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Even if the movie pulls in crowds only in New York City, South Beach and San Francisco, it has redeemed Ledger from being a pawn--or even a knight--in the Hollywood chess game. "He's one of the best actors of his age," says Ang Lee, Brokeback's director. "He has complexity and intensity, and he's meticulous." Gyllenhaal, who wondered before filming whether Ledger "was going to pull it off," says he was blown away. "I know he hasn't been 100% happy with every performance he has given. But being able to make mistakes and fail has brought him to this success," Gyllenhaal says. "I knew within two days of meeting him he was going to be great."
Ledger seems to have had enough rebellion for a while because the movie he made after Brokeback is the ultimate heterosexual fantasy. In Casanova, out Christmas Day, directed by Hallstrom, he's the swashbuckling charmer for whom his fans have been waiting. It's a very Disney Casanova, with minimal sex and maximal caper (Hot-air balloons! Masked balls! Duels! Mistaken identities!). Ledger, who plays the legendary lover, opposite Sienna Miller, is not too proud to admit that the appeal of the movie lay more in a 120-day shoot in Venice, where he could unwind from Brokeback, than in any nuances of script (although the part is deceptively hard, given the number of identities Casanova assumes). It will probably make more money than his previous five outings combined.
But that's O.K. by him. He has a cheerful yellow house in a leafy part of Brooklyn, N.Y., where neighbors took lasagna when his fiancé Michelle Williams (see box) gave birth to daughter Matilda Rose a few weeks back and where he and his family have been chased by paparazzi only once. He wants more kids. He wants to take Matilda to the beachside home he bought in Sydney, although he dreads the "long lenses looking at your butt as you come out of the ocean."
Brokeback Mountain is a movie about the circumscription of dreams, about how fate and our choices make the life we have much smaller than the one we had hoped for. But that's not Ledger's story. Now that he has finally shed that bulky knight's armor, his life is just opening up.