Heath Ledger Won His Role In 10 Things I Hate About You The Moment He Walked Into The Room

Despite the many late-90s romantic comedies inspired by classic literature, "10 Things I Hate About You" has stood the test of time unlike any other. Based on "The Taming of the Shrew," the film remained faithful to its Shakespearean roots and was an endearing romantic comedy for the ages. "10 Things I Hate About You" followed the Stratford sisters, whose strict father won't allow his high schooler daughter Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) to date unless her older sister Kat (Julia Stiles) does. Kat is witty, snarky, and rebellious; she has her eyes set on college and doesn't want to waste time with boys. When new student Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls for Bianca, he hatches a plan to get Kat to date Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger), a rough-edged outsider with a glorious head of hair and devastatingly deep voice. Kind of a package deal, but Kat doesn't care.

The film remains memorable to this day — and Heath Ledger's character remains a fan-favorite for being the quiet, brooding loner with a penchant for wooing women with his brave, endearing tactics. Casting Ledger as Patrick Verona took the filmmakers a long time since they'd met with over 200 actors, but none possessed the charm and magnetic aura the character was meant to have. And then Heath Ledger walked in.

Heath Ledger could sell anything

In Huffpost's oral history of "10 Things I Hate About You," director Gil Junger narrated the story of Heath Ledger's audition for Patrick Verona. The filmmaker shared how the then-18-year-old Australian actor had immediately charmed him, and possessed the qualities they were looking for. Junger, along with his casting directors Gail Goldberg, Donna Morong, and Marcia Ross, had trouble finding the right guy to portray the likable, charismatic loner. But when Heath Ledger walked into the room, they knew it was meant to be.

Junger had already sat through 250 auditions and "wasn't happy," he knew he was missing the "magic" that was out there. When "The Dark Knight" star walked in, Junger remembers telling himself that if the young actor "could read," he was going to cast him. The crew prepared a screen test for him, and the actor was convinced he could play the role well.

The director revisited the story, describing that he thought of Ledger as a "f**king movie star" at first glance. He further stated that Ledger's personality, and his ease of confidence made them curious about the actor.

"... It wasn't because of the way he looked. It was just the vibe. There was just an ease of confidence and sexuality that was like, 'Whoa, who is this guy?' So, he sits down, and I had about eight pages of sides for the character to read.

'I think you're a very talented guy'

It's safe to say that Junger was impressed already — but he wanted to see if the actor could improvise. He wasn't disappointed.

"We're not even done with the first page, and I said, 'Heath, let's put the sides down.' And he looked at me so scared. I said, 'No, no, no. This is a very good thing. I think you're a very talented guy, and I just want to improv with you for a little.' I wanted to see how facile his ability was to shift attitudes and maybe play off some humor. And we did that for about 45 seconds, and I said, 'OK, thank you so much for coming in.' And again he looked at me like, 'Dude, I just flew here from Australia. You're spending two minutes with me for a 16-hour flight?'

Instead of looking at the film from the screen test and weighing their options, Junger and his crew decided to hire Ledger as soon as he left the room. They were convinced they had found their guy. Junger's faith in Ledger was unwavering — he was genuinely amazed by him. 

When remembering his first day on the set of "10 Things I Hate About You," the filmmaker listed various elements of Ledger's day one ensemble, revealing he wore "cracked olive-green pants, a white worn-out leather belt, some crazy pair of white shoes, a hat and who knows what shirt." Junger admired how "cool" Heath Ledger was. "He could sell anything," the filmmaker recounted.