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There are teen movies, and then there are the installments into the genre that become significant pop culture moments. 1999's 10 Things I Hate About You is the latter, as the teen adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew was constantly played on syndication and included breakout moments for Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Gabrielle Union. Ledger in particular was a total unknown, having previously only worked in Australian television before booking the rom com. So how did this green actor even get seen for 10 Things I Hate About You? We've got the story.
In conjunction with the release of the documentary I Am Heath Ledger, People interviewed some folks who were close with the late actor during various stages of his life. One of these is filmmaker Matt Amato, who shared how a random act of kindness (and desperation) led to Ledger being cast as the lead role of 10 Things I Hate About You:
My friend had just written 10 Things I Hate About You and they were just lacking young actors to read for it. I talked to my friend who wrote it and said, 'This kid is staying here, and he's unemployed and no one really wants an unemployed roommate.' I was quickly developing a scheme to get him moving... The next day he said, 'I like your friend's script. I would like to play Patrick.' That was the lead. It kind of dawned on me who we were dealing with right away ... I didn't discourage him, I just kind of came to my own conclusions about his confidence and his ambition --- that it was well placed.
Sorry, but isn't this the crazy Hollywood story we all love to hear about? One random encounter leads Heath Ledger to landing his first big movie, and getting his acting career really moving.
It looks like Heath Ledger simply knew the right guy, and was able to land an audition for a big Hollywood comedy. And although this was serendipitous, Ledger's natural charm and acting chops earned him the coveted role of Patrick Verona in 10 Things I Hate About You. The bad boy with a hidden heart of gold, audiences rooted for Patrick and Kat (Julia Stiles) to let down their defenses and love each other.
Plus, who can forget Heath Ledger's charming AF performance to woo the girl on the bleachers.
That is some A plus teen movie material right there.
Heath Ledger's ability to land the role in 10 Things I Hate About You only highlights what natural talent the late actor had. We can assume the film auditioned a few more notable actors, but he still managed to nab the role with minimal experience. Ledger's career would continue to gain momentum in the coming years, especially with his acclaimed performances in Brokeback Mountain and The Dark Knight.
While those significant highlights might be Ledger's brightest acting moments, 10 Things I Hate About You will always be his first introduction to American audiences. And all because his roommate wanted him to get a damn job.