Heath Ledger’s Joker is arguably the greatest comic book movie villain of all time at the very least the antagonist from 2008’s The Dark Knight. This is the story of Ledger’s journey as the iconic character from beginning to end in fascinating detail. Ledger’s story as far as his most iconic role was concerned would ultimately end in tragedy but it was also a hugely interesting one. It having been played by the likes of Cesar Romero in the 1960s Batman TV series Jack Nicholson and Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie. When DC and Warner Brothers began the search for their Joker for 2008 to the Dark Knight their list of potential actors to play the character didn’t include Ledger. Stars like Robin Williams, Steve Carell, Adrien Brody and Hugo Weaving who were the frontrunners. It wasn’t until Ledger met with Christopher Nolan about the possibility of playing two heroic man prior to 2005’s Batman Begins that the idea of casting him as the Clown Prince of Gotham was spawned. The filmmakers wanted an actor who was not only talented but also fearless both of which were traits Ledger had in spades and his casting was officially confirmed at the end of July in 2006. His appearances in comedies like a Knight’s Tale certainly didn’t have people imagining he’d go on to play the Joker given how brilliantly the whole thing turned out the widespread scorn and outrage that occurred upon Ledger’s casting. It’s hard to imagine it occurring at all Christopher Nolan was roundly criticized for choosing the actor to play Batman’s arch nemesis at the expense of the other actors. It difficult to picture him as a psychotic comic-book movie villain others simply believed he didn’t carry the weight necessary to play this crucial role .
Joker Ledger went to some bizarre extremes! He was no stranger to method acting and he took his commitment to the role almost ludicrously seriously being cast before the script was written meant he had a very long time to obsess about it and really figure out exactly how he was going to go about playing. Months before production began on the Dark Knight Ledger retreated to a hotel room and isolated himself from society at which point he spent time writing a Joker diary and putting together disturbing image collages to help him get inside the character’s head. In 2007 the actor spoke to Empire online saying, “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 and find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath”
A joker does his own makeup and that’s what Ledger did. He made the face of the joker and showed it to Nolan! He could occasionally be seen snarling to himself in a corner as the Joker even when the camera wasn’t rolling. When it was time to get into character for filming however ledger had his Joker diary close by and reading it would enable him to bring the character out at will. As he threw himself into the movie his sleep began to suffer the actor told the New York Times that while the movie was in production he probably slept an average of two hours a night describing how he couldn’t stop thinking and how his body was exhausted but his mind was still going he became Restless in everyday life and also started taking ambien to help him sleep which some people believe represented the start of a downward spiral
When the first trailer for the movie was released in December of 2007 the Joker was the biggest talking point of the trailer his voice his look his mannerisms and his now iconic WHY SO SERIOUS line all made it into trailer.
On January 22nd in 2008 Heath Ledger was found dead he was found by his housekeeper and a masseuse in bed in his Manhattan loft four months after production of The Dark Knight wrapped and six months before it was due to be released in theatres. Ledger was only 28 years old and he would never get to see the final product of his labours or the global reaction to his iconic performance while the cause of his death was officially ruled as being an accidental overdose of prescription pills. Rumours were that getting so into his performance as the Joker had taken its toll on him contributing to or even being the prime cause of his death. When previous Joker portrayer Jack Nicholson was told about Ledger’s death on camera, he responded by saying I warned him prompting the world to believe that getting into such a psychotic character’s head was a dangerous job to.
After Ledger’s death popular magazine, Us Weekly reported that Michelle Williams (Ledger’s Wife) had wanted to start to go to rehab in 2006 when the then couple’s daughter was just five months old, so it was no secret that he’d struggled with drugs. However in the 2017 documentary ‘I am Heath Ledger’ Keith’s sister Kate seemed to confirm the idea that medication had been a problem in his life while vehemently denying that the Joker role had anything to do with his death Kate whose last conversation with her brother involved her warning him about mixing drugs said of the rule potentially being the cause of his death
Regardless of what really happened Ledger’s death was undoubtedly tragic for a man so beloved so young and so incredibly talented to leave us was not only a loss to the world of acting it was a loss to the world in general.
When the movie was released in July of 2008 fans were incredibly impressed with his performance and of course so were the critics and the powers that be in Hollywood’s awards scene the Dark Knight brought in more than 158 million dollars in its opening weekend and went on to gross more than 1 billion dollars worldwide it’s still the 36th highest-grossing movie of all time. Ledger’s performance resulted in a near clean sweep of Gong’s in the following awards season including Best Supporting Actor Oscar .
More than 10 years on Ledger’s legacy lives on most prominently for most fans in the form of his most celebrated performance that of the Joker the internet is full of top-10 type lists featuring movie super villains.