So, yes, it has been a little over eight years since Heath Ledger’s last completed film, The Dark Knight (2008), but we still miss him, right? And just to be clear, by completed, I mean he was still alive for all of the shots needed for the post production of the film. Alternately, he passed away before all of his scenes were completed in the 2009 release of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. I just recently watched The Dark Knight again because I was yearning for when a good DC film was out and I could enjoy the storyline and characters. I will openly admit that I haven’t been too enthused with the latest DCEU (DC Extended Universe) movie releases, but I am still holding out hope.
I can remember the first time I really took notice of Heath Ledger as an actor. You can probably guess it, too. It was 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) when he played the ever dreamy Patrick Verona. Yes, that answer was probably predictable, but, I don’t care. It was a damn good movie. With that said, Heath was in a lot of great movies for what was the start of what seemed to be a promising and successful film career; and, he definitely left us too young.
All of that to say this: I know that there have been a number of articles giving little tidbits of information regarding what Heath Ledger did; what he was like; how he prepared for one of his most iconic roles (The Joker, obvs) that we all know and (if you’re like me) awe over his brilliance about; and yes, I am here to do the same.
Let’s jump into some things that we fans have probably heard, but never really tire of reading, shall we?
16 Heath Ledger Sentenced Himself To Isolation
For a total of 43 days, Heath Ledger sat alone in a motel room to really allow himself to get into his character’s head. Now, if you read up on my DCEU/MCU comparison article, you will see that the Joker generally has no origin story; in the various version of his character, one thing remains the same: The Joker is messed up; like royally messed up. I can’t imagine the sort of things Ledger brought forth to really get into the Joker's head, but I’m sure it was scarring to the average psyche. We, as a collective group of people, can never say he did not focus on the art of the roles he captured on film.
15 He Implemented The Kubrick Stare
A very big influence for Ledger’s Joker was the character Alex DeLarge (played by Malcolm McDowell) from the film A Clockwork Orange (1971). He mimicked his gestures and what is widely known as the “Kubrick Stare.” A Clockwork Orange is on my current list of films to watch, but after viewing the trailer, wow does it look disturbing.
If Joker was in any capacity close to the craziness of the character McDowell played, then I can’t wait to see all of the inspiration he pulled from Alex DeLarge. I suppose that would fall in line with locking himself up in isolation for a whopping 43 days to study every little nuance of a character.
14 Ledger’s Improv = Brilliance
In two specific separate scenes Ledger improved some of the most memorable moments in cinema.
When Gordon is promoted, the unscripted yet darkly humorous clapping the Joker does in his cell is one such instance. Director Christopher Nolan informed the crew to continue filming and as we all know, it made it into the film and is definitely remembered.
Another instance is when Ledger is leaving the hospital rigged with explosives. He is walking outside headed towards the bus to make a getaway and stops to fidget with the remote. It was yet another unscripted part of the film, but one Ledger played off flawlessly.
I don’t think enough credit is given to improv actors. Have you see the show Whose Line is it Anyway? My god, Wayne Brady is absolutely hilarious! It takes enormous talent to answer quickly on your toes, or in Ledger’s case, do what feels natural to you in character that adds so much to a movie.
13 He Kept A Joker Journal
Ledger had a diary full of sad news stories; pictures of Alex DeLarge (A Clockwork Orange); a hyena; a smiling clown (which hell no because clowns are freaky and in no way for a child’s entertainment. Pennywise? Enough said). Ledger apparently kept this journal with him at all times in case he needed a reminder of the sadistic dark character he was playing. So think of it as a “vision” journal, but for the criminally insane. While most people may have photos of exotic places or dream jobs, this guy had a picture of a smiling clown.
In another twist, although Ledger would always be dressed in character (even when not shooting his scenes), he didn’t always stay in character. Much to the appreciation of his cast mates, I’m sure. Unlike Jared Leto and his creepy presents, Ledger didn’t have to go to those extremes. That is what the journal was for, right?
12 He Wanted To Be Batman
Originally, Heath Ledger wanted to play the role of Batman, but as we all know, that part went to Christian Bale. Honestly, I’m not sure that I could see Ledger playing Batman after his iconic performance, but then again, he may have also portrayed it brilliantly.
