In preparation for one of the greatest roles of his life, Heath Ledger created a diary that included lines from his role as The Joker and various other things that he compiled before the film wrapped. Ledger went to great lengths to understand what makes The Joker tick. He understood that The Joker is a psychopath who thrives in chaos. Unfortunately, he also found out that in his understanding of the character, he lost his own sanity.
Before the film began shooting Ledger even spoke to Jack Nicholson (Batman 1989) who told him that the role will make him crazy. At the time, Nicholson didn’t know how right he was. Ledger was mesmerizing at playing The Joker on the big screen, giving us a performance that may never be topped.
The beauty of his portrayal is in the fine details, and the lengths that Ledger went through to capture The Joker on the big screen. You can’t just cite one nuance as being the reason that he is perfect in The Dark Knight.He used Tom Waits voices a model of how the Clown Prince of Crime would sound. If you don’t believe me, just watch the clip of Tom Waits below.
But the details don’t stop there. If you watch The Dark Knight, you may notice that Ledger licked his lips a lot while playing The Joker. He cites that this mannerism was needed to give his mouth enough saliva to appropriately pull of Mr. J’s voice. He spent 6 weeks locked inside of a hotel, trying to wrap his mind around someone as maniacal as Joker. Ledger even refused to sleep longer than two hours a day for a month, and even took pills that would keep him awake during it all. Heath made himself crazy, just as Nicholson told him he would. He even told Christian Bale not to pull punches during the interrogation scene. He wanted the beating to be real.
This brings us to the most peculiar step Ledger took in his preparation of The Joker: the Joker diary. Heath Ledger prepared a diary loaded full of ramblings, lines from the film, and disturbing images. He would obsess over the psychotic book during filming. It shows the state of mind that Ledger had to get into, to accurately play the Joker the way he wanted to, even modeling the Jester of Genocide after ‘Alex’ from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The entire diary was written from the Joker’s perspective, adding to the illusion that much more.
The book is riddled with strange imagery, and as you see the pages, you cannot help but understand that this was the method acting process of a genius. This is a strange thing to say. Up until this time, Heath Ledger was not known as a method actor. He wasn’t even on Christopher Nolan’s radar, until he starred in Brokeback Mountain. When you look back on Ledger’s dedication to the craft of acting, it is easy to say that this was one Hollywood star that burned out entirely too quick. I am convinced Nolan would have included him in Dark Knight Rises. To many Batman fans, Heath Ledger’s performance will never be topped. He may forever be the greatest Joker to ever grace the big screen.
On the last page of the Joker Diary, Ledger gave a good-bye that is both haunting and fitting of the Ace of Knaves. Over the maniacal scribblings on the page, he wrote the words, “Bye, Bye.” Ledger went into the mouth of madness to give fans an unforgettable performance. He will be forever missed. Heath Ledger dedicated his life to acting, but the Joker gives us insight to his state of mind in The Dark Knight by saying,
“Whatever doesn’t kill you, only makes you…stranger.”
Check out some of the pages of the Joker Diary below:
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