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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”

Categories: comics, film
  1. July 3, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    I’m happy with the Heath Ledger casting, though I am still not entirely happy that they are redoing the Joker. Given that other villains exist and the Joker has already been done, and done well, in the Batman films, I had hoped they would go a different direction.

    Of course if it ends up being as amazing a movie as Batman Begins, I will not care one iota that they chose to redo the character! 😉 I sincerely hope it is a good film.

  2. July 3, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    OK….I’m the first to admit, I was a bit discouraged by the Heath Ledger casting. I thought Batman Begins was fantastic. Christian Bale was amazing and brought the darkness to Batman, the way it should be.

    I love Jack Nicholson in the role. It was by far the best of the other, sillier Batman movies. But I do think Jack is just a little bit nuts.

    But looking back on Heath, you are right…he has balls. Not many actors would have taken the chance on a movie like Brokeback Mountain, and my esteem of him has risen a lot after that one. (Besides, 10 Things I Hate About You is one of my favorite movies!) You are right…I think he might be just the guy to pull this one off!

  3. July 3, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    I saw this pic online a while back and I liked it. It seems to take the Joker in another direction, less campy, more gritty, and perhaps scarier. I thought Christian Bale was already an inspired casting – he’s a talented, driven actor (anyone seen “The Machinist”? That’s dedication).

    And now Heath Ledger? I think he’s going to take the Joker in another direction altogether, and I’m psyched to see how it goes. I am expecting a more complicated and tortured soul. It’s Batman. No matter where you go, you eventually end up face to face with the Joker.

    I’m an admirer of Christopher Nolan since I watched “Memento” – and I appreciate how he’s trying in his own way to redo the Batman mythos. (Now that I think about it, I should have read “Batman” for Carl’s Once Upon A Time Challenge. Batman is a modern mythology afterall!)

    And we’re going to have Michael Cain and Morgan Freeman again. I love these two old guys. Somehow they add a bit of shine onscreen when they show up.

    The one I’m not so sure about is Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. I can’t quite see it yet.

  4. July 3, 2007 at 6:19 pm

    I had a very “not so sure” feeling about Heath Ledger playing The Joker in this film when I first heard that. I just couldn’t picture it…couldn’t see how it would work. That picture just made it work for me! I can see it now. I love the look they’re going for.

    I kind of like that they’re redoing The Joker. I love Jack’s Joker and I’ll always love Jack Nicholson..I think he’s one of the best actors out there today…but I think this one will be totally different. I’m picturing this one much darker, and I’m really looking forward to it. At the same time, I can see Carl’s point…why re-do something that’s already been done when there are other villains that haven’t been touched yet? But I think this one will be done well. I don’t think they would’ve chosen The Joker if they didn’t have some great things in store for us.

  5. July 3, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    He is certainly the character to pick if you are going to continue doing things on a darker path. Which I enjoy. I was so disappointed with the third Spiderman film that I worry that successive well-done superhero films may just be impossible. They certainly have a good enough team on this one to make it work again, provided they don’t make the same mistakes the last Batman franchise did.

  6. July 3, 2007 at 11:15 pm

    Agreed Carl, the last Batman series of films just turned into a nightmare…I really see these going in a better direction though. I don’t know why I say that though seeing as we’ve only seen the first film…just my gut feeling. Lets hope it’s right!

  7. Jeff S.
    July 4, 2007 at 5:20 am

    I’ll echo your feelings on Heath being cast in the Joker role. I will also agree with Dark Orpheus. This picture does make the Joker seem ” scarier “. My wife and I are Heath Ledger fans. We’ve watched A Kinght’s Tale dozens of times and even caught most of the episodes of his short lived Roar tv series. What really sold me with him in this role is seeing what he did in Brokeback Mountain. I watched that film earlier this year and can admit it was worthy of it’s Oscar nominations. Truely a powerful story and Heath was so believeable in his role. I can’t wait to see your upcoming post on the Dark Knight JP.

