"This is it."
"This cannot be it, this is a set up. I mean, I know it's downtown L.A. but seriously, this warehouse??? Look at those creepy dudes over there, I'm not getting out, they'll kidnap me."
Crates of oranges had spilled out of what looked like a run down truck and covered the street with a slick of orange light in the sun, and shady characters stared at my friend and I letting us know we were completely out of place.
"Shut up and get out of the car, this is it."
Earlier that afternoon my friend and I sat on the floor of our apartment watching talk shows and shoving spoonfuls of Lucky Charms into our mouths when my phone rang, it was my agent;
"Hey....Ok, I know it's last minute but- I have something for you ....You guys are broke, well, you won't really make that much money, but it's a free meal and maaaybe....$25 bucks?"
He knew he'd get me at "free meal" but I needed some more details.
"What is it?"
"A music video for Ben Harper.....and Heath Ledger is directing it. It's super low budget, and last minute, but they need a couple dancers. Heath is really trying to get into directing and this is his first video....he's doing it as a favor for Ben. That's why there isn't a lot of money involved."
"HEATH FUCKING LEDGER?! WHAT?! SHUT YOUR MOUTH! YES I'LL DO IT. WE'LL DO IT."
Now, here I am, downtown l.a. about to get mugged. I hesitantly knock on the outside of a dirty garage door..... There weren't any REAL doors to be found.
I hear people and the garage starts to lift.....
"Hi! I'm Heath! You must be the dancers!" As if I had no idea who even was, even though I'd been obsessing over him since 10 Things I Hate About You.
He stretched out his hand with a firm handshake and smiled.
"Um, you can just go sit on that couch over there, maybe show me what clothes you brought and we'll get started in a minute...Thank you guys SO much for coming, really."
Typical Hollywood protocol involves a crew, wardrobe, catering, production assistant, gaffers, cameramen, assistants to the assistants, etc. I surveyed the room...and it seemed everyone else had, taken the day off?? Half the time you didn't SEE the director let alone speak to him.
6 dancers, 2 cameramen, 1 assistant, Heath, and Ben.
Here he comes....I love him, I love him, I love him. -ok, be professional.
"K uh. So, this is my first time directing. I came up with the concept- I just really loved the song and Ben is a friend so I wanted to do it. I want it to be really organic. Wear lose fitting clothes, maybe earth tones......and you're just going to improv." He was so passionate, so excited and....
Improv?! Holy hell. I'm going to make a jackass out of myself in front of a creative genius.
"I used to modern dance, in Australia and I want it to be....well, like this sort of."
This Academy Award nominated actor starts dancing, swinging his arms, exploring levels, high and low, closing his eyes....
"See? Do you guys have any questions?.....Ok, so how about we start with you??"
He's pointing at me, dear Lord, he's pointing at me- acknowledging my existence.
"SURE!!" I just screamed, tone it down Chels, tone it down.
I jump on the stage, the smoke machine starts blowing, my palms are sweating and Heath jumps up next to me, he crosses his legs and grabs onto both ankles like a little boy....
"So.....do you have any suggestions for me??"
Did he really just ask if I had suggestions for him?! Me? some chick dancing for a mere 25 dollars, some stranger, and he wants my advice? This was the humblest thing I'd ever seen in Hollywood.
"Ok...." He's staring at my face....studying it. "Can you take your hair down? There and flip your head over, tousle it a bit...."
I shake my hair out and he reaches towards me, putting both hands in my hair, scratching my scalp and giving it that messy look.
The music starts....my hearts beating and I start to move. 2 minutes pass like nothing, I was "in it", I was going to perform and get lost in the music just as he had in all of his performances.... the song ends and silence fills the room.
I peer up and Heath is standing at the end of the stage....he grabs my hand with both of his, looks my straight in the eye and says, "That was brilliant. Really inspiring....I got chills. Thank you."
I am in love.
He continues with the next dancers, demonstrating movement occasionally- eventually splitting his pants, but he continued anyway. He experimented with lights and smoke, showing his excitement when something worked perfectly. Then we broke for lunch....
I station myself on the dusty warehouse floor and he sits on the ground next to myself and the other dancers, immediately striking up conversation as if we were longtime friends.
"I LOVE GRANOLA." I blurt out as I devour handfuls at a time.
"That should be a a shirt...you know, like one of those quirky shirts with sayings, that's funny."
His voice was charming, a slight Australian accent making words like quirky sound; quirky.
The 7 hours passed quickly and he graciously thanked each and everyone one of us, making eye contact and profusely thanking us for the inspiration. He pulled his wallet out and handed us each a hundred bucks.
"I know it's not much...."
I didn't care. The experience was priceless.
Heath (and Ben) was one of the humblest people I have ever met. Unaffected. Warm. Genuine. He listened when people spoke, watched intently, and had the most positive, serene energy. I am blessed to have worked with him in his short life, and it is a tragedy he didn't get to continue on making incredible films and inspiring us all.
The result of his first and last music video was beautiful, organic and modest. I am honored to have been a part of it....in loving memory;