• Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight was initially deemed “inappropriate,” but he delivered an unexpected and incredible performance that silenced the skeptics.
  • A Clockwork Orange’s Alex and The Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious were some of the inspirations to create the dark and anarchic Joker.
  • Ledger isolated himself for weeks, wrote a diary, and experimented with voices to fully embody the psychopathic nature of the Joker, keeping the diary with him during filming.



Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight introduced a new version of the Joker, played by Heath Ledger, who ended up becoming one of the best versions of the character to date, and here are a couple of things you didn’t know about Ledger’s Joker. Back in 2005, the live-action Batman returned to the big screen in Nolan’s Batman Begins, marking the beginning of his Dark Knight trilogy. Although all three movies were successful, the one widely regarded as the best and one of the best superhero movies ever made is The Dark Knight, the trilogy’s second installment.

The Dark Knight saw Batman (Christian Bale), Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), and the Gotham City Police Department dealing with the Joker, who arrived at Gotham to create chaos while Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) tried to dismantle organized crime. Ledger brought a psychopathic, unpredictable, terrifying version of the Joker that has been praised by critics and viewers, and that was key to The Dark Knight’s success. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is even more interesting and memorable when looking at some of the behind-the-scenes stories and other details about his character, and here are 10 you probably didn’t know.

Heath Ledger won 24 awards for his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight.

10 Heath Ledger Was Considered “Inappropriate” For The Role of The Joker

Given the popularity of the character and Jack Nicholson’s portrayal in Tim Burton’s Batman, whoever was cast as the new Clown Prince of Crime in The Dark Knight was going to be criticized. Fans and industry professionals were skeptical about Ledger, who was known as a teen icon and a dramatic actor, playing a character like the Joker, and he was even deemed “inappropriate” by many. Ledger surely delivered an unexpected and darker version of the Joker that challenged the image that the audience and the media had of him, and all the non-believers ended up praising his incredible performance.

9 Heath Ledger’s Joker Was Inspired By A Clockwork Orange & The Sex Pistols

Building a character as dark, psychopathic, and threatening as the Joker is not easy, and Ledger and Nolan got inspiration from some very specific sources. Speaking to Empire in 2007, Nolan shared that he and Ledger shared the same idea and vision for the character, and cited A Clockwork Orange’s Alex as a reference for the Joker.

The Dark Knight’s Joker is all about chaos and anarchy, the same elements found in Alex, a man who robs and assaults people for his own amusement. In that same interview, Costume Designer Lindy Hemming shared some of the visual inspirations for the Joker’s look, among them The Sex Pistols’ members Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious.

8 Heath Ledger Isolated Himself To Prepare For The Role

In order to really get into the mind of someone like the Joker, Heath Ledger opted for isolating himself weeks prior to starting filming. In the above-mentioned interview with Empire, Ledger revealed he locked himself away in a hotel room in London for about a month to work on the character.

Ledger explained he wrote a diary and experimented with voices, and realized that this Joker was more like a psychopath with a full lack of empathy. Ledger kept this diary with him during the filming of The Dark Knight and used it to get back into character. Ledger’s Joker diary was kept by Ledger’s father and parts of it were shown in the documentary Too Young To Die.

7 Heath Ledger Was Involved In The Joker’s Makeup

One of the most unique things about The Dark Knight’s Joker is his makeup, which – even though it is clown makeup like in previous versions of the character – is different in the sense it’s cracked and imperfect. Speaking to IGN in 2008, The Dark Knight’s makeup designer John Caglione Jr. revealed that Ledger was involved in the Joker’s makeup process and that he would scrunch and contort his face as the makeup was being applied so they could achieve that imperfect look that makes it seem as if the Joker had been wearing the same makeup for days.

6 Heath Ledger’s Joker Was So Intimidating That Michael Cane Forgot His Lines

Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight was not only intimidating for the audience but also for the rest of the actors on the set. In the above-mentioned interview with Empire, Michael Caine revealed that Ledger’s Joker was “very, very scary”, and shared that, while shooting the scene where Alfred and Batman watch a video in which the Joker threatens them, he completely forgot his lines as soon as he saw Ledger on the screen. Caine also famously forgot his lines in the scene where the Joker crashes Bruce’s party, and that shot was kept in the movie.

