Heath Ledger was a great actor who passed away about a decade ago. It is crazy how long it has been since we've seen him star in major films. Likely his biggest role ever came when he played The Joker in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight movie series. It is still considered to be the greatest super-villain performance in comic book movie history. Ledger is also the first and only person to win an Academy Award for playing a character of any kind from a comic book film.
He was brilliant in the role, and while most agree with this...it is quite sad that no one has even come close to being as good as he was. Seriously, think about all of the villains that have come before and after. Out of all of them, it might be determined that a few of them were pretty good or even great at their job. Meanwhile, if one had to choose...they would pick Ledger's performance every day of the week.
Heath was an Australian actor who many considered to be good at his job, but no one knew he had "The Joker" within him. He sacrificed so much for the role and did things that are now the stuff of legend in the world of cinema. Even Jared Leto, who played the part in Suicide Squad, would go into a crazy place in order to play the clown prince of crime. It seems many go into a very odd place for the character. However, Ledger went above and beyond the call of duty for this one.
In this list, we'll be going over some things people seem to ignore when it comes to Ledger's Joker. It is likely all who read this have ignored some of these things at least once. We hope you enjoy.
25 Technically, Ledger Never Wanted To Be The Joker
Heath Ledger was quite notable for saying he was not the biggest comic book fan in the world. He was open about this but never claimed to be ignorant of the product. In fact, his lack of knowing the universe allowed him to make The Joker his own. Yet at the same time, he was never going to be The Joker in his mind. When Christopher Nolan began casting for Batman, Ledger actually tried out for the job. Interestingly, Nolan is well known for working with a lot of the same people in his movies over the years. This is why there are so many of the same people in all of them. Michael Caine and Tom Hardy anyone?
Christian Bale had worked with him on The Prestige, and he ended up fitting Nolan's image of The Dark Knight. As a result, he got the part. Yet Chris loved Ledger and felt he could be amazing for a movie down the line.
He kept him in mind, and as a result, he called him in for a possible try at The Joker. Heath showed up with his vision of the character and won over Chris Nolan with his concept. Though Nolan openly claimed that he looked at other people for the part, he also claims he wanted to cast Heath for it the entire time. Can we blame him looking back on it? (Source: IndieWire)
24 The Joker Was Consistent Like Clockwork...Orange
When researching the role of The Joker, Heath was heavily influenced by a few different things. Likely one of the more important things was the overall mannerisms of the character itself. He knew he wanted to bring something different but also fitting to the role. He could not be like the other Jokers, as we know. This meant his dark take had to go above and beyond what people were used to. This led him to the movie Clockwork Orange and Malcolm McDowell. Malcolm played the character Alex De Large in the film, which was pretty compelling.
If you watch Alex in that movie then watch The Joker in The Dark Knight movie, you'll notice a lot of similarities that are pretty obvious. Mostly, the gestures and how Joker moved was critical to how Heath wanted to play him. Alex moved a certain way that Ledger liked, and made gestures that Ledger wanted to adapt. So he adopted both for his take on the Joker and felt that it would ultimately make sense when he put all the pieces together that he adopted for the role or came up with on the spot. Clearly, it worked out. (Source: BusinessInsider)
23 The Joker Was Played To Be A Genius By Ledger
One of the most important yet often forgotten things about The Joker is that he could very well be a genius. Does being a genius mean he will invent technology that will help him match up with others? No. Joker's genius truly was in the world of survival and psychology. He is able to match Batman in so many ways because despite being weaker and less talented in the fight game than the Bat...he knows what to expect as he's already gotten inside your head.
In the movie, Ledger wanted to bring out the true genius out of the Joker. The aspect of forcing Batman to choose which person he saved automatically proved his genius.
Likely the most important thing that shows his genius was in the hospital scene with Harvey Dent. Harvey wanted to end the Joker for what he did to him. The Joker gave him a shot. Funny enough, if you look closely the trigger hammer itself was locked up. Sort of jammed if you will. Even if Harvey landed on the right side and could end Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime was already prepared to stop this and keep himself alive. Dent may take chances, Joker did not. Ledger brought out this amazing side to him.
