On Heath Ledger’s birth anniversary, revisit his most iconic character, the Joker
In the 10 years that have passed since Heath Ledger’s untimely and sudden death as a result of an accidental overdose, the stature of his Oscar winning performance in 2008’s The Dark Knight has only grown. Ledger died in January of that year, months before the world witnessed his take on the iconic Batman villain, The Joker.
He became only the second actor to win a posthumous Academy Award, and the character is now seen as one of the best villains in the history of cinema. And Ledger was there from day one, helping create the Joker from scratch, working with director Christopher Nolan, the makeup and costume departments, and other actors.
While the legend around his methods have only become stranger and more elaborate over the years, on his 38th birth anniversary, let’s revisit some facts about Ledger’s Joker that you might not have known.
He locked himself in a room for a month
To prepare for the role, Ledger isolated himself by locking himself in a room for over a month. During this time, he tried to enter the mind of a deranged psychopath and maintained a journal filled with clippings of hyenas, clowns and the words ‘bye bye’ written on the last page. Ledger carried the journal around with him on set. “I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month and I just locked myself away and formed a little diary and experimented with voices. I ended up landing more with in the realm of like a psychopath, someone with no empathy,” Ledger told Empire.
He improvised a lot of his performance
During rehearsals Ledger never went ‘full’ Joker, which took his co-actors by surprise during actual filming, when he totally inhabited the character. He also worked in close collaboration with Nolan in many of the Joker’s scenes, directing the cellphone video footage himself. One notable input of his remains in the final film. When Gary Oldman Jim Gordon is promoted to commissioner, Ledger improvised the applause the Joker gives from inside a cell. Nolan liked the addition and so it stayed in the film. “I looked into his eyes and I just saw... This guy knows he can do something here, he wants to get in and do this thing. And that was without even a script!” Nolan said in an interview to Empire.
He was inspired by A Clockwork Orange
While Nolan gave Ledger a lot of freedom in creating the Joker, he also recommended that he study Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian film, A Clockwork Orange and Francis Bacon’s paintings. And while this hasn’t been substantiated with proof, several fans have pointed out the similarities between Ledger’s Joker and the singer, Tom Waits. “Chris and I very much saw eye-to-eye on how the character should be played, and it was evident from the meeting that we had a project. We had identical images within our minds,” Ledger told Empire.
The Joker helped convince Nolan to make The Dark Knight
Nolan wasn’t interested in making a sequel to Batman Begins, despite choosing to end it with a tantalising Joker tease. But the director told Empire that he “was quite surprised to find myself wanting to do it. I just got caught up in the process of imagining how you would see a character like The Joker through the prism of what we did in the first film.”
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