Page last updated at 16:52 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

First Ledger scholarship awarded

Oliver Ackland
Oliver Ackland had a small role in the 2005 film The Proposition

The first Heath Ledger scholarship to give budding Australian actors a foot up in Hollywood has been awarded to Oliver Ackland.

The $10,000 (7,000) bursary was set up by Ledger's ex-partner Michelle Williams and friends after his death.

The award was presented at an LA party for Australian Oscar nominees. Ledger is favourite to win best supporting actor as The Joker in The Dark Knight.

Ackland, 29, said: "The fact that it is in his name means the world."

The actor, who has been working in bars and as a gardener to make ends meet, said Ledger had always been a role model for him.

"I admired Heath and I admired the work that he chose, the path he created for himself. It shows a lot of integrity on his behalf," he said.

The prize includes flights to LA and introductions to key film industry players including agents and casting directors.

Ackland has made trips to Hollywood previously for auditions and says he came within a whisker of a role in Robert De Niro's film The Good Shepherd.

"Outstanding potential"

Greg Jordan, who directed Heath Ledger in Two Hands and Ned Kelly, was the guiding force in setting up the award after the actor's sudden death from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

He remembers helping out Ledger with a few hundred dollars in the early days of the star's career when he was just "your old, broke Aussie actor".

Fellow Australians Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts and Hugh Jackman all contributed to the bursary.

The award was judged by a panel of Ledger's close friends and colleagues including Australian actress Rachel Griffiths.

Choosing from 150 applicants, the judges were looking for early career actors with "initiative and exceptional talent with ability to convert ambitions to reality" plus "the potential to be outstanding in an international context."

In presenting the award, Jordan told the guests: "Rachel Griffiths said 'How do we judge this? Are we looking for the next Heath Ledger?'

"We all said 'No. There is no next Heath Ledger, but there's plenty of other people'."

The director later told People magazine that Ackland was "a great actor and he's really likeable. He's got a sort of Jude Law look. Maybe he's an Aussie Jude Law, who knows?"

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