22 The Opening Scene Mask Is A Throwback To The 60's Series
Back in the 1960's, a campy version of Batman was on television. The show was well-liked for the time period. Due to comics being forced to go down the overly PG road anyway, it was a hit. The actors like Adam West became legendary due to playing roles in the movie. Obviously, major villains would be used throughout the series. Considering the Rogues Gallery for Batman, it could be endless for the caped crusader. As one could conclude, The Joker would be among them.
In this series, he was played by the amazing Cesar Romero and would be seen frequently throughout the series. Nolan wanted to do a throwback to the old version of The Joker, so the masks we see to start the movie off that The Joker and others are wearing actually have a purpose. While the movie's purpose was to hide the faces of all involved, Nolan's purpose was to do a throwback to Cesar. The mask worn by the men and Ledger would be a very similar one worn by Romero. That said, it was pretty cool of Nolan to do this. As it clearly honored the original live action Joker. (Source: Geektyrant)
21 Before Playing The Joker, Heath Ledger Was Not a method actor
There are quite a number of method-actors in Hollywood. Likely the most well-known is Daniel Day-Lewis, who has won many awards due to his ability to be so impressive. Ledger was never considered to be a bad actor before this. In fact, many believed he was great. The only thing was that Ledger went to some deep levels to be amazing for The Joker.
As one can read from our upcoming material, Ledger went a long way to be great for this role. However, Ledger was never really a method-actor beforehand.
While Ledger did try to understand the roles he played and fit in, such as learning some of the lifestyles of the character. In movies like Monster's Ball, he did not somehow become a cop or develop family issues to be great at this. In The Patriot, he did not go back in time or enter a war to learn. Ledger went to deep levels for the Joker, likely, because it was the first character he could truly do that with. Interestingly, he was not even that method with Joker. As he went in and out of character, where as method-actors stay in them until a movie wraps a lot. Of course, this depends on the person. (Source: Briantimoneyacting)
20 a lot of people didn't want him
One thing often ignored or forgotten about Heath Ledger is that his most memorable role was not always going to be his role. In fact, Christopher Nolan had a few people in mind. Yet he had already proven that he would make some interesting calls on the people he cast in his movies beforehand. Yet when it came to bringing the Joker back to cinema for the first time since the 1980's, people were excited so much so to see the character that they did not want it messed up.
When Heath was cast as the character, the internet had a field day. Some even called for a boycott of the entire movie due to his casting as well.
Today, many people will tell you that they knew Ledger would be great all along or that he was always the perfect guy for the part. In reality, he was nowhere near perfect for the part. Ledger made himself perfect for it and his extreme ability to act was what ultimately sealed the deal. On top of this, a lot of the same people who say that they liked the idea of Ledger playing Joker all along are the same ones who rejected his casting to be the character a decade ago. Obviously, Ledger went on to be great in the role, so people had to either eat their words or lie. Lying is a lot easier for people it seems. (Source: Telegraph)
19 He Locked Himself In A Motel Room For 43 Days
Something Ledger did to himself that was considered nuts was his idea to lock himself in a motel room for 43 days. He could not leave and only could connect with his own thoughts and ideas. It is rumoured that he never used a television or asked them to remove it, as well as any other entertainment device. This was actually an understandable idea that Ledger considered. It is well-known that prisoners put in isolation often go crazy due to this particular issue. The isolation issue became such a problem for prisoners that it was considered inhumane by even the worst of nations.
Yet the United States is one of the few countries that still allow this in prisons across the nation, with some being formed for only isolation cells. Due to the well-known prisoner isolation issue, Ledger realized that if he could do the same thing....he'd go crazy. While he could always leave, unlike prisoners, he managed to last over a month all by himself just to find the crazy man inside that would give us The Joker. (Source: DailyMail)
18 The Joker's Look Was Heavily Influenced By a rock star
When it comes to one crazy character, it might be best to go back in time and find someone else from history that people consider crazy. Sid Vicious was part of a rock band. They were most known for their rock music and had a lot of success in their homeland of The UK as well as some success in the United States.
The overall look of The Joker would be influenced by Sid, which you can easily see based on how he looked compared to how The Joker looked on screen.
