When it was announced that "Brokeback Mountain" star Heath Ledger would play the Joker in "The Dark Knight," eyebrows were raised. It was questioned how the soft-spoken actor would play one of the most eerie and sadistic fictional characters of all time. But Ledger's portrayal of the villain surprised the critics and blew them away. He owned the character in every aspect -- body and soul, or lack thereof -- of the Joker.
The Killing Joke
Before Ledger's role as the Joker, director Chris Nolan handed him a copy of "The Killing Joke" and "The Man Who Laughs." After Ledger read "The Killing Joke" he stated, "It's really good." He believed that "The Dark Knight" was going to be more focused on the early life of the Joker, but still leaving an air of mystery. Throughout the movie, numerous references were made to both books.
For six weeks, Ledger holed up in a hotel room studying the Joker from every angle: his demeanor, his mind frame, his sense of humor. While in isolation, Ledger created an entirely new Joker, complete with empty eyes, a terrifying voice, an insanely creepy laugh, and an incredibly intimidating posture. His portrayal was dark, with a more realistic take.
Diary of a Psychopath
During those six weeks alone, Ledger left behind his soft-spoken demeanor and transformed himself into a bizarre, psychopathic, homicidal maniac. This was achieved not only by Ledger's uncanny acting skills, but through his extensive studying of the character. MTV reported that Ledger had kept a diary as the Joker, which included pictures and ideas, along with a list of things the Joker would deem worthy of laughter. The list was horrifying: It included things such as accidents, AIDS, and babies with deformities.
Playing The Role
Anyone who has seen "The Dark Knight" will testify to Ledger's disturbing lip-licking, cold and empty gaze, and the eruptions of bellowing laughter that could frighten even the most able-bodied men. His Joker is an apathetic monster who would never conform to the standards of society. His power is achieved through the disruption of balance and his ability to dismantle the world's sense of security.
After Ledger's death at age 28 in January 2008 -- six months before the movie was released -- many people began to speculate as to whether or not the exhausting role of the Joker had played a role. Ledger was physically and mentally exhausted. He reportedly averaged two hours of sleep a night. By the end of the day, Ledger was drained. Exhaustion and insomnia eventually led him to taking Ambien, a prescription sleep aid, along with other prescription pills to relieve cold symptoms. The actor was found 72 hours after shooting what would be his last scene.
- IGN Movies: "The Dark Knight": Heath Ledger Talks Joker; July 7, 2008
- The Movie Blog: Heath Ledger Talks About Playing 'The Joker''; Dec. 11, 2007
- Monsters and Critics: Heath Ledger's Joker Role a Dark Descent; Feb. 3, 2008
- IMBD: "The Dark Knight" FAQ
- First Showing: FHM's Interview with Heath Ledger on Playing The Joker; Kevin Powers; July 18, 2008
- MTV: 'Arkham Asylum' Scribe Grant Morrison Opens Up Heath Ledger's Joker Diary; Jennifer Vineyard; Aug. 4, 2008