It doesn’t really matter who’s cast as what these days, anyway. The public tends to have social media outcries whenever “their” actor in mind wasn’t cast as the role for a specific part. Case in point: Ben Affleck as Batman. The world went nuts about what horrible casting it was; meanwhile, I’m like hell yeah, Affleck will play the shit out of Batman. Go Affleck.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying the movie was the greatest, or even at times likeable, but Ben Affleck did what he was paid to do: be Batman.
Back to Ledger, though. Thankfully Nolan kept him in mind for other roles and cast him almost immediately as the Joker.
11 He Asked To Be Beaten
So we all remember the interrogation scene in The Dark Knight, correct? Well…Ledger actually insisted that Christian Bale beat him as hard as possible to achieve a sense of realness for that particular scene.
Say what? Like for real beat me to make this look real? I have to hand it to Ledger, that is definitely something the real Joker would’ve have done and laugh about, as well. I personally just can’t imagine asking someone to really kick my ass to remain authentic to a role I was playing.
Perhaps this is why I am a writer. I can type to my little heart’s content with finger and neck cramps as my authentic pain, as opposed to a bruised face and being pulled over interrogation tables for authenticity.
10 Heath Used His Real-Life Habits
From the opening scene of The Dark Knight, we are well aware that something is definitely off about the Joker. His mannerisms alone are a telltale sign that he is a bit strange. One specific mannerism, the signature quick lip-licking. He did it to keep his mouth moist so he could keep up continuity with the Joker's voice. It was apparently something he did in real life anyway, but ended up working out for the character as well.
As you well know, the voice could be stuff made of nightmares. I will never forget his laugh being imprinted in my mind. The many times over terrible things were happening that he found sinisterly amusing is a little jarring to the human soul… as well as his “Why so serous?” Did you read that in the Joker voice? I’ll just bet you did.
9 He Was The Youngest Joker
Heath Ledger is the youngest actor to have played The Joker. There have been numerous Jokers as the years have gone on.
Jack Nicholson: Batman (1989); Cesar Romero: Batman: The Movie (1966); Jared Leto: Suicide Squad (2016) are the most notable to me. However, I’m not a professional in all things Joker. So, don’t judge me too harshly.
Given that these actors were over 40 years old when they play the infamous comic book character, I’d say Heath Ledger more than proved himself (at around the age of 28 years old) as a top contender; moreover, much deserved praise for his portrayal. I would also like to put out there that I think it’s quite commendable that he didn’t take the easy route and try and emulate previous Jokers. He took it upon himself to bring a whole new take. I would say it certainly paid off.
8 He Was The First Comic Book Character To Win An Oscar
Among his accolades of impression, 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, I would imagine that his family was, and still is, proud of his accomplishments as an actor.
I myself don’t watch awards shows, or really keep up with the nominations (other than Leonardo DiCaprio, because duh, give Leo the Oscar), but my vote is that it was certainly deserved. I believe if he were still alive today, his role would still be just as memorable.
7 He Literally Scared His Co-Stars
We all know who Michael Caine is, correct? Honestly, every time I hear his name, I think of the Kevin Spacey impression from the Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show (if you haven’t seen it, YouTube it right now, seriously). Anyway, when Ledger as the Joker crashes the shindig at Wayne Enterprises, it was the first time Michael Caine had seen Ledger in full make-up. Apparently, he was so frightened, he forgot his lines. Good thing that is all that happened. Don’t give this poor man a heart attack, people.
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko), who portrayed Rachel, was also at said shindig, and also hadn’t seen Ledger in full make-up, prompting her to be so scared she couldn’t actually look at him.
Be honest, if you were at some swanky party and some dude shows up acting, dressing and looking like that, you would be fearful of your life as well.
