FHM's Interview with Heath Ledger on Playing The Joker
As audiences around the world are discovering today, the late Heath Ledger has taken the iconic Joker character in The Dark Knight to entirely new depths of emotion and complexity. Personally, I feel like he's bested Jack Nicholson's long-held title by far, but some might consider that apples to oranges (Tim Burton vs Christopher Nolan, after all). Either way, it's hard to argue that Ledger hasn't left us with one of the greatest screen villains in history. Despite the actor's passing, we can discover some of what went into portraying the dark clown thanks to FHM. The magazine sat down with Ledger last year and here's some of what he had to say of the role he considered the "most fun [he's] had."
"I just locked myself away and formed a little diary and experimented with voices… I ended up making him within the realm of a psychopath kind of like zero empathy or very little to no conscience towards his acts which is fun because there's no real limits on their boundaries to what he would say or how he would say something or what he would do… it's always a very personal process in terms of how you land in your characters shoes, so to speak, it's a combination of reading all the comic books I could and the script, and then just really closing my eyes and meditating on it. Chris and I very much see eye to eye on how the character should be played, and that was evident from the first kind of meeting we had on the project. We both had identical images in our minds and so I went away, found it, came back."
He makes it sound so easy. But for those that have seen the film, you can readily discern Ledger's best weapon in preparing for the historic role: his natural talent. The guy really broke free in Brokeback Mountain and I'm Not There, and his turn in Dark Knight just showed you how versatile and immensely gifted the young actor was. The Joker's mask helped his performance as well. "It's definitely the icing on the cake toward all the research that you do prior to shooting. There's something about the metaphor to work behind a mask and from within a mask always gives you the license to do whatever you want or the freedom, free of feeling like you're being judged or viewed and so I'm literally wearing a mask now which empowers me twice as much to kind of feel free and feel unrestrained here and it's pretty exciting."
Interestingly enough, Ledger actually did not track his performance throughout the film like most actors do by viewing the film's playback after a scene. He apparently did so consciously as he felt it might cause him to alter his performance. What an amazing gamble and return. It's incredible to believe that Ledger channeled the Joker character so purely. "There's nothing consistent about him at all, so he's not consistently dark or consistently fun, or funny, just going up and down the whole time." Credit goes to Chris and Jonathan Nolan along with David Goyer for their writing as well. "[The Joker] was all on page. They did a really good job." As I'm sure you can guess, I could study his scenes for hours. Even after seeing the film twice this week, I intend to go back and I'm sure I'll continue to marvel at every sadistic word.
Of the Joker-Batman dynamic, Ledger confirms a good amount of what I took away from the film. "They can't really live without each other. It's that kind of relationship. You know? Like they have no real purpose in life without each other. So they don't really want each other dead." This duality is really what makes The Dark Knight so riveting. Ledger fills up his end of the evil spectrum, colliding with Christian Bale's do-gooding Batman. The interplay between the characters is pure poetry. If you haven't seen The Dark Knight yet, you must do so soon! Ledger's turn on the Joker is one of those rare cinematic experiences that will go down in history and you don't want to miss it. Will he get an Oscar? Who knows. I usually shy away from those sort of discussions. Awards aside, Ledger will definitely be remembered for a long, long time for such a remarkable performance. He's simply that good. Well, that evil.
If you're a fan of Ledger or just want to hear more about his work, go check out the full interview at FHM!