"You could feel his soul. He had so much heart," recalls Catherine Hardwicke

By Brenda Rodriguez Stephen M. Silverman
January 23, 2008 01:15 PM
Jeff Vespa/WireImage

One director who worked with Heath Ledger remembers her young star as the leader of the pack.

“All the kids, the younger actors, loved him. He was kind of like the den father. He was like the scout leader,” Catherine Hardwicke, director of 2005’s Lords of Dogtown, about surfers and skateboarders in Venice, Calif., tells PEOPLE.

In the movie, Ledger played the character Skip, the owner of the board shop.

“We just had little tiny trailers on that movie and he set up, like, ‘Camp Heath’ out in front,” remembers Hardwicke. “He had like umbrellas, tiki torches and lawn chairs so everybody could kind of hang out in between scenes and stuff. He was so cool. He would have the cast up to his house, have parties, he really made it into like a family and made everybody feel so good.”

Warmly, Hardwicke adds: “You could feel his heart and his soul. He had so much heart. I think he was one of those rare people who could convey that on film. You could feel it from him. He was able to make you feel what he was feeling.”

In a professional capacity, she said, “He was so creative. He would come every day and after he would get to hang out with Skip Englebom, who’s the character he plays, the skateboard shop guy, he kind of got the feel of him. As soon as he got it, and got under his skin, then he would just be free and come in and do crazy, cool stuff we weren’t even expecting.”

In particular, she cites “a very dramatic scene, where he’s losing the skateboard team that he built up. He said, ‘Let me try something.’ He walks out in the middle of the room in the middle of this party and just grabs this big surfboard – and he just started swinging it around and all the actors were running out of the way. It’s a really cool moment where he free flows, free styles.”

Concludes the filmmaker, “On one level your heart is just broken for all the cool stuff we would have seen from Heath.”

Heath Ledger: Life in Photos: See all the actor’s most recent photos – from life as a dad to being an Oscar nominee