  8. jean pierre
    July 4, 2007 at 11:13 am

    buggeration!!! typos! i briefly had a look at this last night and discovered a few awful typos! sorry about that guys…
    carl, i also felt quite uneasy about the joker at first. but then i think it helps a lot that this is now the second film of the reboot. i’ve gotten used to the idea and accepted the fact that its all started again.
    having watched “batman begins” and having entrenched myself in this world where bruce wayne has just started doing his batman thing it feels the most natural thing in the world that the joker is going to come into it…
    why they had to reboot in the first place is another matter! that to me was a bit cheap. its something marvel have done shamelessly many times! of course i can understand the importance for shedding the link with batman 4 but still, i would’ve prefered for them to carry on. like you said, its not as if batman doesn’t have enough villians. plus, batman is such an interesting character that he doesn’t need to rely on his villains for a good story as much as other characters do. some irony since he has the best villains in the business.
    i agree with you stephanie, that batman should be dark! i also rather liked christian bale. and yeah, the first batman is hands down the best, although i have quite a big soft spot for the 2nd too. yeah, “brokeback mountain” is the perfect example of how ballsy he is. i’m glad you like “10 things” too, i love it!
    dark orpheus, i think casting bale was definitely an inspired choice and you’re right, he is a very committed actor – which is what i like about him. he’s very focused. i saw “the machinist” and i couldn’t believe it! i also really liked what he did in “american psycho”.
    yeah, this joker is definitely going to be a lot darker than the nicholson one. tortured is exactly right. what also gives me confidence is the nolan thing – he’s a very inventive and accomplished director.
    the supporting cast really is good, isn’t it. having freeman and caine in there gives the film such solidity. even if there are weak moments they’re the kind of guys that can lift the film if it needs it.
    aaron eckhart, i’m not too sure about either… ! i hope i’m proved wrong, though.
    chris, i’m glad you liked the picture and that it made you think ledger could do it! it had the same affect on me. and i agree, its going to be really cool to see what their take on the joker is going to be.
    carl, don’t even talk to me about spiderman 3…! or maybe we should. i have so many problems with it… if i had to start now then this comments section would get far too cumbersome. perhaps a post which is an autopsy on the disaster that was spiderman 3 is needed…?
    i think dc has learned something from batman 4 – at least i hope so. but once these film companies start making money they tend to get all loopy, don’t they? and we start getting batsuits with nipples and peter parker walking down the street like a tosser!
    but like, chris, i just feel they’re heading in the right direction and that the next one, at least, should be good. or, at least, have the right tone.
    jeff and dark orpheus – the ledger pic of joker is definitely scary. charlotte sent me an angry email saying i should’ve warned about the picture before she looked at my blog! 🙂
    but thats just the point, isn’t it, the joker is meant to be a BAD guy.
    i’m glad you and your wife like heath ledger too. my wife and i like him a lot and loved him in a “knight’s tale”. have you seen “sin eater”? its not the very best of films but he gives a good performance. he’s nice to watch.
    i haven’t seen the “roar” tv series. whats that about?
    i’m glad everyone’s as excited as i am to see how heath ledger does on the joker!

  9. Anonymous
    July 4, 2007 at 8:10 pm

    cant u warn people b4 u put close up photos of deranged lunatic bankrobbers on your site???
    once again i think uve hit the nail on the head Mr. JP. u already know my feelings on the fantastic batman begins so i dont need to go into that and waste valuable virtual space. heath ledger is strangely a good choice for the joker. he’s a pretty distinguished young actor (kind of like Bale, it’s almost trend in this new batman series) who is varied in his style and approach. i am still a little concerned at how he pulls off the kind of character required to play the joker that you point out (i would b with anyone i think, the joker is such a complex role). i think though that “re-doing” the joker is the right move. i dont think we can say “well there’s already been films with the joker” because as far as this series goes those other films dont really exist, if u follow me. this is batman from the start, we’ve seen what drives him, why he’s batman. the joker’s a big part of what a lot of people remember about batman, therefore i think it’s essential that his story is told so we can see how he deals with it and how it affects batman. we also need to keep in mind most people arent comic book sno- er, experts and so think of batman and the joker in pretty much the same breath. so it’s quite a natural progression for the series, i think. it will be really inetersting to see where they take the series after this film b/c they would have done the 2 biggest plot lines: beginning of batman and joker (greatest ennemy, as far as most people are concerned). hopefully then we’ll see the filmakers go into the direction some of you mention above. oh i found this photo of the joker http://bifsniff.com/images/franks-blog/heath-joker.jpg though im sure u would have seen it, but it shows the joker in a much different light.

  10. Steeeeeeeeeef
    July 4, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    i am not anonymous! i am a free man!

  11. July 5, 2007 at 9:46 am

    I think that Ledger will be great in the role. Whatever he has tried he has usually succeeded at, Ned Kelly might be a slight example of where it didn’t really work out for him.

    I love the way they’ve done the makeup here. Not as clean as other jokers, more gritty somehow, so that fits in with the whole Batman Begins atmosphere.

  12. jean pierre
    July 5, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    fence, i love the make-up too! very gritty indeed and fits in well with the atmosphere, as you said.

    i don’t think thats necessarily the way its always going to look in the film, though. the two pictures i’ve seen are different from the one here (i’ll be posting them later today), but i think the picture clearly shows their intentions for this film.

    i just love the smudge and the dark cavernous eyes. i could get poetical here. i love the way its so ugly and fucked-up looking… its a very, very dark kind of smile.

    steeeef!! good to see you here! welcome.

    i’m glad the photo got you, haha! i think you’re right though, that it seems to be distinctly part of their approach to get hungry young actors in.

    and you’re right about the joker being a challenge – whoever plays him. its gonna be hard, but i’m very optimistic!

    thanks for the pic – i actually haven’t seen it! i’ll post it along with my “dark knight” post i’ll be putting up later…

  13. Jeff S.
    July 6, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    JP – I have’t heard of Sin Eater so I will have to try and track that one down.

    The Roar tv series is really quite cheesy. I think it lasted only 10 or 11 episodes before being canceled. I need to talk to my wife to get the details correct but I believe the story took place in England; I believe during the Roman occupation and I believe Heath played a young Pict chieftain fighting against the Roman occupation. Of course he was young and just learning. Unfortunately the stories, acting, and sets, were like the Hercules and Xena series only below that level of ” quality “. Now don’t get me wrong I watched those shows from time to time because they were fun but not great tv by any means.

  14. July 8, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    Roar was terribly cheesy. But at the same time very watchable 🙂 I think it may have been a made up country, though as Jeff said, it may have been England.

  15. jean pierre
    July 9, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    haha… it sounds cool!

  16. emz.xo
    July 28, 2008 at 12:36 am

    gahhh rip!!!!..

  17. Anonymous
    July 28, 2008 at 12:38 am

    awsum movie!!

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