After sitting for early graduation exams at age 17, Ledger left school to pursue an acting career. With Trevor DiCarlo, his best friend since he was three years old, Ledger drove across Australia from Perth to Sydney, returning to Perth to take a small role in Clowning Around (1992), the first part of a two-part television series, and to work on the TV series Sweat (1996), in which he played a gay cyclist. From 1993 to 1997, Ledger also had parts in the Perth television series Ship to Shore (1993); in the short-lived Fox Broadcasting Company fantasy-drama Roar (1997); in Home and Away (1997), one of Australia's most successful television shows; and in the Australian film Blackrock (1997), his feature film debut. In 1999, he starred in the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You and in the acclaimed Australian crime film Two Hands, directed by Gregor Jordan.
Released in July 2008, The Dark Knight broke several box office records and received both popular and critical accolades, especially with regard to Ledger's performance as the Joker. Even film critic David Denby, who does not praise the film overall in his pre-release review in The New Yorker, evaluates Ledger's work highly, describing his performance as both "sinister and frightening" and Ledger as "mesmerising in every scene", concluding: "His performance is a heroic, unsettling final act: this young actor looked into the abyss." Attempting to dispel widespread speculations that Ledger's performance as the Joker had in any way led to his death (as Denby and others suggest), Ledger's co-star and friend Christian Bale, who played opposite him as Batman, has stressed that, as an actor, Ledger greatly enjoyed meeting the challenges of creating that role, an experience that Ledger himself described as "the most fun I've ever had, or probably ever will have, playing a character". Terry Gilliam also refuted the claims that playing the Joker made him crazy, calling it "absolute nonsense" and going on to say, "Heath was so solid. His feet were on the ground and he was the least neurotic person I've ever met."
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Several actors made statements expressing their sorrow at Ledger's death, including Daniel Day-Lewis, who dedicated his Screen Actors Guild Award to him, saying that he was inspired by Ledger's acting; Day-Lewis praised Ledger's performances in Monster's Ball and Brokeback Mountain, describing the latter as "unique, perfect". Verne Troyer, who was working with Ledger on The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus at the time of his death, had a heart shape, an exact duplicate of a symbol that Ledger scrawled on a piece of paper with his email address, tattooed on his hand in remembrance of Ledger because Ledger "had made such an impression on [him]". British indie band Kasabian paid tribute to Ledger in their song 'Vlad the Impaler', with the line "Joker, meet you on the other side". Singer Tom Meighan often changes the word "Joker" to either "Ledger", or the names of recently deceased celebrities.
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