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Heath Ledger courts fame with 'Knight's Tale'

"A Knight's Tale" star Heath Ledger began his acting career at age 10 in a local theater in Perth, Australia  

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Son of a 'Patriot'

'We shared a lot of moments'

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- When Heath Ledger is asked if it makes him uncomfortable to be considered a sex symbol to countless young female fans, the actor squirms in his chair.

The spotlights bearing down from behind the cameras seem hotter.

"Yes ... of course," he says, looking this way and that. "You can't help but be uncomfortable because it's new. I don't really, strangely enough, sit around thinking about it."

What Ledger, 22, does think about is his latest movie, which will no doubt only increase the number of sex-symbol questions directed his way. "A Knight's Tale" releases Friday in the United States.

Set in medieval times, it's the story of the son of a poor thatcher who becomes a jousting knight on the competitive European circuit, eventually thriving as the most popular figure in the event.

But this is not your typical medieval history. The story mixes comedy, drama, spectacular stunts, and moments of inspiration. And oh yes, there's modern-day jock rock music -- "Taking Care of Business," by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, "The Boys Are Back In Town," by Thin Lizzy -- that not only provides a soundtrack, but interacts with the character onscreen.

In fact, in the opening scene of the film, peasants gathered for a joust start their own rendition of Queen's "We Will Rock You."

"We're presenting the audience a fairy tale," says Ledger. "We're not presenting a historically correct piece. And the rock 'n' roll music is there to blast down any barriers that were restricting us. It's a fairy tale and it doesn't pretend to be anything but that."

Son of a 'Patriot'

It's also a vehicle for Ledger to woo more fans. Born in Perth, Australia, his acting career began in local theater at the tender age of 10. By 17, he was living in Sydney and starring on Australian television.

The actor first attracted the attention of American audiences with his supporting role in "10 Things I Hate About You" (1999).

In the film, Ledger plays the son of a poor thatcher who becomes a jousting knight on the competitive European circuit  

And Ledger blazed onscreen last summer as the rebellious son of Mel Gibson's "The Patriot."

He gets all the glory in "A Knight's Tale," swaggering with his curly blonde locks, fighting his own destiny, facing a joust showdown with his icy nemesis, and courting the best-looking gal in the land, played by Shannyn Sossamon in her big screen debut.

Sossamon, in fact, was discovered by a casting agent at a 1999 joint birthday party for Gwyneth and Jake Paltrow. Ledger says she did well her first time out.

"She's a natural," he says. "And it shows in her performance. It's very fresh and new. She's a beautiful girl."

'We shared a lot of moments'

Also along for the ride with Ledger's character are his two peasant helpers, and an unemployed young writer named Geoff Chaucer. Yes, that Geoff Chaucer, played with bravado by Paul Bettany.

Ledger says the cast had a great time during the four-month filming process.

"We shared a lot of moments. We really did," says Ledger. "That was the genius of (writer-director) Brian Helgeland casting a group of people who could get along so well.

"It was an ensemble cast and the story has a lot to do with relationships and nobility amongst friends," Ledger says. "So it was very important to stitch that relationship off screen, and we did."

But Ledger is the main attraction, as any teenage girl will tell you.

He says it's nice to be getting a lot of attention, but after working 18 months straight, he longs to take some time off to surf, and hang out. He's dating actress Heather Graham and wants to devote more time to relationships with family and friends.

Never mind that sex symbol thing. Ledger says he's taking life one day at a time.

"I'm fairly loose and I tend to appreciate each day," he says. "I really don't know what I'm going to do next week. It is a good feeling."

'A Knight's Tale'

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