Sid was also a known addict, who along with his girlfriend Nancy, became known for the infamous "rock n' roll lifestyle." Nancy ended up passing, but Sid would spiral down on them afterward as well. Though he did get into rehab, he would get access to them once more upon his release from the center. Ultimately, he passed. Ledger knew if he could use this rocker's overall style, it could only represent the crazy Joker style that would only serve to help him later while doing the job. (Source: Telegraph)
17 the face makeup
Likely everything the Joker said from The Dark Knight film is quotable by comic book movie fans. Though it is likely one of the most infamous is his line on scars. He would get close to a person and say "wanna know how I got these scars?" Interestingly, Nolan did not have the scars originally in his screenplay and DC Comics never put scars on Joker's face to have a permanent smile in any version of the comics that had him. However, this was a brilliant concept that made THIS Joker memorable and different from the rest.
Nolan would eventually add these to his character and the use of them would be played up well by Ledger, who actively worked to make sure you noticed them. When Nolan created the role, he did want Joker to be different from past live, animated, and comic book versions. At the same time, Heath wanted to be totally different from the rest as well. This made him ever aware that his scars were present the entire movie.
Heath put his tongue to the sides of his mouth like many do with a sore or cut when we have it there. It became second nature for Heath like it would likely have been for The Joker himself. By the time Nolan and Ledger were finished...the different look and subtle use of the scars were beautifully executed. It is often forgotten just how much Ledger did to expose every interesting thing. We thought it to be normal so much so that we likely ignored it without intending to do so. (Source: Quora)
16 The True Art Of The Punch
During the interrogation scene when Batman meets up with The Joker at the Gotham Precinct, Heath wanted to make sure to bring as much to this as he could. That meant he would need to make sure he could show the vast differences between Joker and Batman. The idea was for Joker to do as he always did and push Batman beyond a breaking point so that he ended up like him. He could not do this if the concern of going over the top was not present. Knowing what Batman had to do and what he had to do as an actor, Ledger asked Christian Bale to do something kinda crazy.
When Batman begins to attack Joker in the room, Ledger felt it would be best to make most all of this real. Bale decided to do as Heath wanted and really beat him up.
While it was clearly not to the extent as it was shown on camera, it was enough that Nolan did not have to make too many cuts with his camera during this scene. As there was not a whole lot to hide. Bale originally did not want to go through with it, but he respected the idea of Ledger and did so. It turned out to be a pretty good plan it seems. (Source: NME)
15 The First Time Is Always The Toughest
During the Wayne Party scene that Joker crashes, the expectation of Joker was that he could force the hand of Batman at this moment. He'd later realize the connection between Rachel and Batman and use that against him. However, the acting side of this was hard for most beyond Ledger. He had purposely stayed away from all of his co-stars on set so that he could make an appearance in full costume during the filming part of the movie. They had recently rehearsed without a problem, but the costume and what Ledger would play up would not be done until the cameras were rolling.
This scene is not the first we see of The Joker, but it is the first Rachel and Alfred see him in person. It is said that Maggie Gyllenhaal was so scared when she first saw Heath in full Joker costume and make-up that Maggie could not even look at him. This is likely why Rachel does not look at Joker much in this scene. Michael Caine was so stunned by the look that the amazing actor forgot his lines. One has to do a lot in order to make the great Michael Caine forget lines at any point. If nothing else, THAT was a win for Ledger. (Source: Quora)
14 The Youth Of Heath Ledger Was Interesting For A Super-Villain
While there have been many younger villains that came after Heath Ledger, with Jessie Eisenberg being one...that was not the case beforehand. Ledger had been the youngest to ever play The Joker and one of the youngest to ever play a super villain role in a superhero movie of any kind, in history. He would begin the part at age 27 but turn 28 while playing it too. Most movie super-villains at this point were people over the age of 30. While it is not odd to bring someone older in if they fit the part, it was just a rarity for some time.
With superhero movies becoming so massive at the box office, the studios do all they can to capitalize on this. That said, many movies have come out since The Dark Knight that were relatively well-liked and did include people under 30 in major villain roles. Though Heath was likely the first to truly kick that door open. He presented an opportunity to Hollywood, in the idea that if someone is good for a part, age does not truly matter in the end. Cast them, and it likely everything else will turn out just fine.
