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THE ’CANDY’ MAN

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Heath Ledger’s role in Neil Armfield’s new film "Candy" was a chance for the acclaimed actor to play a character whose lifestyle is the polar opposite of the Australian transplant’s reality amidst the leafy streets of Brooklyn.

While Ledger and his girlfriend Michelle Williams appear to be a picture-perfect family when wheeling their 1-year-old daughter Matilda around the streets of Boerum Hill, in his role of Dan, Ledger goes into a greasy haired, downward spiral fueled by his addiction to heroin. Although clearly smitten with his girlfriend Candy, the couple’s love can’t save them from the ravages of drug abuse and the humiliations they subject each other to in order to feed their smack habits.

Ledger told GO Brooklyn that he found out Williams was pregnant with their daughter a month before he had to film the devastating scene when Dan and Candy lose their child.

"It wasn’t very nice," recalled Ledger, saying that he’s uncertain that he would have made the choice to co-star in the film again had he known he was going to be a dad. The 27-year-old thespian, sporting a grandfatherly knitted cardigan, said that starting a family "changes the person you are," but added, "I didn’t immediately get an urge to be a voice in an animated film."

Ledger told reporters at a press conference at the W hotel in Manhattan on Tuesday that he agreed to make "Candy," in part, because it was an opportunity for him to make his first film in eight years in his native country and use the accent which he has hidden in American feature films ("Brokeback Mountain," "Monster’s Ball," "The Patriot").

The plot of "Candy" alternates between euphoric, enormously sensual love scenes and harrowing moments when the couple debase themselves. Although it’s assumed that the angst-ridden scenes are exhausting to perform, Ledger claims filming love scenes is not as easy as it looks either.

"There is nothing attractive about that process at all," he revealed. "Even if [the other actor] is an attractive person."

In this case, Ledger’s on-screen love interest was Cornish, 24, who has been garnering notoriety for reportedly having an affair with her "Stop Loss" co-star, Ryan Phillippe, which may have been the nail in the coffin of his marriage to Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon.

"There’s nothing organic about [filming love scenes]," assured Ledger. "The grips, gaffersand focus pullers are looking at your butt. It’s so nerve-wracking - very uncomforta­ble."

Presumably, there will be a lot less lovemaking in Ledger’s next project, playing the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s Batman film, "The Dark Knight."

"Somewhere inside of me, I knew instantly what to do with [this character]," said Ledger, who signed onto "The Dark Knight" despite the detail that it does not yet have a completed script. "I knew instantly what to do with it. I didn’t have to search. I have a plan of attack."

Ledger said that when he performs a role, he enjoys a bit of improvisation, which didn’t match the expectations of "Candy" director Armfield.

"Neil wanted to do a lot of rehearsal because he has an extensive theater background," recalled Ledger. "Abbie and I were the naughty kids in class who sat in the back. We didn’t want to give too much in rehearsal. It was slightly superstitious of us both."

It’s clear that going with his gut is working for the actor. As his career and that of Williams continue to gain traction, it means the couple’s logging more miles in the air and spending more time in Los Angeles. The couple recently purchased a home there, but Ledger downplays the acquisition, calling it a "one-bedroom treehouse" and "just a place to drop our bags."

He maintains that his family is committed to keeping their Brooklyn ZIP code.

"I like everything [about Brooklyn]," he said. "I adore it. I love my neighbors and the coffee shop down the road.

"We’re left there to live," he continued. "That’s the thing in New York City: you’re protected by numbers in a way - particularly Brooklyn. People are just trying to get from A to B."

Ledger said his Boerum Hill neighbors leave him and his family to have a normal life. Well, as normal of a life as the next generation of Hollywood royalty can expect to have.

"Candy" will open at the Angelika Film Center (18 W. Houston St. at Mercer Street in Manhattan) on Nov. 17. For ticket prices and showtimes, call (212) 995-2000 or visit the Web site www.angelikafilmcenter.com/newyork.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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