this is an image of the joker for the new batman film “the dark knight”. if you haven’t heard yet, thats heath ledger as the joker.
its a look very different to the joker from the comics and films, and this bloke on livejournal, lordtiberius, describes it perfectly: “Hmm…kinda fucked up-looking, but I think its doable.”
i love the look. putting the joker on the screen is a lot harder than one would expect – one can’t depict him as he looks in the comics because it is just too unrealistic. in comics, of course, we suspend our disbelief but it is harder to do it for the screen.
also, playing the joker is something of a poisoned chalice. it seems like a great role to show off your talent, or a role in which all that one would need would be to play mad. as such it is unsurprising that actors like paul bettany were at one stage in the running for the part (it was also rumoured that adrien brody had auditioned for it). i think they could do maniacal perfectly, but could they pull off the joker?
i don’t believe so. on the surface joker seems like a cut-and-dry “12 monkeys”, “i am sam” type character. you know the sort, mad or mentally deficient. however, as hard as those roles are to play, there is a deceptive amount of depth to the joker that i don’t think actors realise. this is because the joker isn’t simply “mad”, in fact (and this is what makes him so scary) if you look deep into his eyes there is something very sane about him.
this is why i think nicholson worked so well. people look at some of his roles and think they’re simple or say he’s just playing himself, but he is in fact incredibly good at playing subtle dychotomies within characters. playing characters who are paradoxical. his character in “the shining”, if you think about it, is a lot more complex than simply a bloke who goes mad and his role in “one flew over the cuckoo’s nest” is equally complex. it is this subtle skill that nicholson has, and not just his maniacal grin, which meant that he was succesful as the joker.
so why heath ledger? that was my very first thought when i heard they cast him and in fact, that very thought is the one that gives me heart. its different and its brave. the last thing we want is a stereotypical, “safe”, joker.
the more i’ve thought about it the more i’m beginning to think it may just be an inspired casting! for one, he is clearly a good enough actor, technique-wise, so thats one thing. he has also been able to portray an at times surprising amount of depth for some of the roles that he has played. but can he be mad? can he understand the black humour of the character?
this was the first thing that really worried me about the casting. but looking back at his films (“knight’s tale”, “10 things” just as examples) there is quite a mischievous element to his characters, which he plays very well. whats more, the mischief is subtle and measured – never over the top. as i realised this i also suddenly remembered my ambivalence towards his character in “10 things i hate about you” – remember when we first meet him? we’re not sure if we like him at first, he seems quite mean and not a little bit dark. and then he reveals a very silly side (the scene where he dances on the steps comes to mind)! if you examine it closely “10 things” is, strangely enough, probably one of the best arguments for casting ledger as the joker! there is great ambiguity in his role and he shows that he is proficient at handling comedy.
lastly, he has one very important attribute: balls. its such a hard part that you have to back yourself. what’s more, there is no place for cliches, you have to make him original. when asked “why heath ledger as the joker” christopher nolan said “because he’s fearless”.
the photo of heath ledger above is, of course, very little to go by, but it has already got me quite excited and very optimistic for the film. its dark, which i like a lot, but apart from that what is most important is the level of ambiguity there. the “what the hell’s going on?” factor. the image is also more rooted than a grinning jester – rather than simply mad he actually looks very disturbed, which is a much more realistic version of “madness”. finally, there is also a sense of menace and belligerence which is extremely important. as mad as he is, at the end of the day he is a villain. he is bad and wants to hurt people, and if the joker is to work on the screen we have to believe that.
ultimately i think this is a casting that can definitely work and there is every chance that heath ledger will be very good in the role. i can’t wait for the film!
on thursday i’ll be posting a bit more about the film in general and the very cool publicity campaign they’ve got going for “the dark knight”