Jesse Grant/Getty
Sara Hammel
February 20, 2009 10:00 AM

The tragic death of Heath Ledger has, thanks to the actor’s friends, turned into stroke of luck for one Australian actor.

On Thursday night, Oliver Ackland of Sydney became the inaugural recipient of a scholarship created in Ledger’s name with support from friends like Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts and Ledger’s former girlfriend, Michelle Williams.

“[Ackland is] a great actor and he’s really likeable,” Ledger’s good friend and Ned Kelly director Gregor Jordan, a judge on the panel, told PEOPLE at the Australians in Film Academy Award Celebration in Los Angeles. “He’s got [a sort of] Jude Law look. Maybe he’s an Aussie Jude Law, who knows?”

Jordan was one of five judges – including actress Rachel Griffiths – to chose the winner of the $10,000 scholarship, which is intended to help an emerging Australian actor pursue a career in the United States.

Ledger’s Family Look On

The event was held at one of Ledger’s favorite haunts, Chateau Marmont on Sunset Blvd., and attended by several members of his family – 12 of whom, his father Kim and mother Sally included, have traveled to Los Angeles for the Academy Awards on Sunday.

Ledger is a nominee in the Best Supporting Actor category for his intense rendering of the Joker in Dark Knight.

If the experience of fellow Australians trying to make it in Hollywood is any indication, Ackland can consider himself blessed.

“When I first got here, I stayed in a youth hostel down on Melrose [Ave.] and caught a bus to my auditions. It was ridiculous,” House‘s Jesse Spencer, 30, told PEOPLE. “He won’t be staying at the hostel on Melrose – which has pretty clean rooms, by the way – but it’s great and hopefully it helps him.”

‘Heath inspired me’

Ackland, who was flown from his native Sydney and told he was only one finalist among several, was shocked to learn he was actually the winner. “When I got to my Beverly Hills hotel I was thinking, who are the other guys and where are they?” he told PEOPLE. “It was a genuine shock. I’m still getting my head around what it means.”

Of Ledger, he says: “We were a similar age. He was someone I looked up to. He was someone who was doing it – and doing it his own way. He definitely inspired me.”

You May Like