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couriermail.com: Twilight's Catherine Hardwicke haunted by Heath Ledger


Great interview with Catherine Hardwicke

Twilight's Catherine Hardwicke haunted by Heath Ledger

"So, when Rob and Kristen came over the same thing happened. We did some scenes in the kitchen. Then I said: 'OK, let's go do the kiss in the bedroom'.

"I thought: 'Is the chemistry going to work?'

"And yeah, it worked.

"I was watching in my little camera again and I could feel they had a connection. You could feel the electricity. The kissing went to, like, 11pm."

 

THERE is a scene in the new Hollywood blockbuster Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke finds impossible to watch without shedding a tear.

Tears rolled down her face when she shot the scene. Again in the quiet and darkness of the editing booth.

The emotional trigger has nothing to do with the storyline of Twilight or the acting by the young cast.

The scene takes place in a rugged, forest region of Oregon in the US north-west and it was while scouting the location on January 22 that Hardwicke heard her beloved friend, Heath Ledger, was dead.

"We were in a van scouting," Hardwicke, her eyes moistening again and hands trembling slightly, told AAP during an interview in a suite in Los Angeles' Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

"Someone's phone rang. They answered it and I instantly realised something was wrong with the reaction.

"It was very strange. The person said: 'OK, I won't say anything'.

"I said: 'What was that about?' and they said: 'We don't even know if it is true. There's rumours Heath has passed away'.

"Then one second later my cell phone rang and it didn't stop ringing."

Hardwicke, a 53-year-old California director whose breakthrough was the 2003 independent drama, Thirteen, cast Ledger as the lead of her 2005 film, Lords of Dogtown, set on the Los Angeles beaches of Santa Monica and Venice.

The director soon received confirmation the rumours were true.

Ledger had died from an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers and anti-depressants in his Manhattan apartment.

"Everybody who worked on Dogtown called because they all loved Heath," Hardwicke said.

"To all of the kids, Emile Hirsch and Victor Rasuk, Heath was their mentor. They all freaked out beyond despair.

"For me, I can't really watch the one scene in Twilight where I received that call.

"That's where I heard that news. It is my one little thing. My moment.

"To hear about someone you love, someone so magical, passing like that, was just crushing."

Move to the movies

Hardwicke was born and raised in the southern Texas border city of McAllen and moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s to attend the famed UCLA film school.

That was when she was introduced to California's beach community.

It also whet her appetite for film, beginning her career as a production designer and working on films as diverse as 1993's Tombstone to 1995's Tank Girl to George Clooney's Three Kings in 1999 and Tom Cruise's Vanilla Sky in 2001.

Thirteen was her breakthrough as a director and her follow-ups, Lords of Dogtown and The Nativity Story, confirmed her place as one of Hollywood's best female directors.

Box office blockbuster

The huge box office success of Twilight, earning almost $US122 million ($A189.29 million) in US theatres alone since opening on November 21, vaulted Hardwicke to the top tier of the industry.

With major non-US film markets, such as Australia (December 11), yet to release Twilight, the movie looks set to make almost $US500 million ($A775.8 million) and spark at least three sequels.

Not a bad result for a film with a measly budget, among Hollywood standards, of just $US37 million ($A57.41 million).

"Everybody is like 'Oh, it's a big blockbuster' but we only spent about $US40 million on the film," Hardwicke laughed.

"Harry Potter films have budgets of $US150 million to $US200 million. We didn't have that budget. We're like the little train that could."

Stephenie Meyer's books

Twilight is based on the vampire novels written by Stephenie Meyer, set in the small town of Forks, Washington, in the north-west US. The novels are a sensation with teenage girls around the planet. It is this market that has driven the US, and soon to be, worldwide box office.

"When I first read the book I was swept away because it was just so passionate," Hardwicke said.

"I knew it was powerful and a lot of kids liked it.

"At Christmas last year, I was at a dinner party and heard these two girls, they were about 10 or 11, in deep conversation for an hour.

"One of the girls said: 'Edward feels his humanity. He doesn't want her' and they were just going deep into his soul.

"I thought that was cool that instead of talking about clothes or whatever, the girls were having this deep conversation about the book.

"I knew then it was special and had the power to get under the skin."

Casting hassles

Casting was crucial.

Hardwicke first signed up 18-year-old Kristen Stewart to play Bella Swan, a teenager from a broken home who chooses to move to Forks to be with her father. Bella becomes besotted with a young vampire, Edward Cullen, described by Meyer in the novels as "the most beautiful boy in the world".

Stewart is an industry veteran despite her young years, with her big break Panic Room, the 2002 thriller opposite Jodie Foster.

Hardwicke knew the actress had the looks and chops for Bella, but finding the actor to play Edward was not so easy.

"It was such a crazy thing," Hardwicke, putting her hands to her face in a pained expression, recalled.

"Not only did he have to be the most beautiful boy in the world, but he has to look like he goes to high school and is 17 years old.

"Right there that rules out so many actors we love and you almost have to go for an actor that isn't known. You can't have Leonardo DiCaprio.

"The actor also had to have pale skin, so that knocks out another chunk.

"He also had to have a wonderful soul and the acting chops to pull off the role so the pool we had to pick from was really small and a struggle.

"We saw all of the usual LA kids and people on tape from all over the world and then Rob's name came up and so I saw the Harry Potter films and thought he was pretty cool."

"Rob" is Robert Pattinson, a gangly 185cm tall 22-year-old from London best known for playing Cedric Diggory in two Harry Potter films, Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix.

Audition on the magic bed

Pattinson flew from London to Los Angeles to audition. It was not the usual LA audition.

Hardwicke has developed a unique test to confirm if her leads have chemistry and it involves her "magic bed" in her Venice Beach home.

"When I did auditions for Thirteen I had the actors come over and that's the first time Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed met," Hardwicke explained.

"I wanted them to do a scene on the bed.

"I had my little video camera and was watching Rachel and Nikki and their chemistry just exploded. I could see the movie right then.

"So, when Rob and Kristen came over the same thing happened. We did some scenes in the kitchen. Then I said: 'OK, let's go do the kiss in the bedroom'.

"I thought: 'Is the chemistry going to work?'

"And yeah, it worked.

"I was watching in my little camera again and I could feel they had a connection. You could feel the electricity. The kissing went to, like, 11pm."

Hardwicke is already preparing to shoot the second film in the Twilight series, New Moon, set for release in 2010.

Missing Heath

Scripts from the big studios have been piling on Hardwicke's door step, but as she flicks through the pages she often is reminded her good friend Ledger is not alive.

The Australian actor and the Texan transplant planned to work together again.

"The other night, I was reading a script and I thought: 'Heath would be perfect for this' and then I realised," Hardwicke sighed.

"I can't believe he has gone.

"Brokeback Mountain overshadowed his performance in Lords of Dogtown, but to me, his role in Dogtown was so Heath. The Heath we love. You know, he was just hanging out and being wild.

"There's the final scene where he is shaping the surfboard and looks to take the drink and you watch that scene now and you feel like screaming: 'Don't do it!'."



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