Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight is one of the most iconic performances ever. Following his death, the actor earned countless accolades for the role, including an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Getting into the role was a lot more than just reading the script.
Diving Into the Source Material
To understand the Joker, Ledger checked out some comic books relating to the character. “The Killing Joke,” which was written by Alan Moore, became his strongest source of inspiration. Released back in 1988, the graphic novel delivered the origin story for the iconic villain. The following year, it earned the Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album. The graphic novel was a key inspiration for the iconic 1989 “Batman” movie.
Before filming, the actor wasn’t a fan of comic books. He was, however, quite fond of some comic book film adaptations. “I didn’t exactly despise comic books or comic book movies but I was never really one to read them that much. I never sought out the films too often but I would enjoy them if I sat down and watched them. So because of that I really feel that I’m not carrying as much pressure,” the actor told IGN.
Testing Out the Character in Private
Many actors have their own way of finding their character. For Ledger, he simply isolated himself from everyone until he got it right. “I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices — it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh,” Ledger told Empire Online. “I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath — someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts.”
Sleep is for the Week
Because of the role, Ledger didn’t find enough time for sleep. “Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night. I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted and my mind was still going,” the actor told The New York Times. To aid his sleeping, Ledger would take Ambien. If he still couldn’t sleep, Ledger took a stroll through Washington Square Park in New York City. “He would walk early in the morning — around 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m. because, he said, he always had trouble sleeping. That’s why he’d come out so early in the morning,” city-worker Tony Rivera told People.
Behind the Camera
While Ledger was marvelous as the Joker, he also did some work behind the lens. The actor directed the character’s hostage videos. The first video has some supervision from director Christopher Nolan. When it came to the second video, Nolan let Ledger take full control. This wasn’t the first time Ledger took the director’s chair. He directed music videos for the late folk legend Nick Drake, Ben Harper, and N’fa. Following his death, his music videos for Grace Woodroofe and Modest Mouse were released to the public. Ledger was also planning on directing a Nick Drake biopic and a film adaptation of the 1983 novel “The Queen’s Gambit.”
Hit Me With Your Best Shot
During the film’s interrogation scene, Batman viciously attacks the Joker. In the book “100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die,” actor Christian Bale said Ledger wanted things to get physical. “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,” Bale said in the book.