We could appreciate endlessly on how well Heath Ledger played the role of, fictional super-villain appearing in the DC comics, ‘Joker’ in The Dark Knight. It was not just a movie, it was his greatest role that came at the greatest personal cost.
His performance as Joker was influenced by the 2005 film The Brothers Grimm. It marked a turning point for the actor as director Terry Gilliam gave Ledger opportunities to create characters they had not been given before. Gilliam helped Ledger put on a clown act for that film. Christopher Nolan came to him asking for the role of Bruce Wayne ( The Batman ) but he explained his problems portraying superheroes. And so he became the Joker.
Ledger was cast early and he had months and months to prepare for the role. Irony is that, earlier he did not attach himself seriously to the roles he was playing. And then he tried to dive into his characters, but this time he really took it up a notch. He locked himself in the motel, for about ‘six weeks’ preparing the role. He formed a character diary, experimented with his voice, reading all the relevant comics and stuffs. He had this Joker journal, a red and blue bound book, which contained scrawling and cuttings, several stills from Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange, joker cards, photos of hyenas, unhinged clown makeup and the word “chaos” highlighted in green. He carried his diary with him in the set.
He loved the costume and character , even while off-set, he would still be wearing it, goof around and do skateboarding. At the end of the day, he would give bear hugs to the cast and crew members. He kept things loose and relaxed.
His makeup wasn’t supposed to be perfect, but imperfect. The make-up done at first was totally different from what it is. He had to wash his face couple of times to get that smudgy look. It was his idea to have white make up on his hands to show that Joker himself did his own makeup.
There’s this very famous Hospital scene, where Joker disguises as a nurse. The hospital scene is interesting because when he was a kid, his sister Kate liked to dress him up as a nurse. It was funny then, and so in the movie too. Also if you look closely, the name of the nurse is Matilda, whom he had with actress Michelle Williams, which is the name of his daughter.
While Heath’s death was ruled accidental the diary does reveal he was struggling with the deeply twisted role and his own emotions.
One of his famous dialogues “Do you want to know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can’t savor all the… little emotions. In… you see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are.”
‘This is a make-up test which was done eight months before. Before the end of the shooting he wrote ”bye bye” on the back of the page.‘ was written in his diary, something his father said ‘was hard to see’.
“I believe whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you…stranger.”
Soon after the last shooting ended, he was found dead due to overdose of drugs. The Dark Knight was released nearly six months after his death. Prior to his death, he spoke to Empire Magazine saying he ‘feared’ the role but wanted to make it different. ‘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, and Chris has given me free rein. Which is fun, because there are no real boundaries to what The Joker would say or do. Nothing intimidates him, and everything is a big joke.’