Blood, directed by Bradley Rust Gray, follows Chloe (Carla Juri), a young widow who travels to Japan after her husband’s death. She reconnects with old friend, Toshi (Takashi Ueno), but she struggles with feeling like she’s falling in love again.
Gray explained that he is friends with Williams, 41, and the film was inspired by her experience coping with grief after Ledger’s death. The two started dating in 2004 after playing husband and wife in Brokeback Mountain. The costars welcomed daughter Matilda, now 16, the following year.
Ledger and Williams split in 2007, just months before Ledger died of an accidental overdose in January 2008. He was 28 years old.
While at Sundance, where Blood debuted earlier this month, Bradley explained that he started developing the script with Williams as his collaborator, and the idea was that she’d play the grieving widow.
“We both shared this weight, of death, and the feeling that you always carry that weight when somebody close to you dies,” Bradley shared via Entertainment Weekly. “When we were getting ready to shoot the film, she realized it was all a little too close for her still, and she politely bowed out.”
Williams — who married Hamilton director Thomas Kail in March 2020 and welcomed her second child the following June — has openly talked about the grieving process and how Ledger’s passing changed her life.
“Now, my life, our life, has a kind of repaired itself. [Ledger’s death has] changed how I see the world and how I interact on a daily basis,” she told Vogue in September 2011. “It’s changed the parent I am. It’s changed the friend I am. It’s changed the kind of work that I really want to do. It’s become the lens through which I see life — that it’s all impermanent.”
Though she opted out of the film, Gray remains grateful to Williams, who came up with the title in a dream and helped him find the story he wanted to tell.
“It took me a long time to write the script because she’s such a transformative actress and after a while I thought, what we shared in common was the sense of loss, [which] she was going through that at that time of her life,” he told The Moveable Feast during the January festival. “But when it got closer, it was a little too close, and it was actually okay because it opened the film then to be a little bit more universal. It would’ve been really interesting to do a film with her about that, but, in a way, she was like a bridge. … In a way I think I wouldn’t have developed this story [without her].”
Blood won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Uncompromising Artistic Vision at Sundance.