Whilst comic book films are now a prominent sub-genre, it’s easy to forget that at the beginning of the century, they were all but dead in the water after 1997’s disastrous Batman and Robin.
Ironically some of the films that helped to get the genre back in favour would be Batman films in the form of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. With the 2005 release of Batman Begins, audiences were treated to a more realistic and gritty representation of the Caped Crusader than they had been accustomed to after the gothic tone employed by Tim Burton in 1989’s Batman and its sequel, Batman Returns. This was of course followed by the increasingly camp Joel Schumacher helmed duo of Batman Forever (1995) and the casserole of awfulness that is Batman & Robin.
Whilst Nolan rightly deserves acclaim for the critical success of his Batman films, most will agree that the highlight of the series is the second instalment, 2008’s The Dark Knight, with many crediting the Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger in what was sadly his last completed film role, as the undisputed standout of the entire trilogy. Both Nolan and Batman actor Christian Bale still hold Ledger in high regard and their interviews are included in Joseph McCabe’s, 100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Nolan spoke of how he and Ledger worked together to bring their version of the classic villain to audiences in a way they had never seen before;
“Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, these kinds of punk influences were some of the things we talked about. We also talked about the character of Alex in A Clockwork Orange. He’s very anarchic and yet somehow has great charisma, both in the book and in the film. We talked about a lot of different influences, and he talked about an extraordinarily diverse set of influences like ventriloquist dummies. The way they would talk and the way they would move and all kinds of peculiar ideas that I wasn’t really able to get a handle on until I saw him start to perform the scenes, and start to show how the character moved and how the character gestured and how the character spoke, with this extraordinarily unpredictable voice. The range of the voice, from its highest pitch to its lowest pitch, is very extreme, and where it shifts is unpredictable and sudden. The thing with the tongue was…he had this prosthetic that was covering his lower lip and it would come unglued sometimes. I’d seen him sort of sticking it back with his tongue, and it was only after a few weeks of shooting that I realized that wasn’t what he was doing, that he had started to adopt that actually as part of the character. It was an interesting balance, editing the performance, because he has all kinds of interesting facets, all kinds of mannerisms and things. What I like about them all is they all feel that they come from the character. They don’t feel like actorly touches. I read them as genuinely part of the fabric of a real human being.”
Bale was also full of praise for his co-star and tells of how the two actors took method acting to its extreme definition when working together during their first scene;
“Our first scene was in an interrogation room together and I saw that he’s a helluva actor who’s completely committed to it and totally gets the tone that Chris [Nolan] is trying to create with this. We’re not going for actors revealing their enjoyment of playing a wacky caricature. We’re treating this as serious drama. You go into character and you stay in the character. I love that. I find that so ridiculous that I love it, and I take that very seriously. Heath was definitely embracing that. When he was in the makeup and the garb he was in character the whole time; and when he took it off he was absolutely fantastic company to be around as you see in the movie, Batman starts beating the Joker and realizes that this is not your ordinary foe. Because the more I beat him the more he enjoys it. The more I’m giving him satisfaction. Heath was behaving in a very similar fashion. He was kinda egging me on. I was saying, ‘You know what, I really don’t need to actually hit you. It’s going to look just as good if I don’t.’ And he’s going, ‘Go on. Go on. Go on….’ He was slamming himself around, and there were tiled walls inside of that set which were cracked and dented from him hurling himself into them. His commitment was total.”
Ledger sadly never got to experience the audience’s reaction to his phenomenal performance but was posthumously given an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor at the 2009 Academy Awards.
‘100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die’ is available to purchase on Amazon and via other retail outlets.