Who could forget that infamous interrogation scene between The Joker and Batman? It is a hauntingly powerful scene, with the lighting emphasizing the dark mood and brutality. This scene is one which highlights The Joker's erratic character even further.
Using the words of Christopher Nolan, the director of Dark Knight, and some lesser known photos from this scene. We can travel back in time to this dark place where Batman came face to face with the nihilistic and sadistic Joker. This scene is the director's favorite and Christopher really put his heart and soul into making it right!
The lighting was key to the mood of this scene
"The scene starts between Gary Oldman [as James Gordon] and Heath with the lights out, and [director of photography] Wally Pfister literally just lit the scene with the desk lamp, the table lamp, and nothing else."
This scene was actually filmed early into production
"The scene that is so important and so central to me is the interrogation scene between Batman and the Joker in the film. When we were writing the script, that was always one of the central set pieces that we wanted to crack.
On the set, we shot it fairly early on. It was actually one of the first things that Heath had to do as the Joker. He told me he was actually pretty excited to tear off a big chunk early on, really get one of the Joker’s key scenes up in the first three weeks of a seven-month shoot. He and I both liked the idea of just diving in, as did Christian [Bale], who portrayed Batman."
The majority of this scene was improvised
"We had just ripped through it a couple of times in pre-production just to get some slight feel of how it was going to work. Neither of them wanted to go too far with it in rehearsal. They had to rehearse some of the fight choreography, but even with that, we tried to keep it loose and improvisational. They wanted to save it all. We were all pretty excited to get on with a big chunk of dialogue and this big intense scene between these two iconic characters. It was quite bizarre to see Batman across the table from the Joker."
The Joker was meant to get under our skin
"We wanted to be very edgy, very brutal. We wanted it to be the point at which Batman is truly tested by the Joker and you see that the Joker is truly capable of getting under everybody’s skin."
We were meant to feel a part of the brutality of this scene
"It was a great set built into a location. It had all of the advantages of feeling that we were in a real place. Nathan Crowley, the production designer, built these great mirrors and this long, tiled room that I really loved the look of; it had the feeling almost of an abattoir or something. That all fed into the brutality of the scene. We wanted to be very edgy, very brutal."
How the lighting was developed
"The rest of the scene plays out with a massive overexposure. Wally Pfister [The director of photography] overexposed like five stops, I want to say, and then printed it down to bring some of the color back in. But it’s this incredibly intense overhead light which let us move in any direction. We had a handheld camera and shot however we wanted, be very spontaneous.
For me creatively, that had been about inverting the expectation. We’ve all seen so many of these dark movie interrogation scenes where somebody is being given the third degree. We just wanted to completely flip that on its head. And have the bright, harsh, bleak light show you the Joker’s make-up and its decay."
The Batsuit was redesigned
"The Batsuit was redesigned for this film. And unlike the suit that we had in 'Batman Begins,' it’s capable of really being shown in incredible detail and still hold up to that kind of scrutiny under that bright light. The suit looked much more real and more like a functional thing this time. The whole scene was about showing something real and brutal and getting this real harshness."
The actors even had the director surprised with their fight scene
"Then there’s a point where it spills over into real physicality and he drags the Joker across the table. We go handheld at that point and shot the rest of the scene with handheld to be very spontaneous in its movement. They had rehearsed the stunts and the fight stuff very specifically, but we really let the actors work within that. I had never seen anybody sell a punch the way Heath was able to with Christian.
I got the violence I wanted. What I felt was really important creatively for the scene was that we show Batman going too far. We show him effectively torturing someone for information because it’s become personal."
Christopher Nolan had planned with Christian Bale just how far Batman's rage could go
"Christian and I had talked a lot on 'Batman Begins' about finding a moment in that film where you actually worry that Batman will go too far. A moment where his rage might spill over and he would break his rules. We never found that moment. It just wasn’t there in that story.
There was a lot of strength and aggression in the way he played the part, but I don’t think the story provided that element of losing control. What the Joker provides in the second film is the fact that his entire motivation is to push people’s buttons and find their rules set and it turn it on itself. And Batman of course places such importance on his rules, his morals. It’s what distinguishes him, in his mind, from a common vigilante. The Joker is able to twist him around and make him question his own approach and his own actions."
Batman's armor couldn't save him from the Joker
"I think Heath managed to find the exact essence of the threat of the Joker and who he is: He’s being pounded in the face and he’s laughing and loving it. There’s nothing you can do. As he tells Batman, “You have nothing to do with all of your strength.” There’s this sort of impotence of the strong and the armored and the very muscular Batman; he’s very powerful, but there’s no useful way for this power to be exercised in this scene. He has to confront that."
The ending could have been quite different
"Originally, at the end of that scene, once the Joker reveals his information, Christian dropped him and then, almost as an afterthought, he kicked him in the head as he walked out of the room. We wound up removing that bit. It seemed a little too petulant for Batman in a way. And really, more than that, what it was is that I liked how Christian played it: When he drops the Joker, he has realized the futility of what he’s done. You see it in his eyes. How do you fight someone who thrives on conflict? It’s a very loose end to be left with."
Heath in character frightened the director
"He was so unpredictable. The voice certainly frightened me at first, because of its weird shifts in pitch. Just as in his physical movements -- you don't know how he's going to move, you don't know what he's going to do with his hands. It's always a surprise. The actual tone of his voice was always a surprise, too."
Here is the epic scene in all of it's glory!
The death of Heath Ledger is still so heartbreaking and still seems completely unreal. He had so much talent left to give, and it is talent we will never get to see repeated. But, at least we have the memories and iconic movies like this one to keep his memory alive.