FHM's Interview with Heath Ledger on Playing The Joker

July 18, 2008
Source: FHM

Heath Ledger as 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!

Heath Ledger as The Joker

Find more posts: Editorial, Hype



Ledger's performance gave me goosebumps. The Joker was the best thing about this movie.

Brian Ricci on Jul 18, 2008


Truly an amazing performance, hands down the best joker ever played, and I dare say one of the best villains ever as well.

JR on Jul 18, 2008


Heath's performance is beyond words.

Brian on Jul 18, 2008


Phenomenal performance by Heath Ledger. He out-jokered the great Jack Nicholson, indeed! Props to Aaron Eckhart who will, god willing, skyrocket into the stratosphere with his tormented multi-dimensional role.

Spider on Jul 18, 2008


heath ledger did an amazing job portraying the joker in batmans dark knight. by far one of his best performances and he did absolutly phenomenal by stepping into the role of the joker and nailing it. To me it was by far the best joker out of them all.

bianca on Jul 18, 2008


It has been a long time since I have see any actor put so much effort into a role and pull it off so well. The Joker actually gave me the chills watching the movie.

Mr Pockets on Jul 18, 2008


Heath Ledger has always been one of my favorite actors, and seeing him today portraying The Joker was exquisite. It's just heartbreaking to realize this was his final complete film. He was such an artistic and clever actor.

melodies on Jul 18, 2008


Part of me wishes he pulled out a pistol the length of his leg and shot someone. But he impaled a guy's head on a pencil so I'm cool.

DCompose on Jul 18, 2008


I've seen this masterpiece 3 times and each time the Joker makes his first appearance (when he addresses the mob bosses) it garnered applause from the audience when the scene ended.

Leon on Jul 18, 2008


Heath Ledger stole every scene he was in. My only complaint about this movie is that there were not enough scenes with the Joker!!!! I just could not get enough of him!!!!!

AngelMG on Jul 19, 2008


The movie was......ok. I thought it was too long, but was impressed with Ledgers performance. He didn't quite do as good of a job as Jack, but it was pretty close. You must remember, he had the ability to see what Jack did and put his own spin on it. Jack had comics and a 1950's tv show to go off of. I actually wish the reviews I read before seeing it hadn't over-hyped his performance so much. i might have enjoyed it more. As is the case when celebs die early, their skills get a bit exaggerated.

neil on Jul 19, 2008


What a dark and twisted trip The Dark Knight is. Heath Ledger was absolutely brilliant. His performance was so over the top, and so psychotic, that there a brief moment were I thought to my self "this is not the guy who made 10 Things I Hate ABout You". He's get s so lost in the Joker that he's completely unrecognizable. This was more than an Oscar worthy performance. He set a benchmark for all actors, not just those in a comic book movie. The Dark Knight was something epic that I can't recall ever seeing before. It's leaps and bounds above anything ever done before with material from a comic book. As crazy as it sounds to say it, it's deserving of the Best Picture Oscar. #11 neil - Are you serious? How could you possibly think Ledger was not as good as Nicholson? Did we watch the same movie? I respect your opinion, but please give me reasons why you feel that way.

TCox on Jul 19, 2008


to bad he wont be back for another

james-jimmy on Jul 19, 2008


I felt really sad and disappointed at the end of the movie because I know that we will not see Ledger in the next movie. He made that movie great, hands down. I have never been so amused and frightened at the same time by any character before. I cried when he made that pencil disappear and I couldnt breathe when i seen that damn red wig hahahaha. Before I seen this film, I read about all the great reviews on his performance and thought that when the time came he wouild prolly get some sympathy votes for awards and what not because of his death. But after seeing the film he has down right earned any award given to him. Its really sad to have lost such great talent, I guess only good do die young.

Faust on Jul 19, 2008


Ledger was the Joker on all levels. He seemed to physically become the character in his speach, his movements, and the very look in his eyes. I would say he didn't steal every scene but enriched them. That's a supporting actor's job; to push the performence of other's to the next level. The interrogation room and hospital scenes alone were Oscar worthy.

Goudos on Jul 19, 2008


This movie was fantastic. By far the best super hero movie i've ever seen. Ledger's performance by far steals the movie. He was so scary, and funny, and cool that i was actually cheering him on, not batman. the movie was a little long but it was definetly worth it. Depresses me that ledger wont' be in a sequel.

justin on Jul 19, 2008


In my opinion it was good because of the performances. It was great because it was realistic. There was not a lot about this movie that didnt seem like it could really happen(aside from the silly sonar crap) assuming you are willing to believe that people like this actually exist. I'm not sure who deserves the most Kudos for this. I'll start with Nolan because his vision brought it forth. Beyond that, sure Ledger was great, but no more or less than Eckhart or Bale. Simply hyped more due to his death. Much like a previous poster, I too walked away from the theatre sad that Ledger will not be around to reprise his role. I've seen Burton's original Batman dozens of times and have loved it every time. Looks like I might wear out a few discs watching this one repeatedly.