6 Michael Caine Preferred Him To Nicholson
Sir Michael Caine’s opinion of Heath Ledger was one of high praise. He believed Ledger topped Jack Nicholson’s Joker from Batman (1989). Caine went on to state: “Jack was like a clown figure, benign but wicked, maybe a killer old uncle. He could be funny and make you laugh. Heath’s gone in a completely different direction to Jack, he’s like a really scary psychopath. He’s a lovely guy and his Joker is going to be a hell of a revelation in this picture.” Caine based this high praise from the scene where the Joker pays a visit to Bruce Wayne’s penthouse.
If Michael Caine said it; so shall it be. I’m sure he has seen a lot, so those kinds words had to be humbling. I have no doubt about it. It truly doesn’t get much better than Alfred thinking you’re a genius, does it?
5 Heath Ledger Wasn’t The First Choice
Heath Ledger, who clearly lived and breathed the role of the Joker, was not the first, nor was he the original choice for the role. Director Christopher Nolan was in it to win it with Ledger for the part, however the studio still decided to approach other actors for the role; as studios do.
Who were some of those actors?
Steve Carell: The 40-Year Old Virgin (2005); who honestly I think would have been more like a Nicholson Joker. I think there would have been definite humor brought to the screen.
Adrian Brody: The Pianist (2002); I’m not sure what kind of Joker he would have portrayed, but I believe in him and his capabilities.
Robin Williams: Who needs no introduction (may he also rest in peace). More humor than sinister? Perhaps.
Paul Bettany: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Which, let’s be honest folks, he is doing just fine playing Vision for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m sure he would’ve brought something unique, but he’s Jarvis/Vision. A good guy. Let’s keep him that way.
4 First DC Film To Hit $1 Billion
The Dark Knight was the first comic book movie to reach the $1 billion mark. That’s a huge win for the DCEU. I have found that DCEU films don’t necessarily have trouble reeling in money from an audience; it’s that they can’t keep the audience happy with their storytelling. Well, in recent movies, anyway.
Most recently Suicide Squad, was in line with me wanting more from a DCEU film and feeling a sense of disappoint at the execution of the storyline brought to the silver screen. Think it through and have it make sense. Although, the soundtrack was awesome, and the SS was a lot funnier than I thought it would be.
I continue to come see DCEU movies because I believe that one of these upcoming films, they will have the audience leaving satisfied with smiles on their faces spanning from ear to ear as if… well, you get the idea I’m sure.
3 He Designed The Joker's Look
Well, sort of. Ledger designed the Joker look himself. As if we couldn’t already tell his commitment to the character, he also made sketches about the look his Joker would have right down to—you guessed it—the makeup.
Ledger brought out the makeup artist in him and applied the clown face himself for the first few days of the movie. This of course so that the actual makeup team could write some notes and produce a copy of Ledger’s original design; then replicate it themselves. I would imagine that it would either have been very simple, since it’s placed in a rather haphazard and chaotic fashion; or, rather difficult for the same reason. Ledger obviously took this role intensely serious, I would guess he would want everyone involved with helping transform him into the Joker take it just as seriously.
2 Ledger Did Witness Some Of The Film
Ledger did a hell of a job making this character one of the most iconic in cinematic history, and sadly, he didn’t live to see the production as a whole. What he did get to witness however, were the opening scenes of the film before his death.
Ledger was given the early sneak peek of the bank heist scene at the start of the movie after Nolan had edited the movie himself. Producer, Charles Roven, stated that Ledger loved the scene so much he watched it again twice more.
I would venture a guess that he knew in just watching that first opening scene that together something special had been created.
1 Completion Was The Achieved End Goal
As we all know, Heath Ledger’s death on January 22, 2008 was sudden as well as equally shocking and sad. This of course prompted immediate speculation over the film’s state of completion.
Not too long after Ledger’s unbelievably sad passing was announced, Warner Bros. Pictures issued a statement that verified Ledger had indeed “finished all of his scenes in principal photography, as well as post-production fulfillments.” I assume that they wanted to get this announcement out as quickly as possible to quiet unnecessary gossip and rumors of what could actually be going on, as opposed to what was actually going on.
This means that Heath Ledger’s role as The Joker, was his final, completed film role.
What did you all think of the list? Was there anything you didn’t know, or perhaps found particularly interesting?