Photographer Fabrizio Lipari prides himself on being punctual. But running 45 minutes late to shoot Hollywood newcomer Heath Ledger, 20—who had recently appeared in Ten Things I Hate About You—for his first WHO magazine interview in June 1999, Lipari found himself “ripped to shreds” by Ledger’s older sister and then-manager, Kate.
“It was fair enough because I was late, but Heath came up to me after and said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s all OK, mate.’ We we got chatting about his hobby at the time—he loved to take photos on set and had a keen photographer’s eye,” says Lipari. “We were both Perth boys; after that we got on like a house on fire.”
Photographing Ledger one-on-one on the upstairs balcony of his dad’s Perth home, “Heath was very much in a relaxed state of mind, which is exactly what you want when you are trying to get a terrific portrait,” recalls Lipari. “He asked me how I wanted him to pose and I said, ‘Mate, let’s just have a chat.’ It was great, he was just being himself, really natural.”
As the day went on, Ledger’s star quality became ever-more apparent: “When I looked through the camera at Heath, I could honestly see this glint in the eye, where you really believe this guys’ going to do it,” says Lipari of the actor, who by then was mostly based in Los Angeles: “I miss the air, everything about Perth,” Ledger told WHO at the shoot. “LA is a really tough city.”
Ledger, who was raised in Perth, WA, by his parents, Kim and Sally, had followed his sister Kate into acting, snagging a part on Australian TV series Sweat at 15. Following his turn in the local AFI-Award winning Two Hands (1999), he starred in Mel Gibson’s 2000 blockbuster The Patriot—marking him as one of Hollywood’s young guns. “I suppose it’s luck,” Ledger acknowledged, “but I had to go out there and get the luck. No-one knocks on your door.”
“Heath was all about the acting, not about the ego—he was about something more than that,” notes Lipari, who recalls Ledger telling him he’d turned down further offers for teen films for fear of being typecast. “He was very thoughtful about what he wanted. He wasn’t going to blow it on hookers, and although he could’ve made a quick buck, he was looking for good characters to play.”
For their last shot of the day, Ledger and Kate (they have two half-sisters) posed in their backyard with their pet kangaroo, a rescue joey: “It was pretty personal,” recalls Lipari, who was deeply saddened to hear of the actor’s death on Jan. 22, 2008, from an accidental toxic combination of prescription drugs. Ledger, who is survived by Matilda, 7, his daughter with former flame Michelle Williams, was just 28.
“Everyone always says the same thing about Heath—he was this humble guy and it was easy to understand he was always going to be huge. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone,” says Lipari, whose portrait of Ledger is a career highlight.
“To shoot Heath at that time, in that circumstance, it was probably the most honest portrait I have ever taken.”
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