Andrew on Jul 19, 2008


I think one of the things besides ledgers jus badassness and rare talent is that the joker evolved into being more of the main character in this film which made it darker and inadequently better.

Kayleb on Jul 20, 2008


THE BEST FREAKING THING I'VE SEEN. Ledger really blow Jack out of the water! for the first time I was actually afraid of the joker and at the same time wanted him to beat the crap out of batman

Sandi on Jul 20, 2008


I was absolutely shaken up by this film in many ways...I'd just like to say, coming from a HUGE movie going fan like myself, who very, VERY rarely gets scared or cringes at supposed scary things in any movie, that I actually squirmed in my chair from Heath Ledger's performance. I say to all of you who haven't seen this...this film, if you like superhero stuff, is going to go down in history like the "Braveheart" of all superhero flicks. This will be one of those movies that everybody was PROUD to have seen in the theaters, or one of those movies that you see (for the first time) when it comes out for rental, and are pissed off that you missed in the theaters. This movie IS, in MANY ways, the "300"/"Braveheart" of 2008...I was shaken up by Heath Ledger's performance in that he was scary---(whenever you read that people call Heath's Joker the greatest villain ever seen, it's NOT because they are in "denile" of his passing away...this guy really is "the definition" of what a villain is all about...being pure evil/the pure negative of a good soul. Heath Ledger has created a caracter with no conscience of forgiveness, being sorry, or doing good of any kind. So the hype is true!!! Believe it!!! Heath's performance is the best thing about the movie, BUT it was ALSO the superb direction by director Christopher Nolan for creating a long, but very intensly "riveting" movie which, to my surprize, GREATLY surpasses the job that was done on "Batman Begins". "...Begins" was awsome, but "...Knight" was excellent in every way...the intense, thrilling music, the dark, freaky mood, the costume design, the set design, the thrilling action, the phenomenal performances by Heath and Bale, the great story, the detailed plot, and the great themes. This isn't the best movie off all time, but the best I've seen in a long, long time! I can honestly say that this deserves, at the very LEAST, an Oscar *nomination* for "Best Picture". No really, I do mean that...It'll be very sad if Heath's performance gets forgotten by the (probably) way easier performances in the (very likely) next season of "artsy films" that win most of the awards every year. I can promise everyone that this movie will be an American "classic" that will leave a mark in your mind (okay, for MOST people who see it) that you will remember of a great cinematic experience. I can't even see a Batman sequel that would ever beat this one!!! Theee best in every way!!!

Plowdal on Jul 21, 2008


Ledger was awesome...I've never been a fan, and not to be cold, but his passing didn't really affect me or have any bearing on my great desire to see this film...I simply wanted to see Batman back in action after the wonderful Batman Begins. But now! Now I'm a Ledger fan, both in awe of this performance and saddened that we can't have more. Sure Jack was good, and I maybe even said great at the time, but that performance is dated and Ledger hit the mark of what the Joker should be...there is no comparison.

wetworks on Jul 21, 2008


one of the best parts of the movie was definitely when the joker made that pencil "disappear" in the beginning. . . it was so maniacal, yet equally funny, YET still ridiculously ominious. . . to kill someone so easily and not think twice. . . whatever you've heard about heath's performance will NEVER do it justice unless you see for yourself real cinematic genius.

Mr. Papagiorgio on Jul 21, 2008


Yes, Mr. Papagiorgio, that 'pencil disappear' scene was probably my favorite of the movie...i looked at my friend and we were both saying "holy shit" and "hold on, this is going to get wild"...that scene alone was worth the price of admission

wetworks on Jul 23, 2008


WOW... thats all that can be said to ledger's performance. Just unreal it was as if the joker was an actual person. there are a couple things taht makes a performance great. First off, when you get that feelin like you wanna be the joker, then you know you have yur audience, i watched it and after the movie, i thoght to myself, id love to be the joker for at leastt one day. second, it takes quite the performance to make the audience vote for the villian rather than the hero, This performance has got to be one of if not the best well played roles of all time. NO ONE would have played it better, i love his approach to the role and everyhing, hands down unreal like performace

sham on Jul 26, 2008


Nicholsons joker though dark was still more cartoonish. If you look at the Burton films they set a dark tone yet in a surreal environment, someplace non of us had even been and therefore it was removed from reality. This was in contradiction to Frank Miller's vision that created a dark world yet one that was indeed very real, something where we could almost believe batman could be a real person. Nolan nailed that vision first set by Miller. From that perspective Ledger's Joker came across as a real person as Sham clearly pointed out. Nolan's Joker was brilliant at the conception and script stage. That ledger then provided us with such an outstanding portrayal may go down in history as the single greatest cinematic treat of all time.

