Christopher Nolan Reveals How Unpredictable Heath Ledger's Joker Performance Was

Heath Ledger as The Joker

Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is the stuff of legend, an iconic performance that won the actor a posthumous Oscar and set an impossible standard for all Joker actors to follow. Heath Ledger's Joker was chaotic and deranged, clever and violent. The character is so exciting because you have no idea what he's going to do; a villain governed by no morality or logic is impossible to predict. It turns out that the actor behind the Joker was also unpredictable, never fully telling his director what he was going to do. Christopher Nolan recalled this unpredictability, saying:

A lot of what Heath did, he would discuss with me, but in terms -- he'd give me hints about what he was going to do, or we would talk about it a bit, and I would try and be an audience for him or sort of gauge with him what he was doing. But a lot of it was about unpredictability, and I think he wanted to play his cards a little close to the chest.

It must have been truly incredible to watch Heath Ledger, never truly knowing what he was about to do. As mentioned in Christopher Nolan's interview with BBC Radio 1's "Movies That Made Me," the Joker's mocking clap at Jim Gordon's promotion was all Heath Ledger. That was such a fantastic moment that showed how much the character was still having fun even though he was just apprehended. I suspect there were many moments like that on set where people turned to each other and said 'please tell me you got that'. These little details and idiosyncrasies in the performance are what make the Joker so compelling and magnetic to watch. It must have been very interesting for Ledger's co-stars as well, as they seemingly must have been unprepared for what the actor was going to do on set while inhabiting the Joker.

This unpredictability just adds another layer to the mythos of Heath Ledger's Joker. Fans largely dismissed the actor when he was first cast, only to now revere him as one of, if not the greatest part of the 2008 film. Heath Ledger was famously committed to the role, even convincing Christian Bale to hit him during a scene. In the wake of the actor's tragic death, some even questioned if his immersion into the psyche of such a dark character played any role in his death. Although that may not have been the case, as family members of said he was a professional going through his process to become the character in the best way he knew how. Now, in addition to being the gold standard for cinematic Joker's and onscreen comic book villains, Heath Ledger's Joker stands as testament that it may not be the best call to reject a casting before seeing the final product.

Heath Ledger left this world too soon but he has left a mark on the superhero genre and cinema itself that can never be erased. The Dark Knight is widely considered to be the greatest superhero film of all time and that is largely due to his performance. This year is full of huge movies, comic book and otherwise, and with any luck, it will bring with it more iconic performances. To see what's coming out this year, check out our release schedule.

Nick Evans

Nick grew up in Maryland has degrees in Film Studies and Communications. His life goal is to walk the earth, meet people and get into adventures. He’s also still looking for The Adventures of Pete and Pete season 3 on DVD if anyone has a lead.