10 Reasons We’re Still Haunted By Heath Ledger’s Take On The Joker


Heath Ledger didn’t live long enough to see the world’s reaction to The Dark Knight, but it’s safe to say the film’s success exceeded his wildest expectations. The biggest hit of 2008 (by a significant margin), this superhero sequel is now regarded by some as one of the best films of all-time, an impressive feat that owes a great deal to Ledger’s unsettling performance. As you may recall, fans were not enthused about Ledger’s casting, but his startling transformation silenced the detractors. To celebrate The Dark Knight’s 10-year anniversary, here are 10 reasons Ledger’s take on the Joker continues to resonate—and disturb.


1. Good Casting


Originally a candidate to play Bruce Wayne, Ledger later found himself vying for an opportunity to play the Joker. He eventually beat out fellow finalists Sam Rockwell and Hugo Weaving, thanks to Christopher Nolan’s belief that he was the most “fearless” candidate.


2. Unexpected Inspiration


Rather than imitate Jack Nicholson’s iconic performance in 1989’s Batman, Ledger went in a completely different direction by taking inspiration from self-destructive punk legend Sid Vicious and A Clockwork Orange delinquent Alex DeLarge.


3. Isolated Experience


Ledger felt the need to isolate himself to really inhabit the role, spending six weeks hidden in a hotel exploring his character’s psychology and developing the creepy mannerisms that distinguished this Joker from his predecessors.


4. A Unique Voice


Ledger didn’t do all of his preparation in isolation.  For several months he joined forces with a vocal coach, carefully developing his Joker’s distinctive voice. He also took valuable inspiration from the anti-social mockery of ventriloquist dummies.


5. Younger Than Usual


Roughly 27 during the shoot, Ledger was a full two decades younger than Jack Nicholson when he played the role. More importantly, Christian Bale was 32, making Ledger the first screen Joker who is younger than Batman.


6. Prosthetic Performing


While playing the Joker, Ledger wore three pieces of stamped silicone on his face. The effect is relatively subtle—and the application process took less than an hour—but the prosthetics came loose when he spoke, inspiring one of his character’s most unnerving habits: licking his lips.


7. No Origins


Writers Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David S. Goyer made the Joker’s motivation far more uncertain—and unsettling—by leaving it offscreen. Rather than detail his origins, they left the character largely unexplained.


8. Physical Commitment


As played by Ledger, the Joker is a self-destructive force, willing to endure extreme abuse as part of his elaborate mind games. As it turns out, the actor held himself to the same standard, instructing Christian Bale to hit him as hard as Batman would hit the Joker.


9. Staying In Character


While waiting to shoot his hospital scene with Aaron Eckhart (who plays Harvey Dent), Ledger paced around the room mumbling as the Joker might. When Ledger got too close to his scene mate, Eckhart made a threatening gesture. Rather than back down, Ledger grabbed him in an equally threatening way, heightening the hostility of the scene they were about to shoot.


10. Crossover Appeal


When all was said and done, Ledger’s performance as the Joker is the element that helped The Dark Knight earn recognition beyond the usual superhero fanbase. After getting dozens of awards, the actor received a posthumous Oscar, a feat no performance from a superhero movie has achieved before or since.


In honour of The Dark Knight’s 10th anniversary, check out the trailer below.