13 The Joker As The Director
Remember those random videos we saw that hit television in Gotham? Originally, Ledger would beat up a fake Batman in the first video, which Chris Nolan supervised. However, Nolan was very impressed with Ledger's direction of everything that he allowed Heath to shoot and direct the remaining video. He allowed him to literally have full control over the entire second tape that would result in us seeing reporter Mike Engel read a statement from the Joker.
That said, everything you saw in that second tape was all the idea of Heath Ledger. In reality, it very well could have been the idea of the crazy man within Ledger that came out on screen as Joker.
Nolan felt no need to get involved or even as much throw his idea for the tape to Ledger to use. Though Ledger did have to follow the script of what was needed for the characters to do, the creative concept behind it all would clearly be completely on Ledger. It appears that this was well-liked, so it was a good decision by Nolan. (Source: Providr)
12 Heath Freaked Out Aaron Eckhart By Mumbling
Aaron Eckhart memorably played Harvey Dent/Two-Face in the movie, and he would have one of the better scenes with Heath in the movie. They would be in the hospital together with Dent just coming to grips with the idea that half his face was gone. But before the scene, Heath was walking around on set mumbling to himself for several minutes. Eckhart mentioned that it was a bit odd and very unsettling to deal with for him. Upon the start of the scene, Aaron would decide to raise his hand and Ledger would pull it down in a dominating fashion and run his lines with Eckhart.
Seriously, that whole thing where he has to grab Harvey's arm was Aaron being freaked out and not knowing what to do. Ledger would tell him something that Eckhart had to sort of laugh about much later after the fact. In that, the moment their scene ended, which is the one that made it in the final cut, the decision to stop was made and Ledger leaned over and told Aaron "that's what acting is all about." Aaron did not know if Ledger was gone and Joker had taken over or if Ledger was just that good before this was said. Clearly, Heath was just that good. (Via Youtube)
11 The Award-Winning Performance
As mentioned earlier, Heath Ledger would make history by being the first actor to win an Academy Award for a performance in a superhero movie. Though there have been several nominations for things behind the scenes in movies of this nature. While winning an Oscar was amazing for Ledger, some assume he only won it because of his passing before the movie came out. Some even claim that Ledger would never have won and was lucky to even be nominated. However, that year the supporting actor nominations were pretty good. Yet no one was as good as Ledger in that category, and most nominated for the award even admitted to the amazing work of Heath.
However, Heath did not just win the Oscar for his role in The Dark Knight. All in all, he won 32 awards for the role.
Pretty much every major award show, from American to British awards, were given to Ledger for his amazing work. While it is often forgotten how impressive he was compared to those nominated with him, it cannot ever be thought that he was not the best in the supporting actor category that year. The greatness he brought to the role is remembered in all of cinema, not just in superhero films. Today, every villain looks to Ledger as the measuring stick for the greatest villain performance ever. All try to top it or come close, but no one has done so at this point. (Source: IMBD)
10 The Opening Scene Was Sort Of Troubling
Nolan loved every second of Ledger in the movie, but he obviously did want to reshoot stuff that was a bit troubling for the release. Ledger would be seen as the main powerhouse villain by people for the first time during this, so he did feel insecure about his performance for a bit. However, Nolan assured him it was nothing to do with him and a production issue only. Nolan would even keep some of the blurry footage in not only for the IMAX version but the theatrical one as well. Seriously, re-watch the opening and you'll see it. Nolan kept part of it in only due to his love of Heath. That is saying something for a guy like Nolan, who is meticulous with all of his films. He's never done this before or after for any movie. (Source: Screenrant)
9 Nolan Cast Heath After Watching Brokeback Mountain
While Heath would try out for another role for Nolan, he kept Ledger in mind for The Joker. Upon the Brokeback Mountain movie success, it was an easy decision to cast Heath for the part.
People wondered how it was that THIS movie, among all the others Ledger took part in, was the one that made Nolan think Ledger was perfect for Joker. He responded to that, saying: “he had such a lack of vanity … He wasn’t afraid to bury himself in his character.”