Chris Fawkes on Aug 6, 2008


OK I'VE HAD IT! All of you that think that think this Heath Ledger role is somehow the greatest acting performance of all time are retarded! I can name at least 3 RECENT individual performances better than Ledgers; 1) Forest Whitaker in Last King of Scotland 2) Kevin Spacey in American Beauty 3) Edward Norton in American History X. All better individual performances, and all better movies. Get over the fact that he's dead and stop insulting better actors!

Neil on Aug 7, 2008


Neil...u have GOT to be a crackhead, no offense:) The 3 movies you mentioned were great indeed, however they are not even close to being the same type of movie as Dark Knight. Comparing American History X to Batman??? are you kidding me man? The basis for the Heath Ledger praise is that he was truly able to entirely dissappear into a character. Granted, this has been done before, but I really don't think it's ever been done to this extent. Nowhere in the entire film was there a TRACE of the Heath Ledger that's been seen in other films/interviews/etc. I never found myself questioning ANYTHING the Joker said, I never once had a "that was corny" or "they could have left that part out" in regards to his character, I never ONCE was even able to escape the "reality" that was built by this movie and Heath Ledger's character. There has never been a more sinister villain portrayed on film. It wasn't even like his character was trying to scare people or hurt people...it was just an innate element of his personality to be scary and hurtful/violent...just like we say some people are "funny". Truly a monumental performance that will NEVER be forgotten.... whether u believe so or not, Neil.

JCMo on Aug 19, 2008


I was laughing at a lot of his scenes, really. How can you not laugh? It's black humor but it's still funny right? His bank robbery scenes, his pencil trick, pissing off Dent, blowing up a hospital! He takes dark situations and twists them and we laugh! I like when he asks The Mob "What happened? Did your balls fall off?" or the way he chides Gambol or that one burly cop in the interrogation room. And aside from being funny, he was downright chilling! When he screams at a Batman wannabe "LOOK AT ME!" it's like Jamie Gumb(Ted Levine) from Silence Of The Lambs. When he grabs a minicam and promises to kill a person a day until Batman removes his mask he reminded me of The Scorpio Killer(Andy Robinson) from the now classic DIRTY HARRY. When he would contort his hands and talk with that lisp he reminded me of Tommy Udo(Richard Widmark) from the film noir KISS OF DEATH. And he has the now famous line "Do you like my scars? Would you like to know how I got these scars?" I saw this movie twice. The second time I saw it was in a matinee. And Heath scared the crap out of all those kids in the theatre. I shit you not! The critics are comparing Ledger's work as The Joker to that of Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hanibal Lecter. I never cared for Heath Ledger as an actor until I saw him in THE DARK KNIGHT. Ledger made me laugh, cringe and cry. Now, I hope and have a strong feeling that he will win The Oscar for Best Actor come The Academy Awards next March! RIP Heath and thank you for finally giving us The Joker as he was meant to be: A psychotic killer who hides his face and not some silly clown ala Jack Nicholson or Caesar Romero! Heath Ledger will be missed and yes he was just that damn good!

Tony on Aug 20, 2008


Ok.. For Those Who Just Don't Get It.. Mr. Ledger's Performance.. Was Absolutely Off The Meter.. Reasonss: "The Little Nuances" To Quote The Man Himself.. Took Me Six Times And A Bootleg Copy To Get Why He Killed Gambol Out Of All The "Gangsters".. Simply Put.. He Pissed Him Off! Gambol Disrespected The Joker From The "Dissappearing Pencil" To His Exit!.. That Scene Alone.. Was Played Absolutely BRILLIANT!! When Gambol Said That He Was Placing A Bounty On The Jokers Head.. Watch Ledger.. And I Mean Watch Him.. He Was Cool Through The Entire Meeting Unless Gambol Interrupted Him With Smart Ass Insults.. And Everytime He Did.. The Jokers "Ticks" Got Worse.. When He Said To Gambol That He Was Not Crazy.. The Way Ledger Bit His Lip[.. Was As If In His Mind.. He Was Biting Gambols Freakin Head Off Where He Sat!! I'm Not A Fan Of Ledger.. That Was Until I Saw Him Dissappear. The Man Was NOT THERE!! The Joker Was And That My Friends Is What We Entertainers Call... ACTING!! He Did His Job!!

jthegeek on Sep 3, 2008

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