The Dark Knight is about to confront a singular criminal called The Joker, who has little regard for Keysi or any other fighting method. In a fair fight, "Batman would obliterate him," Christian Bale asserts, "but The Joker doesn't fight fair. He has other tricks up his sleeve, so it's more of a mind game. But he finds in Batman a very worthy opponent, and I think he enjoys that."
Heath Ledger plays the role of The Joker, the malevolent clown who is arguably the most recognizable of Batman's arch-nemeses. In casting the part, director Christopher Nolan says that the defining quality he was looking for "was fearlessness. I needed a phenomenal actor, but he also had to be someone unafraid of taking on such an iconic role. Heath created something entirely original. It's stunning, it's captivating...it's going to blow people away."
Nolan recalls that he first met with Ledger about the role even before there was a script. "We talked about how we saw this character and we both had exactly the same concept--that The Joker was about the threat of anarchy and revels in creating chaos and fear on a grand scale. Heath seemed to instinctively understand how to make this character different from anything that had ever been done before."
Producer, Charles Roven elaborates, "The Joker is one of the great villains in comic book lore--psychopathic, enigmatic, clever, diabolical, charming, funny and completely enjoyable to watch. We knew it would take an extraordinary actor to play him and Heath delivered on every front. From every physical nuance to each vocal turn of phrase, it's just an unforgettable performance."
In "The Dark Knight," The Joker arrives on the scene without warning and climbs ruthlessly to the top of Gotham City's criminal food chain. "We never wanted to do an origin story for The Joker in this film, but we wanted to show the rise of The Joker," Nolan maintains. "In a sense, The Joker is the logical response to Batman, who has instigated this kind of extremity of behavior in Gotham."
Bale adds, "The Joker wants to break Batman, to prove that everybody has a price and even Batman can be leveraged in such a way that he would compromise his principles. I actually think he's delighted to find that Batman won't do that, and it creates for The Joker an even better opponent in this game he's playing. He's a fascinating character, and Heath did an extraordinary job with it. I don't think the movie would have worked as well if we hadn't had an actor of the caliber of Heath Ledger, who was able to really up the ante, much as The Joker does in Gotham."
"We wanted The Joker to represent pure, unadulterated evil, in the sense that he has no logical motivation for his actions. That is what we wanted to unleash on the city of Gotham. He is an absolute," Nolan sums up simply.
Yet, producer Emma Thomas is quick to note, "He is very funny. I know it sounds somewhat bizarre, because how could someone so deplorable be funny? Heath's take on the role was not campy but still hilarious, both physically and in a dry, sardonic way. With The Joker, I think you'll find yourself being horrified and terrified, but hugely amused at the same time."
Costume designer Lindy Hemming was able to get a lot more outlandish in costuming The Joker, modifying the character's familiar look to reflect the generation of the actor playing him. Hemming explains, "Once I knew The Joker was going to be played by Heath Ledger, I wanted the costume to have a younger, trendier style than previous versions. Basically, my research ranged from Vivienne Westwood to Johnny Rotten to Iggy Pop to Pete Doherty to Alexander McQueen. I was collecting all sorts of images."
Hemming ultimately designed an eclectic ensemble that she says "has a somewhat foppish attitude to it, with a little grunge thrown in." Staying with The Joker's traditional color palette, his outfit is topped by a purple coat, worn over a green waistcoat. Changing up his look, he also wears a lighter jacket that was based on the Carnaby Street Mod look. His shirt was patterned after a shirt that Hemming found at an antique market.
The Joker's shoes are from Milan and were selected by the costume designer because they had an upward swoop at the toe, which she thought was reminiscent of clown shoes. His tie was fashioned from a fabric that was specially woven to Hemming's specifications by Turnbull & Asser, a London-based clothier better known for dressing British royalty and the like. "Heath wanted it to be thin, so it's a '60s tie but in a Turnbull & Asser fabric. I dare say it's the weirdest tie that Turnbull & Asser has ever made," Hemming laughs. "When Heath came in and we showed him all the bits and pieces of the costume, he thought it was fantastically original and just went for it."
The Joker's make-up was also a departure from past incarnations of the character. While he retains an allusion to his familiar white-faced, sneering visage, his make-up for "The Dark Knight" was intended to give him a more frenetic look that also lends to its shock value. The Joker's face is covered in a white pancake that is cracked and runny in places. His eyes are thickly rimmed in black, and a sloppy red grin is painted on, extending from his mouth to his cheeks but not quite masking the terrible scars beneath. His hair is a more subtle, but still noticeable, shade of green.
Make-up and hair designer Peter Robb-King remarks, "Clearly, there was a perception in the audience's mind of what The Joker would look like, but we wanted to get under the skin, so to speak, of what this character represents in this story. He is someone who has been damaged in every sense of the word, so it was important that we create a look that was not, forgive the pun, 'jokey.'"
Heath Ledger's make-up artist, John Caglione, Jr., calls the application of the actor's make-up "a dance." He describes, "Heath would scrunch up his face in specific expressions, raising his forehead and squinting his eyes, and I would paint on the white over his facial contortions. This technique created textures and expressions that just painting the face a flat white would not. Then I used black make-up around Heath's eyes while he held them closed very tight, which created consistent facial textures. After the black was on, I sprayed water over his eyes, and he would squeeze his eyes and shake his head, and all that black drippy, smudgy stuff would happen."
The Joker's make-up also represents a revolutionary advancement in the application of prosthetics, developed and executed by prosthetic supervisor Conor O'Sullivan and prosthetic make-up artist Robert Trenton. "They used a brand new silicone-based process that enables the prosthetics to be laid on the skin in such a way that it's seamless," Robb-King describes. "It's absolutely amazing because you can put a camera right up to the face--even an IMAX camera--and there are no issues."
O'Sullivan reveals, "It took us about two years to develop the technology, but after a few glitches, we hit on it. We are now able to produce silicone pieces that are applied directly to the skin. And it blends with the skin perfectly; if you didn't know it was there, you would have a hard time seeing anything."
In addition, the new process cut the application time to a fraction of what was needed in the past. O'Sullivan confirms, "The Joker prosthetics would previously have taken a good three to four hours. Instead they took about 25 minutes and looked far superior, which was great."
Heath Ledger was honored with an Academy Award nomination for his work in Ang Lee's drama "Brokeback Mountain." For his performance as Ennis Del Mar, Ledger also earned Golden Globe, Independent Spirit, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations, and won several critics groups' awards.
In 2007, Ledger was seen in Todd Hayne's "I'm Not There," for which he shared in a Robert Altman Award at the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards.
His previous film credits include "Candy," "Casanova," "The Brothers Grimm," "Lords of Dogtown," "The Order," "Ned Kelly," "The Four Feathers," "Monster's Ball," "A Knight's Tale," "The Patriot" and "10 Things I Hate About You," which first introduced the Australian-born actor to American audiences.
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