How Heath Ledger's Legacy Is Nurturing the Next Generation of Dreamers

The Heath Ledger Scholarship aims to help young actors make the difficult transition to Hollywood

Nine years after Heath Ledger’s death, members of his inner circle share memories of his zest for life and his troubled final days. Subscribe now for the emotional new details and never-before-seen photos — only in PEOPLE.

Heath Ledger‘s legacy is helping aspiring Aussie actors get a start in Hollywood.

In partnership with his family and high-profile friends, the organization Australians in Film created the Heath Ledger Scholarship, which aims to help young actors make the difficult transition to Hollywood — just like the late Australian actor did.

“It’s designed to help Australian actors make their international career leap, sort of like a network to establish them in Hollywood and provide them with support and assistance,” Ledger’s sister Kate tells PEOPLE in the latest issue. “From industry introduction to managing finances to providing airfares back and forth to Australia, we aim to provide the complete transitional package.”

The scholarship has been awarded annually since 2009, and winners have included Fifty Shades Darker‘s Bella Heathcote and James Mackay, who appeared in Hacksaw Ridge and can be seen in the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Ledger is the focus the new Spike TV documentary I Am Heath Ledger (set to premiere on Spike TV on May 17 following its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 23), which provides a revealing glimpse of the star including his early days as an actor. Like those his scholarship aims to help, Ledger himself made the leap from Australia to California in 1998 after moving from his hometown of Perth to Sydney when he was 17.

F:PHOTOReady RoomActionsInsert Request47374#Jaclyn LabarberaExclusive to People 14 (Kate Ledger hugs little brother Heath - Photograph from the ESTATE).jpg
Courtesy Ledger Estate

When his career took off in 1999 following the sleeper smash 10 Things I Hate About You, the actor made sure to help out other Aussies coming up behind him by letting them crash at his house — even if he didn’t know them that well.

“I think he knew how hard it was himself because when he first moved over, he didn’t have anything,” Kate says. “It’s such a tough existence when you have nothing and you have to start from the beginning. Hollywood is big and scary and it is a hard thing to crack.”

For more on Heath Ledger, including the revealing new documentary about his life and legacy, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday


Now in its ninth year, the scholarship is appointed by a panel of high-profile judges who review hundreds of submissions. This year’s judges include Naomi Watts, Ryan Murphy and Gary Oldman, while past judges have included Colin Farrell, Rose Byrne, Jude Law and Vince Vaughn.

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It includes a seven-day trip to California, $16,000 for expenses like rent, a living allowance and transportation, and even acting classes. Benefactors for the scholarship include the Ledger family, Michelle Williams, Naomi Watts, Hugh Jackman, Rose Byrne, Vince Vaughn, Liam Hemsworth, Baz Luhrmann, Nicole Kidman and The Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Through the scholarship, its judges and benefactors hope to nurture Australian actors whose talents can burn as brightly as the star who inspired it.

“Sometimes people break through because of one thing, whether it’s good looks or talent or timing or who knows? But he sort of had everything down,” Watts says in I Am Heath Ledger. “One of the most powerful things for an actor, particularly for a man, is their voice and their physicality and their level of masculinity, and he had all of those things in spades.”

Applications for the 2017 edition are open now.

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