Nine years on from his death, Heath Ledger’s Joker performance remains legendary

by Damian Fasciani
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It’s been nine years since the tragic death of Australian actor Heath Ledger. As a fellow Australian, I was and still am so proud of how he carried himself, both professionally and personally. Like some actors before him, when the word got out that Christopher Nolan had cast him to play the Joker there was a barrage of negative feedback. There was no way DC fans could see him live up to the performance we had previously seen from Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 classic, Batman. Little did we know at the time that Heath Ledger would provide us with an unforgettable performance. One that I will never forget, one that goes down as not just one of the best performances in a comic book film, but one of the all time best performances in motion picture history.

Nine years after his death, we should never forget the gift that Heath Ledger gave us. His performance on-screen captivated us. The Joker was terrifying, intelligent, cunning, & an agent of chaos. His persona was unique and dynamic, every time he was on-screen you couldn’t see the actor, all you could see was the character and everything he built to define it.

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Heath’s research into the character went deep, dark, and the process was intense. Reports suggested it consumed him, but I won’t delve into that because this is a celebration of what he gave us. If you have never seen a special edition, or a “behind the scenes” look of the The Dark Knight then I can’t stress enough that you should invest the time. It is there that you will find out in detail the lengths Heath went to in creating his persona of the Joker. He was involved in the process from end to end, with Christopher Nolan giving him the autonomy he needed to build something unique. Everything from his clothing, to his weapons, his voice, and the process of how he would apply his makeup.

My favourite Joker scene in the Dark Knight is the hospital scene when Harvey Dent is laying in bed and the Joker turns him. An incredible scene that bled manipulation of the highest order. Watch this video clip of actor Aaron Eckhart talk about a unique experience he had with Heath Ledger leading up to that scene.

In 2007, I went to IMAX to watch I am Legend and prior to the film starting we knew that there was going to be footage shown of the high anticipated film the Dark Knight which was coming out in 12 months time. Never before had an Australian audience been so captivated and drawn to a cinema screen like that night. I will never forget it, the opening scene of the Bank Robbery and it’s ending of the Joker pulling of his mask showing his face. The people in the cinema forgot they where there to see Will Smith’s I am Legend. Later, the same experience would come again for Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises, it simply wasn’t the same.

The first scene that Heath Ledger filmed with Christian Bale was the interrogation scene in the GCPD. Heath’s performance in this scene was nothing short of magical. The Joker here takes everything that represents Batman, absorbs it, and then throws it back at him forcing the Dark Knight into understanding that he needs to go to a place that he doesn’t want to in order to stop what’s coming to Gotham. Heath’s facial expressions, twitching, and body language stole the scene to the point where my focus was purely on him.

Heath Ledger’s performance remains the benchmark nine years on. An unbelievable take on a DC super villain that captured the hearts and minds of fans from all over the world. Winning an Oscar for best supporting actor was well deserved and we will continue to celebrate the man, the father, the actor, a DC legend.

Heath Ledger, we won’t forget you.

Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos…

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