California — Honored with the inaugural Robert Altman Award at the recent Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, the cast and crew of "I'm Not There" walked the blue carpet with great satisfaction and pride.
But also sadness, admitted director Todd Haynes — sadness that their friend wasn't able to walk with them.
"We got very close on this project. He was an extraordinary person," Haynes told MTV News. "[He was] so insanely gifted and so humble at the same time. I just love him and I'll miss him always."
Nominated for an Oscar for his work in "Brokeback Mountain," Ledger was a preternaturally talented actor. But the real tragedy of his loss is compounded by the fact that he was set to be just as talented a director, Haynes said.
"He was beginning his directorial ambitions himself. We really shared the set together, and he really dug the way we were making my film. He'd come over and whisper some suggestions and it would be brilliant, f---ing brilliant," Haynes acknowledged. "So we lost double, we lost triple. We lost a lot."
Although Ledger died young, he left a lifetime's worth of quality films, Haynes said, insisting that the actor's greatest legacy "really comes through in his work."
"I think people were so stunned by what happened because they had already put him in a different category because of his work. That's why the tabloid stuff and the personal stuff didn't explain it properly and never will," Haynes argued. "He was so much more than that, and I really think it's in what he's already given us that we see him best."
The very best may be yet to come. Ledger's performance as the Joker in the eagerly anticipated "The Dark Knight" — glimpsed briefly in a recent trailer — is already drawing raves from fans around the globe.
The trailer offers just a hint of Ledger's work in the film, "Dark Knight" co-star Aaron Eckhart maintained, confirming reports that, as Harvey "Two-Face" Dent, he shares the screen with Gotham's Clown Prince of Crime.
"I am glad that I was able to be in the same room and watch him work," Eckhart contended. "I had the chance to watch him shine in this movie. He did work that just blew me away. It's a shock."
Haynes' friend couldn't share the honor with him on Saturday. But with so many roles and so much time spent together, what memory of Ledger will the director hold most dear?
"Oh God," he said. "Every moment we spent together."