It’s been 10 years since one of the most beloved actors left this world. Heath Ledger, an Aussie actor and director, played one of the most iconic characters in the world, “The Joker”. It’s hard to imagine anyone else taking on the same role as him. He perfected the character and performed with such grace and elegance. For his role in The Dark Knight, Ledger took some necessary steps to bring the comic book character to life, in the most realistic way imaginable. Although Ledger didn’t see the impact his performance had created, the whole world saw and felt it. “The Joker” wasn’t just any ordinary role for him and lot of Heath went into that part. Here we have gathered some facts about Heath and The Joker, as well as his many influences for the part.
1. In order to bring the best out of The Joker, Heath Ledger isolated himself in a hotel room for a month.
To better understand his character and to incorporate it in real-life, Heath Ledger decided to isolate himself for a month in a hotel room. Ledger was no stranger to method acting. He committed himself to the role and even before the script was written, Ledger started obsessing about it. A few months before the filming of the movie, Ledger isolated himself, writing and collaging images to help him get inside the character’s head.
In an interview with Empire Online, he explained his process:
“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 to 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.” (source)
2. He kept a Joker journal.
In 2014, a German documentary about Heath Ledger was released. The documentary reveals the diary that the actor used to help him as he prepared to play The Joker in The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger’s father, Kim Ledger, allowed the world to have a glimpse of the diary that created The Joker.
“He galvanized the upcoming character. That was typical of Heath. He would do that. He liked to dive into his characters, but this time he really took it up a notch.” – Kim Ledger
Among the images in the diary were jesters, clowns and jokers, as well as actor Malcolm McDowell as Alex in A Clockwork Orange.
“The hospital scene is interesting because when he was a kid, his sister Kate liked to dress him up as a nurse. He looked pretty funny like that. He looked pretty funny in the film, too.” – Kim Ledger
Every line in the diary was written by hand including the dialogues for the movie. In the last page of the diary, he wrote “BYE BYE” . (source)
3.During filming, Ledger would consistently skateboard around the set wearing the full costume and makeup.
While the filming took place in Chicago, the makeup trailer ended up being at the top of a hill. Because of this, Ledger was able to quickly hop on a skateboard and roll down to the set. Legendary makeup artist John Caglione, Jr. worked closely with Heath Ledger over the course of shooting “The Dark Knight”. In an interview with HuffPost, he explained: “He’d have his costume and makeup on and just fool around with his skateboard.”
He went on to explain that when filming was not taking place, Ledger was just himself, even when he was completely dressed and riding around on a skateboard. Caglione thinks that skateboarding might have been part of Ledger’s relaxed vibe on set. (source)
4. Once filming began, Ledger used the diary to switch his persona.
Not only was he relaxed on set, but he was also making other people around him feel relaxed with his goofy behavior. Once on the set, he was a whole different character, and in order to achieve his professionalism, he carried his diary along with him. For over six years, the contents of the diary were unknown to the world, but recently it was made available to the public.
The sort of scrapbook with sad drawings and pictures, helped to put himself in a certain place in his head. He made switching personas for film look easy. Even though he was playing a villainous role, Ledger had the ability to stay so cool and calm and friendly throughout filming. (source)
5. Ledger could have been Batman but he wasn’t interested in comic book movies.
Before being cast as The Joker, Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger had met multiple times to discuss roles for the movie. In fact, Nolan talked about Ledger playing Batman for Batman Begins but Ledger replied that he wasn’t interested in “this kind of movie”. Ledger thought that a comic book movie was not worthwhile. But, after watching Batman Begins and seeing Nolan bring Batman to life, Ledger changed his mind. He met with Nolan once again and talked about playing The Joker. Even before the script was being written, Ledger wanted to make the character his own. (source)
6. Heath Ledger asked Christian Bale to perform the stunts for real in ‘The Dark Knight’.
In the scene where officer Gordon brings The Joker into the interrogation room and Batman begins to ask questions, Ledger encouraged Bale to make the physical altercation between the two authentic. Ledger went to extreme lengths to make sure that his character would be realistic in every way. According to Christian Bale, when he and Ledger were filming The Dark Knight’s interrogation scene, Ledger requested that Bale perform the stunts on him for real when the cameras were rolling. Bale recalled:
“As you see in the movie, Batman starts beating The Joker and realizes that this is not your ordinary foe. Because the more I beat him the more he enjoys it. The more I’m giving him satisfaction. Heath was behaving in a very similar fashion. He was kinda egging me on. I was saying, ‘You know what, I really don’t need to actually hit you. It’s going to look just as good if I don’t.’ And he’s going, ‘Go on. Go on. Go on…’ He was slamming himself around, and there were tiled walls inside of that set which were cracked and dented from him hurling himself into them. His commitment was total.” (source)
7. The scene where The Joker crashes the Wayne Party was so realistic that Michael Caine (Alfred), forgot his lines.
In the scene where Bruce Wayne is hosting a fundraiser for Harvey Dent, Ledger and a group of Joker goons crash the party. Caine, as Alfred, was waiting to welcome the guests as the elevator door opened. When Caine saw Ledger with his full makeup, he was frightened by the appearance of The Joker and forgot his lines. During the film’s promotion, Caine was quoted saying:
“I was waiting for Batman’s guests, but (The Joker) had taken over the elevator with—he has seven dwarfs and … oh! wait until you see them. “So, I’d never seen any of it and the elevator door opened and they came out and I forgot every line. They frightened the life out of me.” (source)
8. The film includes a small tribute to Ledger’s daughter.
In the scene where The Joker sneaks into a panicked Gotham hospital to see Harvey Dent, Ledger is dressed as a nurse. The name tag on the nurse’s uniform actually reads, “Matilda”; Ledger’s daughter, who was born in 2005. (source)
9. Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his performance as The Joker in “The Dark Knight”; making The Joker the first comic book character to win an Oscar.
Heath Ledger was also the first actor to win an Academy Award for the portrayal of a character (villain) in a superhero movie. Ever. Although he didn’t get to accept the award himself, his dad, mom and sister accepted on his behalf.
“I have to say this is ever so humbling, just being amongst such wonderful people in such a wonderful industry,” said his father, Kim Ledger. “We’d like to thank the academy for recognizing our son’s amazing work, Warner Bros., and Christopher Nolan in particular for allowing Heath the creative license to develop and explore this crazy Joker character.” (source)
10. Ledger designed the Joker look himself.
Ledger was extremely commitment to the character. Before the filming started, he used to sketch about the look his Joker would have. He brought out the makeup artist within him and applied the clown face himself for the first few days of the movie. This helped the makeup team get an idea of what he was looking for.
Apart from that, while the makeup team was painting his face, he would contort his face, so cracks and crevices would form and make it look like it was lived in. Ledger knew how the artist would paint and where the brush would move next so he squinted his eyes, raised his forehead and made facial gestures in order to achieve the look he wanted. (source)