The Joker would be the first and only true villain role Ledger played in a movie. The fact that Brokeback Mountain happened to be the one that sealed the deal for Nolan is quite interesting, to say the least. (Source: Telegraph)
8 Heath Used Ventriloquist Dummies To Perfect His Joker Voice
While the laugh of The Joker is likely the most iconic thing about him and a key thing for anyone who plays the role...even those in animated material, that was not Heath's big thing. Ledger knew that a laugh was important, but the way he spoke surrounding this would be the biggest thing he had to perfect. This led him to seek out and work with a voice coach to find the proper way of speaking for the crazed Joker. Some think he has to come off sort of like an addict or man with bad ADHD. When in reality, Joker is far more complex than this.
Heath spoke with deep infections and then high ones, with ever-changing voice pitches throughout the movie. None of it was possible without his work with a proper voice coach. However, the way he put it all together was by using ventriloquist dummies and studied how they worked. Basically, he wanted to come across as a ventriloquist would be but use his body as the normal dummy. In that, he would mouth his dialog yet also manage to add stuff to his voice before the sound came about. So the addition of his seemingly disconnected, yet at the same time, clear mockery of people was all done via his work with these dummies. Of course, his voice coach helped as well. (Source: Providr)
7 Ledger Would Consistently Lurk On Set, Even On Days Off
Heath Ledger was beloved by his co-stars in the movie. Even though he came off as a bit nutso on camera and sometimes off of it, it was done primarily for the role. However, Ledger was known for consistently being a key force on the set each day. While Joker was the key villain in the movie, he was not needed every single day on set. Due to this, he would have days off that he could have used to rest or keep his mind occupied. However, he decided to show up to set every single day that the movie was being filmed.
He did not just show up though. He came in in full costume and make-up. The thought to some was that Ledger wanted to make the Joker a consistent force on-set, which would keep the production about the villainous character and the need to stop him.
Without Joker around, emotions about him would sometimes have to be harder to pull out. Meanwhile, Ledger being there in full make-up and costume allowed for all his co-stars to see The Joker and act around that.
Even though, Ledger would be off camera. Ledge even allowed the crew to interact with him as he did this. Most say he was always in good humor in moments like this, and would even ride his skateboard around the set too. (Source: SMH)
6 The Hospital
During the period in which The Joker claims he will blow up a hospital if he does not get his way, he goes to visit Harvey Dent in a nurse outfit. How he got in there without many noticing is anyone's guess. But upon his departure, he lived up to his word and blew up the hospital, Gotham General. There was a bit of an issue production wise, however. Chris Nolan really did want to blow up this building for the movie. Though it became a much bigger thing by the time it arrived in post-production, the original look of it had to occur. This meant that things had to be timed well.
If Heath did not do things right, they would have to buy and then construct another building. This could put production back for a while. Either that or they have to add something in post to help....which would have gone against the very vision Nolan had. Ledger knew this, but it seems that the mini-bombs in the building did not. As he was out of the building and planned to blow it up, the button that was supposed to set it off did not work. So Ledger would literally keep pressing and look around and then be startled at the end of the scene for real when it did blow. Nolan LOVED this outtake and felt it fit The Joker very well. This led to him keeping it in the final draft for the movie.
Another interesting tidbit about this whole scene was that his nurse's costume said "Matilda" on it. This was a tribute to his daughter, Matilda Ledger. (Source: movies.stackexchange)
5 How Ledger Was Able To Jump In And Out Of Character
Ledger was infamous for this movie because of the tremendous performance. However, his co-stars would rightfully bring up how he could scare them at times with how IN character he was as The Joker. We mentioned Aaron's reaction to him above, but it was not as if Ledger was in character all the time. In fact, he often joked around with people on set and was a pleasant person to be around. However, he knew he could not be normal Health all the time. This forced him to need a trigger that could take him back into his character.
He would make a book for himself that he would look at. It was pretty much a scrapbook that would have horrible stories and very disturbing drawings in it.
