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Why So Serious - Heath Ledger’s Iconic Role As The Joker

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November 1, 2019 17:42

Since his untimely death Heath Ledger has received nothing but praises, especially by his fellow Batman The Dark Knight cast members. The whole team described his persona and performance as simply amazing, breathtaking and phenomenal. The following award season backed up all the praises Ledger received, with the highlight in midst of all the different awards his performance has earned him, being the posthumous Oscar for best supporting actor in February 2009.


Heath Ledger’s Joker is arguably the greatest comic book movie villain of all time. The Joker was already an absolute iconic character before Heath portrayed him. Having been played by the likes of Cesar Romero in the 1960s Batman TV series and Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman Movie. When DC and Warner Bros. began the search for their Joker in 2008’s “Batman The Dark Knight”, the list for potential actors to play the character did not include Heath Ledger.

Stars like Robin Williams, Steve Carell, Adrien Brody and Hugo Weaving where the front runners for the role. It wasn’t until Ledger had met up with Christopher Nolan that the idea of him portraying “The Joker“ was even discussed. The filmmakers wanted an actor who was talented and fearless, which were traits Ledger definitely brought to the table.

Ledger's appearances in comedies like “A Knight’s Tale“ certainly did not have people imagining he would go on to play the Joker. Given how brilliantly everything turned out, the wide outrage that occurred upon his casting is hard to imagine. Christopher Nolan was criticized a lot for choosing Ledger over the aforementioned actors. For some it was also hard to imagine Ledger playing “The Joker“ due to his role in the movie “Brokeback Mountain“, claiming he was unsuitable for the role.

Heath wanted to make sure that he differentiated his version of “The Joker“ from Jack Nicholson’s 1989 version. When the idea was first presented to Ledger, he said he knew just 5 seconds later how he was going to play it. In order to perfect what he correctly believed would be a refreshing and unique version of “The Joker“ he went to some bizarre extremes.

Being cast before the script was written meant he had a very long time to obsess about the role and figure out how exactly he was going to play it. Christopher Nolan had him read Anthony Burgess “A Clock - Work Orange” and study paintings of Francis Bacon to provide him with some chaotic and emotionally charged inspirations.

Months before productions on the “Dark Knight” began, Ledger retreated to a hotel room and isolated himself from society. He started writing a Joker diary and put together disturbing image collages to help him get inside the characters head. In 2007 the actor spoke to Empire Online and explained it in his own words saying : “I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices. It was important to try and find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath, someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts.” Ledger even played a big part in creating the characters costume. You can get a glimpse into Ledger's diary in this video from a documentary about him.


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As he threw himself into the movie role his sleep began to suffer, the actor told the New York Times that while the movie was in production he probably slept an average of 2 hours a night. Describing how he couldn’t stop thinking and how his body was exhausted but his mind kept on going, he became restless in everyday life. Still he was making a huge impression on his co stars. Christian Bale said of Ledger that he turned up and completely ruined his plans, saying that he was so much more interesting than himself and what he was doing. Bale revealed that in the movies famous interrogation scene, the first scene the 2 actors actually filmed together, when Ledger’s Joker said : “hit me” he really meant it wanting to make the scene look as real as possible. Michael Caine was so unsettled by Ledger’s incharacter presence that he completely forgot his lines at some point.

When the first trailer for the movie was released in December 2007, the initial negative comments about the casting of Ledger had all faded away. The Joker was the biggest talking point of the trailer, his voice, his laugh, his look, his mannerisms and his now iconic “Why so Serious” line all made it into trailer one.

In spite of what he went through on a personal level during the production of “The Dark Knight”, Ledger said in multiple interviews that it was the most fun he ever had playing a character.

Four months after productions of “The Dark Knight” wrapped Heath Ledger was found dead in bed in his Manhattan loft due to drug overdose. Sadly, Heath Ledger was never able to see the fruits of his labor, as the movie was released in theaters six months after his tragic death. The Dark Knight's immense box office success was undoubtedly due greatly to Ledger's unparalleled portrayal of the Joker. Ledger was only 28 years old when he died, but will forever be remembered.



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