After seven years, The Dark Knight remains a treasured staple of the film community. It currently holds the number one spot on comicbook.com's best comic book movies of all time, and it is ranked number four in IMDB's Top 250, below Shawshank Redemption and the first two Godfather movies. Though there are countless reasons why The Dark Knight is so great, the number one reason has to be Heath Ledger's terrifying yet incredible portrayal as the Joker.
Needless to say, you don't play such an epic character without stories behind him, and there are many concerning the Joker!
He Had Plenty of Competition for the Role
Director Christopher Nolan always had Heath Ledger in mind for the Joker, but that didn't stop several other actors from wanting the role. Robin Williams, Steve Carell, Adrian Brody, and Paul Bettany all publicly stated that they wanted the role.
He Paid Tribute to His Daughter
When the Joker dresses up as a nurse during the hospital scene, the name on his uniform says 'Matilda.' Matilda is actually the name of Heath Ledger's daughter.
He Removed Himself from Society
In order to get a good feel for the Joker's insanity, Ledger checked into a motel room and isolated himself for six whole weeks! During that time, he took the effort of learning the Joker's voice and laugh. He didn't want to mimic Jack Nicholson's Joker, so he based his character off of Alex De Large from A Clockwork Orange.
He Contributed the Joker's Various Tics
From the first time we see the Joker on camera, we can tell just from his mannerisms that he's a bit strange. One of these mannerisms, the signature quick lip-licking motion, was put in by Ledger, as he had to keep a moist mouth in order to keep up the Joker's voice.
He Designed the Joker's Signature Make-Up
Heath Ledger really took method acting to heart when he made the decision to design his own make-up for the Joker. He explained that he didn't feel like the Joker would allow anybody to apply the make-up on him, so he applied the make-up himself. Naturally, he couldn't keep doing that every day of filming, so the cosmetics team made note of his original design in order to replicate it.
He Was Always a Part of the Action
The Joker has a significant amount of screen time in the movie, so he naturally had many scenes to film. However, even on the days where he didn't film, he would still show up on set in full costume in character.
He Worked as a Director for the Joker Videos
Remember the videos that the Joker took of himself torturing the fake Batman? Ledger directed those himself, to make sure to get the perfect Joker-esque effect to them. Director Christopher Nolan supervised the first video, but it went so well that he let Ledger handle the second one on his own.
He Improvised Two Classic Joker Moments
In the scene where Gordon get promoted to Commissioner, the Joker's sarcastic and mocking round of applause seems like the perfect thing that the character would do in that situation. However, the clapping was not scripted. Ledger suddenly improvised the clapping, and Nolan pushed the rest of the actors to continue the scene.
He also improvised the hospital detonation scene. It was scripted for the explosion to be delayed, but Ledger messing with the button was completely unscripted.
He Scared Maggie Gyllenhaal
Seeing as Ledger starred alongside her brother Jake in Brokeback Mountain, Maggie Gyllenhaal had met him before. During the scene when the Joker crashes Harvey Dent's party in Bruce Wayne's penthouse however, that was the first time she saw him in full make-up and costume. Ledger had to improvise the line "Look at me!" because Maggie was legitimately frightened and kept trying to look away.
He Scared Michael Caine Too
As far as casting decisions go, Michael Caine as Alfred was nothing short of perfect. His warm, nurturing personality mixed with the wisdom of his voice made him the ultimate go-to confidant. However, in Caine's first scene with Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, he had no words of comfort. In fact he had no words at all! Ledger's performance in Bruce Wayne's penthouse scene was so intense that it frightened Caine, making him forget his lines for the scene.
He commented that the fright was contributed to it being his first time meeting Ledger, "I'd never seen any of it and the elevator door opened and they came out and I forgot every bloody line. They frightened the bloody life out of me."
As far as movie villains go, the Joker hits a high point across the board thanks to Ledger's dedication to the role. Jared Leto is sure giving us a promising look on the latest Joker in Suicide Squad, but I'm not sure even he could compare to the brilliant performance we saw in The Dark Knight.