It's a gray fall day on the industrial edges of his Brooklyn neighborhood, but to Heath Ledger, it may as well be springtime in Paris. Who can blame him? He took the biggest professional risk of his career and came out of the experience with a soul mate (actress Michelle Williams) and a new baby. It's been two weeks since his daughter, Matilda, arrived, and Ledger extols the virtues of fatherhood like a man reborn. ''I feel like I've left the ship without my space suit,'' says the actor, who spent the past year trying to rebuild his career. ''Everything looks and feels different.''
In many respects, he's right. Just one year ago, it would have been tough to fathom that Ledger would be a front-runner in this year's Best Actor race or that his lightning-rod new movie, Brokeback Mountain, would have emerged as a leading dark-horse contender for Best Picture. But that's just how things have shaped up for director Ang Lee's adaptation of Annie Proulx's award-winning New Yorker short story, which traces the ardor and anguish of two cowboys (played by Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) who are sent to wrangle sheep on a Wyoming mountainside in 1963 and end up wrangling each other. The story unfolds over two decades, during which they endure loveless marriages to long-suffering wives Williams and Anne Hathaway and bide their time between perilous trysts.
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