"Why so serious?"
In the last 20 years, there has been no villain better than the late Heath Ledger's Joker. The character is not only a prime example of a movie antagonist, but an unparalleled portrait of an actor who mastered his craft.
Ledger's performance was deep, nuanced, calculated and succeeded in reinventing one of pop culture's most popular personalities. From the smallest flick of his tongue, to the twiddle of a finger, every move was riveting.
Heath was awarded a posthumous Oscar for his performance as The Joker, which is rare for a villain, but even an even bigger feat for a comic book character.
Let's take a look back and honor the brilliant performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker.
1. His improvised reactions became the most iconic moments of the movie
Seasoned director Christopher Nolan, his brother Jonathan and their partner in crime, David S. Goyer have worked a long time on the story and perfected the script of The Dark Knight, but there was always room for creative improvement. Ledger's dedication and adaptation to his character mesmerized the cast and crew so much that Nolan kept the cameras rolling when he decided to respond with a slow, sarcastic clap at Commissioner Gordon's (Gary Oldman) speech at the police station. And while the delay in the infamous hospital explosion was deliberate and scripted, The Joker's annoyed and exaggerated reaction was pure Ledger.
2. He spent hours with Christopher Nolan to build the character
The British director has stated in his interviews that he had met up with Ledger to talk about the character of the Joker long before the script for The Dark Knight was complete. The two spent a long time discussing how to build the character and make it distinct from earlier versions, Ledger was very enthusiastic and had many deep reflections on his ideal Joker, with inspirations verging from Alex de Large from Clockwork Orange to paintings of Francis Bacon.
3. He designed and applied his own make up
Heath Ledger pitched in the idea that the character of The Joker would apply his own make up and it would not be clean. Nolan and his creative team had already decided that they would not go with the chemically bleached version of the Joker's iconic face, but it was Ledger's idea to actually apply the makeup on himself and have the stains on his hands show on film on purpose to indicate he didn't mind getting his hands dirty.
4. He directed the homemade videos featured in the movie
If you have seen the movie, you know that the two threat videos the Joker sends to local Gotham TV network GCN are a crucial part in building the climax of The Dark Knight. What most people don't know is that these two short videos were actually directed by Heath Ledger himself. The actor has expressed several times that he would think about exploring a directing career and had already shot some music videos. Nolan was so impressed with his talent that he made Ledger shoot both of the videos and used them in the final cut of the movie.
5. He brought out the best in Christian Bale
Christopher Nolan has said in this great interview that his favorite part in the movie is the interrogation scene. Bringing the hero and the villain face to face, the exchange is raw, thrilling and downright iconic. Ledger's crazy, uncontrollable energy creates the perfect contrast against Bale's composed, dark presence and pushes the latter to make the rage and the violence look as real as possible once it's released. In each encounter, the two actors enhance each other's performance and create memorable scenes.
6. He kept a scrapbook diary and hid away at a hotel room to prepare for the role
The rumors of Heath Ledger staying at a hotel room alone to prepare for the role of The Joker and writing a diary about the character have been circulating for a long time, but they have been finally confirmed by his father Kim, during a German-made documentary. The actor has created a very detailed scrapbook, filled with his lines from the movie, makeup test photos, pictures of sources of inspiration like The Clockwork Orange and comic book cut-outs.
He has stated the following in an Empire magazine interview dating back to 2007:
“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. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath – someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts. He’s just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown.”
The most heartbreaking part: Ledger has written 'Bye Bye' in capital letters to the end of his diary when the filming wrapped.
7. He had Michael Caine's approval
One of the greatest actors of our time, Sir Michael Caine has expressed his amazement and admiration towards Heath Ledger and his performance time and again.
Appreciating the humor he brings to the role, he compares him to Sir Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter in terms of playing one of the biggest villains in movie history, and, nailing it. Caine also says that he was completely stunned when he first saw Ledger act as The Joker, and that he was so impressed by his performance in the threat videos mentioned above, he completely forgot his lines.
8. He has won a total of 32 awards for his performance
Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker was so mesmerizing and hauntingly beautiful that it was inevitable that he would be celebrated for it.
Rightly so, he won 32 awards for his portrayal posthumously, which were presented and accepted by his cast mates and members of his family, in heartbreakingly emotional ceremonies. Among others, he has won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and a SAG award. Most of the awards will be handed over to his 9-year-old daughter Matilda Rose, when she turns 18.