Several years have passed, but the movie The Dark Knight and his Joker remain in the collective memory. Heath Ledger delivered a unique rendering of Batman’s most iconic villain. It’s a shame Heath Ledger, the actor who played him, died long after filming was completed. Not only was the world deprived of a very talented actor, but we could also no longer see this character return in a future movie. However, this is not an article to regret. Let’s remember and celebrate this historical performance with some curiosities.
1. Find the madness of the character in isolation
Initially, even before the Batman Begins recordings, Heath Ledger applied for the role of Bruce Wayne / Batman and even participated in auditions. Although director Christopher Nolan preferred actor Christian Bale for the role, he was impressed with Ledger’s performance. For Nolan, Heath would be perfect for playing the Joker after the movie, and the role was offered directly to him.
Heath Ledger was delighted to play Batman’s greatest villain and readily accepted the assignment. To better prepare for the role, the actor isolated himself in a hotel room for 43 days. His intention in doing so was to feel alone and be with his thoughts. A means to better understand the madness of the mind of the character he would play.
2. Joker Diary
Another device Heath used to keep with the character was keeping a journal. He made collages of things that inspired his interpretation in this notebook, such as excerpts from comics and photos of movie characters. He also wrote in the diary as if he were the Joker himself, a way to vent and live the crazy mind of the character. Because of this, the diary also has some disturbing and sinister passages, such as lists of geniuses, hyenas, shadows, and blind babies with brain damage.
Heath carried the journal with him wherever he went. If he felt even the slightest bit out of place, all he had to do was read one of the pages in his notebook and his mind would tune into the Joker.
As you can see from the picture in his diary, Alex DeLarge from the movie Clockwork Orange was a huge inspiration for Ledger’s Joker. Alex’s taste for violence and gestures can be identified in the Joker’s gestures and behavior in Dark Knight. As for the visual part of the Joker, his costumes had the musician Sid Vicious of the punk band Sex Pistols as the main stylistic reference.
4. The incredible makeup
Being completely immersed in thoughts of the Joker, Heath Ledger had his own ideas for the character, including the clown makeup. For the actor, the Joker would not be so careful about his appearance to the point of wearing cheap makeup. That’s exactly what Heath did: she went to a drugstore, bought the best makeup kit she’d ever found, and painted her face. The film’s director approved the look, and the makeup artists only had to worry about reproducing the style during the days of filming.
As for the scars on the face, they are a reference to the Glasgow smile. It is a scar that certain gangs in Glasgow, Scotland, inflicted on their enemies. It was very common around 1920. They used knives, broken bottles, and even credit cards to smile from ear to ear at rival gang members.
The combination of poor makeup and scars made for a daunting look. So much so that actors Michael Caine and Maggie Gyllenhaal were affected in the first scene they saw Heath Ledger in character. Maggie Gyllenhaal couldn’t look directly at Heath and Michael Caine even forgot her lines.
The actor was completely immersed in the character and seemed to have completely mastered the Joker’s thinking. This led to many spontaneous scenes and improvisations by Ledger. This was the case with his palms at the scene when the Joker is brought to the police station. It was not scripted, but Nolan liked the gesture, and the scene appeared in the film’s final version.
However, no impromptu scene is more surprising than the scene of the hospital’s destruction. The delay between the explosions that destroyed the building was planned, but not Heath’s reaction. The actor received the actual explosives detonator in hand, and when the last explosives took, he acted as if the detonator was malfunctioning. Another example of her brilliant acting and how she had mastered the character.
Another point where you can see his dedication to the role is when Batman interrogates the Joker. While filming the scene, Heath asked Christian Bale to hit him to act even more convincingly. It is surprising to know that he did not lose his smile even though he was hit.
It’s undeniable that Heath Ledger went to the extreme to play the Joker, to the point of fully dressing up as the character even on days when he didn’t have a scene to shoot. However, the actor could completely disconnect from the character whenever he wanted. It was common to see Heath Ledger having fun on film sets and even on a skateboard (dressed as the Joker, obviously).
6. Direction of videos
Heath Ledger didn’t just work as an actor and, in a way, as a makeup artist on Dark Knight. He also played a small directorial role. The Joker makes two “homemade” videos during the movie. Heath Ledger directed both. Nolan supervised it at first, but the director enjoyed Ledger’s work so much that he left him free to do the second.
It was not the first time that Ledger directed an audiovisual production. The actor had previously directed some music clips before. If you’re curious, here are the song names: Cause and Effect and Seduction is Evil (She’s Hot) by N’fa. Morning Yearning by Ben Harper. Black Eyed Dog by Nick Drake. King Rat by Modest Mouse.
Heath Ledger’s role as Joker has earned him several awards, including a Golden Globe. However, the most prominent award was the 2008 Oscar. Heath Ledger was the second actor to receive the award posthumously, having won in the category of Best Supporting Actor. It was also the first time an actor had won an Oscar for his performance in a superhero movie.
The statuette was passed to actress Michelle Williams, who was Ledger’s girlfriend. They put her in charge of keeping the award until Matilda, her daughter with Ledger, turns eighteen.
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