Stepping into a well-trodden role

Heath Ledger seems unfazed by the prospect of going where so many actors – including Beau Bridges – have gone before.

Not that he was unaware that he was starring in the fifth film adaptation of A.E.W. Mason's classic 1902 novel, "The Four Feathers."

"I have the first film – it's silent – and the last with Beau Bridges," says the Australian actor, "and then decided to watch them after our picture was shot. I wanted to feel free to give my own interpretation."

"Feathers" tells the story of a young man, Harry Faversham, who resigns from his commission in the British Army, just as it is about to be sent overseas. It takes place in 1875, as the Sudanese Arabs revolt against British rule.

Mr. Ledger's character becomes an outcast in society. Three of his former Army friends have sent him white feathers, symbolizing cowardice, as has his fiancée, played by Kate Hudson. When he hears of the Regiment's defeat in Sudan, he goes to Africa, disguised as an Arab, to see if he can save his imprisoned buddies. "We filmed this part in the Moroccan desert," says Ledger. "The hours were long, the heat was unrelenting, and the costumes were heavy....

"But there were times in Morocco that we just marveled at the beauty of the landscape.

"I sometimes felt like I was 9 years old and having the adventure and thrill of a lifetime."

Ledger has starred in several big films, including "The Patriot," with Mel Gibson, and last year's Oscar-winning "Monster's Ball."

Since completing "Feathers," he has finished two others, including Brian Helgeland's "The Sin Eater," in which he plays a priest, and "Ned Kelly," about an outlaw who became an Australian legend. Coincidentally, Ledger won't be the first actor to play Kelly.

"There was a film made about him in 1909, the first one in Australia. In the '80s, Mick Jagger portrayed Kelly in another version. Say," he remarks, "doing repeats is getting to be a habit."

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