Yesterday I blogged about Heath Ledger’s interest in chess. In the past 24 hours, two interesting items on the subject have appeared in the mainstream press.
From the Los Angeles Times: “For the last year, Ledger also had been gearing up for his directorial debut, working with veteran screenwriter Allan Scott on an adaptation of the Walter Tevis novel ‘The Queen’s Gambit,’ about an orphan girl who becomes a chess prodigy. Scott said they recently offered the part to ‘Juno’ star Ellen Page.
“‘The movie is about chess, and what is a little known fact is that Heath was very close to being on the grandmaster level,’ said Scott, who met and spoke to the actor frequently over the last year in New York and London. ‘He was a chess whiz, and he intended to get his grandmaster rating before he started shooting the picture.’”
Ledger played in chess tournaments as a child in Australia, but it has to be a tremendous exaggeration to describe him as close-to-grandmaster strength. The exaggeration would perhaps be excusable if it weren’t coming from the screenwriter who is turning one of the all-time great chess novels into a film. And the idea of the actor’s getting a grandmaster rating before filming can only be described as fantasy, albeit a delightful one, which fellow chess obsessives can appreciate.
At the other extreme is People.com, which undoubtedly understated Ledger’s chess prowess by portraying him as a mere woodpusher. People quotes a Greenwich Village dog walker who’d watch the insomniac Ledger play chess at 6:30 A.M at the celebrated stone tables in Washington Square Park: “He didn’t seem to be such a good chess player but I’m not sure ….”