The untimely death of Heath Ledger left a void in the acting community. In terms of his actual person, yes, but also in what he represented. A subdued, thoughtful actor who shied away from the press, who made a quiet regular guy life for himself when he wasn't emoting really well for lots and lots of money. So, for useless speculation's sake, who will fill that role now, where is our next, uh, sorta-dark knight? Ledger's Brokeback Mountain costar Jake Gyllenhaal is too splashy. Other broody types like Josh Hartnett haven't quite got that leading-man-with-gravitas movie star thing down. So we think it might be James Franco, who is, like Ledger before he died, just beginning the second act of his career.

Franco is an Intellectual who doggedly studied at UCLA after he became a movie star and is attending an MFA writing program in New York this fall. Like Ledger, he got praise early in his career (winning a Golden Globe for doing his best James Dean) and then sorta fizzled. Ledger had movies like The Brothers Grimm and The Order, Franco was saddled with the a terrible triumvirate of shitty, embarrassing movies Annapolis, Fly Boys, and Tristan & Isolde.

What put a new polish in Ledger's career was his "brave" (pah) decision to go gay in Brokeback, and oho, Franco is doing the same as Sean Penn's homosexual lover in this fall's Harvey Milk biopic. Franco is known to be intense and deeply focused, doing tons of research on his roles. Ledger had a very similar reputation, holing himself up in a hotel room for months to work on his Joker. Oh, and Franco's the druggie lead in Pineapple Express, just like Ledger was the druggie lead (around the same time as Brokeback) in the Australian dirge Candy. OK so Franco's character is a lighthearted stoner and Ledger's was a depressed and self-destructive heroin junkie, but still!

In his personal life, Ledger made his quiet way in Brooklyn for a few years, settling down and mating with fellow actor Michelle Williams. Though I obsessively stroll the streets peering in windows, I still don't know where Franco will be living, but it seems likely that he won't be hitting the club scene too hard. Not on school nights, at least.

Plus, Ledger was ridiculously good looking in a kind of stern, knowing, and yet soft way and so is Franco. So, that helps.

While it may seem insensitive to some of you teetotalers out there to compare a living person to a dead one, I really mean it as a high compliment. Ledger was the Actor to Watch before his passing, and Franco seems to be a likable guy who could do well in the same type of mold. Because, you know, no one can just be a person in old showbiz. You have to be a type so people who write for blogs or write magazine cover headlines have something to say about you. GQ still thinks he's James Dean, but we say Ledger. Either way, there is this quote from the article:

"I was just standing over near the desk. And they all got in the bed and, I mean, he was out of his head. He was so high on cocaine, I guess, or drunk or whatever, and he was saying, like, ‘Oh, my wife and daughters are coming tomorrow, but this is great.' It was the first time I ever saw a cock ring. He put on a cock ring. And then they both kind of like stood over him, and the guy was, like, stroking both of them and he was like, ‘Ah, all these cocks, I love these cocks.'"