The Method And Madness Of Heath Ledger’s Joker

Christian Bale And Christopher Nolan have offered fresh insight on Ledger's incredible work on The Dark Knight.

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
Iconic villain Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Image Picture Warner Bros

It’s been almost 10 years since the late, great, Heath Ledger wowed audiences with his iconic turn as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

Ledger, who died age 28 on January 22, 2008, would go on to win an Oscar for his performance, which still ranks as the most acclaimed superhero movie performance of all time.

Now, for the first time, Nolan and Batman star Christian Bale have opened up on the subject of Ledger and his methods on set, as part of interviews conducted for Joseph McCabe’s new book 100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.

Extracts from the book have been serialised by The Hollywood Reporter and they make for fascinating reading. In the extract, Bale recalls the extreme methods Ledger went to to make the first scene they filmed together, in an interrogation room, that bit more authentic”

“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.”

Nolan, meanwhile, revealed some of the key influences to Ledgers portrayal of the Joker, which went way beyond the version seen in graphic novels like Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke:

“Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, these kinds of punk influences were some of the things we talked about. We also talked about the character of Alex in A Clockwork Orange. He’s very anarchic and yet somehow has great charisma, both in the book and in the film. We talked about a lot of different influences, and he talked about an extraordinarily diverse set of influences like ventriloquist dummies.”

Nolan also readily admits that he struggled to “get a handle on” a lot of the ideas Ledger had until he saw him perform it for real. He was particularly impressed with the “unpredictable voice” he gave to the DC Comics villain, which would go from its highest to its lowest pitch in a matter of seconds.

Bale also revealed that, while Ledger was fully in character at all times when wearing the Joker’s iconic clown make-up, he was a thoroughly charming and friendly individual when in his civilian clothes.

Nolan also adds that while he has seen his fair share of gimmicky actor touches, all of Ledger’s additions felt like being part of a “the fabric of a real human being.”

Ledger died six months before The Dark Knight was released. It stands as a testament to his abilities as an actor and as a lasting reminder of the incredible talent that was lost the day he died.

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Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.