It would also have other ominous things that all led to Ledger being back in character. This was such a hard thing for Ledger to do. In order to give the proper performance, he HAD to have a trigger somewhere. After he shot a scene, he would write the words "bye bye" on the last page of the book. Apparently, this would take him back to himself and away from The Joker. (Source: DailyMail)
4 The Lip Lick Habit
Heath Ledger's biggest "thing" as an actor that sort of got him focused was licking his lips. It was something he would actually do off and on with many other movies. But in The Dark Knight, he was sure to keep this going, even the style for which he did it.
Many think Chris Nolan added this to The Joker and Heath did on a direction for what the character was supposed to have. That was not the case, as Nolan never made such a direction.
Yet he absolutely loved the idea and when Ledger began to do it in scenes...Nolan never wanted him to stop doing it when he felt the need to. That "tick" of sorts for Ledger ultimately led to him doing it in an unsettling way. He'd seem to often do it to keep his mouth moist simply because he needed for it to be when doing the voice of The Joker. While it is quite a small part of the character that Ledger brought to him, it is considered to be one of the fun little things he would do. Ledger was even sure to often do this in his "fake" cut mouth area. (Source: WhatCulture)
3 Where The Joker Face Paint Came From
The look for The Joker was inspired by a lot of different people. Though the face paint was inspired by The Crow, which would later be used by pro-wrestler Sting. He did not want the paint to be over the top, as he wanted The Joker to be realistic to the world. Sitting down to put paint on for hours on end would not be the style of the Clown Prince of Crime. Since he felt that the Joker would not let people apply his makeup before a big crime, he actually made the look 100% on his own. The way he did so was probably something Warner Bros. as a studio loved.
He went by what amounts to a Dollar Store and bought random makeup. It was nothing major and usually, it would be the kind of face paint/make-up you might see on someone in a local play or theater performance if they ever needed to wear something more extreme to be seen on stage. It was the grease style material, which would wear off after a ton of sweat, but not right away...especially under the lights used. This look became perfect. That is why it was often seen how part of it would be off or smeared throughout the movie. A real-life progression would have occurred, so it was good to stick to that world mostly.
Makeup artists on set were having to continuously keep the exact look Ledger came up with. While he did often apply it himself, touch-ups off and on were needed. The overall look, while created by Heath, would have to be remembered and done exactly with the make-up unit working on the movie. (Source: EmpireOnline)
2 The Clap Of Mockery
During a scene in which The Joker is put into a holding cell at Gotham PD, he is forced to sit there and wait around. It's not really the most amusing thing to such a character. When Gordon becomes Commissioner, naturally Joker is sitting there watching it all go down.
Ledger decided to be a bit funny with things and mockingly clap for Gordon over his promotion. This was not in the script but Nolan absolutely loved the idea.
This led to Nolan directing one of his cameramen to film Ledger. It can be seen in the scene that Ledger is deadpan doing it, without any sort of comedic move.
It looks sinister, and clearly something the character himself would do. This happened one time, and Nolan loved it so much, he kept it in the movie. It was a perfect addition to things, and everyone seemed to dig the move both on set and later on in the theater. It was pretty clear Nolan just let Ledger play around with the part. Some directors clearly do not let actors do this as they have their own vision of the role. But Chris was smart about this role and knew that Heath wanted to be great in it. Everything he did seemed to land, so it made total sense to let him just work and then sit back and watch...while always keeping the camera rolling on him. (Source: WhatCulture)
1 Jack Nicholson Warned Heath Ledger About The Joker Role
Jack was the first to play the dark version of Joker. However, Jack is an Oscar-winning actor who has played many dark characters before this and even after. That led to Heath feeling like he could get some much-needed advice. When speaking to Heath, Jack claimed that he told him:
“The role of being The Joker will haunt you, the role is so dark, that you probably won’t be able to sleep, but enjoy the role as the Clown Prince of Crime, because it’s nothing but good fun.”
As we all know, Heath would be amazing in the role. However, many think these words from Jack did not go through as they should have. Joker really stuck to Heath. He would later pass away while the movie was being edited for release, passing due to medication he was taking for pain, anxiety, and depression. Most of which should not ever be combined. Some believe Ledger had been on these for some time. To have depression and anxiety after playing the Joker is understandable. (Source: NYDailyNews)