5 Heath Ledger Asked Christian Bale To Really Beat Him Up

The interrogation scene in The Dark Knight is one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, and Ledger actually asked Bale to hit him for real. Bale once revealed (via 100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, by Joseph McCabe) that the interrogation scene was the first one he shot with Ledger, and in order to keep the energy going, Ledger encouraged Bale to hit him for real.

Bale told him that he didn’t need to and that it was going to look just as good if he didn’t hit him, but Ledger insisted. Ledger’s commitment was such that he slammed himself around the set of the interrogation room, breaking the tiles on the walls, which can be seen when Batman slams the Joker on the wall.

4 Heath Ledger Directed The Joker’s Hostage Videos

Heath Ledger aspired to become a filmmaker, and Nolan gave him a chance, even if a small one, in The Dark Knight. Among the Joker’s tactics to spread his message and instill fear in Gotham City was filming homemade videos of his hostages and victims and releasing them to the public, and these hostage videos were actually filmed and directed by Ledger himself. Given all the preparation that Ledger went through to play the Joker, it makes sense that he would be the one who directed and shot his character’s homemade videos, ensuring that these stay true to what the Joker would do.

3 Heath Ledger Hid A Tribute To His Daughter In The Joker’s Nurse Outfit

Another memorable moment from The Dark Knight is when the Joker arrives at the hospital to talk to Harvey Dent, but in order to blend in, he wears a nurse uniform and a face mask to cover his face as much as possible. The Joker actor added a “Dent” political sticker to his nurse uniform and a nametag that read “Matilda”, the name of Ledger’s daughter. Matilda Rose Ledger was born in 2005 and was two years old when Ledger passed away after filming The Dark Knight.

2 Heath Ledger Didn’t Improvise THAT Hospital Scene

A widely spread story about the making of The Dark Knight claimed that Ledger improvised the scene where he walks out of the hospital as the bombs he planted begin to explode. At one moment, the explosions stop and the Joker turns around confused, trying to get the control in his hand to work so the rest of the bombs detonate, and he’s startled when the explosions return.

However, this scene wasn’t a mistake saved by Ledger’s improv skills, and it was actually planned to happen as it did. This further proves how perfect Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker was, as it was so natural and fluent that he made a planned comedic moment even better than expected.

1 Heath Ledger Is The First Actor To Win An Oscar For Playing The Joker

Heath Ledger’s legendary performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight was recognized by different awards associations, and he became the first actor to win an Oscar for playing the Clown Prince of Crime. Ledger’s Oscar win was posthumous and made history by being the first actor to win an Oscar in an acting category for a superhero movie. In 2020, Joaquin Phoenix won the Oscar for Best Actor for playing Arthur Fleck/Joker in Todd Philipps’ Joker, joining Heath Ledger as the only two actors who have won an Oscar for a comic book movie and for playing the Joker.

Sources: Empire, IGN, 100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die

The Dark Knight

Christian Bale once again embodies the man behind the mask in The Dark Knight, reuniting Bale with Batman Begins director Christopher Nolan. With the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, Batman has been making headway against local crime—until a rising criminal mastermind known as The Joker unleashes a fresh reign of chaos across Gotham City. To stop this devious new menace—Batman’s most personal and vicious enemy yet—he will have to use every high-tech weapon in his arsenal and confront his beliefs if he hopes to stand a chance against the Clown Prince of Crime.

Release Date
July 18, 2008

Nestor Carbonell , Morgan Freeman , Ritchie Coster , Cillian Murphy , Chin Han , Gary Oldman , Eric Roberts , William Fichtner , Aaron Eckhart , Maggie Gyllenhaal , Christian Bale , David Dastmalchian , Michael Caine , Anthony Michael Hall , Heath Ledger

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