How Playing The Joker Changed Heath Ledger For Good
Heath Ledger's untimely death sparked all kinds of rumors that transformed the actor's performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight into the stuff of legend. What's the truth about the many ways he threw himself fearlessly into one of the most iconic roles in modern cinema?
Heath Ledger had a long history of sleep troubles, reportedly struggling with a racing mind for years before portraying the Joker. However, his chronic insomnia became much more prevalent and aggressive after filming The Dark Knight. His difficulty sleeping was summed up in a New York Times profile in 2007, while the film was in production:
"It is a physically and mentally draining role his Joker is a 'psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy,' he said cheerfully, and, as often happens when he throws himself into a part, he is not sleeping much."
During this interview, Ledger reported that he had slept an average of two hours per day over the previous week. He even mentioned taking one Ambien to no effect, and after taking another, he was only able to stay asleep for an hour. This interview, which took place several months before Ledger's death, shed light onto how sleep deprivation changed the young actor and an offhand remark about his resistance to sleeping medications even eerily foreshadowed his imminent fatal overdose on prescription drugs.
Although director Christopher Nolan gave Heath Ledger quite a bit of creative control over his version of the Joker, he did suggest several sources of inspiration. These recommendations included the paintings of Francis Bacon, the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange, and heavy metal music. Nolan suggested these so that Ledger could understand the type of Joker he was envisioning for the film, and several of these inspirations helped to form the final version that appeared onscreen.
One of the characters from A Clockwork Orange, Alex DeLarge, was particularly influential on Ledger's development of his Joker character. Several images of DeLarge appear throughout the legendary "Joker Diary" that the actor created during his self-imposed isolation in order to get into the right headspace for the character. Since Alex DeLarge is depicted as a sociopath who steals and assaults innocent people purely for his own amusement in A Clockwork Orange, it is only natural that the Joker would consider him to be a kindred spirit. In fact, the Joker's iconic glare in The Dark Knight is considered to be a recreation of the famed "Kubrick Stare," the expression that DeLarge, played by Malcolm McDowell, used in the film version of A Clockwork Orange. Keep watching the video to see how playing the Joker changed Heath Ledger for good.
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Chronic insomnia | 0:14
A little more culture | 1:10
Finding a voice | 2:15
Makeup design | 3:39
To the limit | 4:30
Inner nerd | 5:21
The director's chair | 6:26
Testing physical limits | 7:14
Improv master | 8:21
Falling in love | 9:22
Ledger's legacy | 10:15
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