Australian 'War Horse' Star Wins Heath Ledger Scholarship

 Michelle Day/Corbis

Western Australian actor Cody Fern was named the Australians In Film Heath Ledger Scholarship winner for 2014 at a celebratory dinner in  Los Angeles on Thursday that was hosted by musician, actor and director, Tim Minchin.

The 25-year old, best known for his role as Albert in the Australian version of the National Theatre of Great Britain production of War Horse, has secured the $20,000 prize against stiff competition from another 19 young Australian actors, with Australian Idol alum and Home and Away star Axle Whitehead and Charlotte Best named as runners-up.

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Fern says that thanks to the award, he is now able to fast-track his plans to relocate to Los Angeles, where he is already in discussions for several projects.

"I’ve always had plans to come to Los Angeles; now it's a reality and will happen a lot sooner," Fern told The Hollywood Reporter. "There's some exciting projects going on, it's looking bright and the award makes it all possible," he added.

"Besides the incredible support of opening doors in Los Angeles, the award is really special personally," he said. "The big dreams that Heath had and his achievements in crossing the Nullarbor Desert to Sydney, then leaving Australia to make good work in Hollywood, help push me."

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Fern hails from the tiny mining town of Southern Cross, in the outback of Ledger's home state of Western Australia. He was the first in his family to graduate from university in Perth with an honors degree in commerce, but he quickly realized that it was acting that he wanted to pursue. On stage has played Romeo in Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare WA) as well as Albert in War Horse. He's starred in several short films, including in the titular role of Richard in The Last Time I Saw Richard, a multiple award-winning short film that most recently received an Australian Oscar.

Making the move into features films from a stage background doesn't faze him, revealed Fern. "Good acting is good acting, whether it's on stage, on TV or in films. It's an exciting leap," he said.

He may, however, have to put on hold plans to undertake a new Bachelor's degree in Psychology and Literature and is in the process of completing his first novel.

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"Congratulations to Charlotte and Axle as Runners-Up in a super amazing field of applicants. We were so excited by the sheer numbers across such a broad range of talent, in every sense," said patron of the scholarship, Kim Ledger. "To the final winner, Cody Fern, we have no doubt you will gently lift the mantle from [last year's winner] James and project forward your fabulous talent in Heath's good name, and go on to carve a place in film history."

The Heath Ledger Scholarship includes a $10,000 cash fund, two years of classes at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theatre in Los Angeles, two return flights between the U.S. and Australia, and $5000 worth of visa and immigration services, as well as mentoring from manager Rob Marsala, agent Steve Alexander and Ledger's father, Kim.

The two runners-up receive a round-trip ticket to Los Angeles courtesy of Virgin Australia, where they can profile themselves in the US market and network to gain opportunities to further their careers internationally.

The Scholarship is an initiative of L.A.-based guild, Australians In Film.

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