In The Four Feathers (opening Sept. 20), Heath Ledger plays a British soldier out to redeem himself after his friends brand him a coward. Now, you'd think starring in action-packed fare like The Patriot and A Knight's Tale would make filming battle scenes a snap for the Aussie hottie. But Feathers's exotic locale — the down and dirty Moroccan desert — still threw him some unique challenges.

"Physically, it was grueling just working in the desert," Ledger admits. "Throwing yourself down dunes and s--- like that was kind of tough, but I had tons of fun."

Worse yet, Ledger usually spent three hours in the makeup chair to don a grungy-looking stick-on beard and wig — to achieve that bedraggled late 1800s look. "It's disgustingly uncomfortable because your face is just covered in glue," the 23-year-old actor grouses. "Your smile is restricted, and you have this stupid little grin on your face all the time.

"Then," he adds, "sand gets in the glue and [the makeup artists] are constantly scraping the sand out and pressing [the beard] down. I get shivers right now just thinking about it."

Fortunately, the mischievous star — who buzzed off all those curly tresses for his next film, Ned Kelly — did find stress relief on the Feathers set. "In our time off, I played drums with a Sudanese drum band," he reveals. "Every Tuesday and Wednesday night, we'd just get really drunk, smash red wine all over and just play drums for like three hours straight around this pool in the middle of the desert. It was wicked."