These ‘10 Things I Hate About You’ Cast Stories About Heath Ledger Are So Bittersweet

by Kristie Rohwedder

If you need a good cry, you needn't look any further than the 10 Things I Hate About You ensemble's stories about the late Heath Ledger. In honor of the beloved rom-com's 20th anniversary, The New York Times chatted with the cast and crew about the movie, which is loosely based on William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. They waxed nostalgic about filming specific scenes, talked about learning how to draw certain appendages, and shared memories of Ledger, who died on Jan. 22, 2008. The part of Kat Stratford’s (Julia Stiles) love interest was Ledger's first role in an American movie, and his breakthrough performance is one of the things that makes 10 Things I Hate About You seem too good to be true.

When Ledger auditioned for the part of Patrick Verona, it sounds like it was a done deal right out the gate; according to director Gil Junger, the future Oscar winner nailed his audition in a matter of seconds. Junger said,

“Heath walked in, and I thought to myself, if this guy can read, I’m going to cast him. There was an energy to him, a sexuality that was palpable. When Heath was done, literally, with the first page, I said, ‘O.K., you can put down the script. You’re doing great. I want to do a little improv with you.’ I just wanted to see how fast his mind would adapt, comedically. After 35 seconds, I said, ‘O.K. Fantastic.’”

Junger continued,

“But I could tell he was nervous that he blew it, because the audition was so quick, and I said, ‘No, no. you’re a very talented guy, and I really appreciate you coming in.’ The instant the door closed, I turned to the women in the room and said, ‘Ladies, I have never wanted to sleep with a man, but if I had to sleep with a man, that would be the man. Please cast him immediately.’”

Ledger had such a special, undeniable quality that radiated on and off the screen. When talking about his friendship with Ledger, David Krumholtz said, "I just want people to know there was a suffering individual there, who couldn’t have been a lovelier human being. I prefer to remember Heath as a 20-year-old kid doing his first American lead with a big giant Cheshire grin smile on his face, taking charge as the leader of the group like any good ensemble leader should." Gabrielle Union also noted Ledger's magnetic personality, recalling his "ability to look at you and [make] you feel like Princess Diana." "In a very crowded Hollywood landscape, he could make you feel special and seen," she told The New York Times piece. "That’s a pretty special gift, and I don’t think it’s talked about enough.”

In addition to being an wildly talented and captivating human being, Ledger also was very helpful on set. You know that scene where Kat Stratford knocks a few brews back, climbs up on a table, and then dances to "Hypnotize"? Ledger showed Stiles how to play drunk. “I hadn’t ever really been drunk before in real life," she explained to The New York Times. "I mean, I was 17, so I remember Heath — because he was older — giving me tips on what being drunk looks and feels like.”

While we're talking about iconic 10 Things I Hate About You moments, the scene where Patrick dances and sings all over the bleachers almost had a very different sound. Karen McCullah, one of the screenplay’s writers, said "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" was not the original pick, but Ledger switched it up. “The first song we had in the script was ‘I Think I Love You,’” she explained. “Then we decided on ‘I Touch Myself,’ and I think Heath decided that that wasn’t romantic enough, so he chose the Frankie Valli song, which was a much better call.”

The sight of that GIF leaves me weak. There are no words left to speak.