It's been more than a decade since Heath Ledger passed away and it's impossible to know where the actor would be in his career today if he were still alive. One of his last roles was as The Joker in The Dark Knight, and it went on to become the stuff of legends. People still talk about the effort that Ledger put into the character and how he delivered what's said by some to be one of the greatest performances of all time.
But Heath Ledger was in plenty of other movies before The Dark Knight, and by that point in his career, he had built up a reputation for himself as a serious-minded and very professional actor. He tackled each role by doing research and preparation, fully inhabiting whatever character he was playing. It was said that he locked himself away for a month to prepare for whatever part he was playing. As such, there are some memorable stories about his days on set and not all of them have to do with Joker. Here are six stories that remind us how great an actor Ledger was.
He Didn't Work For A Full Year To Avoid Typecasting
Heath Ledger's first Hollywood movie, 10 Things I Hate About You, introduced him to American audiences, where it didn't take long for people to fall for him as a teen heartthrob. He plays the steamy bad boy in the teen rom com, but Ledger wasn't interested in repeating himself. The only offers that were coming in after the film were for similar roles, so Ledger ended up refusing to work for an entire year until something different caught his eye. Looking back on his career, it was definitely something he succeeded at doing. He played everything from Bob Dylan to a stoner surfer dude to a Revolutionary War soldier to a clown-themed super villain. That's as varied a career as you can get.
He Kept A Joker Diary To Get Into Character
Heath Ledger turned down playing the title character in Batman Begins, but he was director Christopher Nolan's first and only choice to play the Joker in the sequel. Ledger signed on for the role before there was even a script, and part of how he prepared for the part was that he kept a diary of twisted images and things that he thought the Joker would find funny (AIDS was apparently one of them). Ledger wouldn't stay in character when not filming, so he would keep the diary with him and use it to get back into character before the cameras started rolling. Apparently, the actor was able to get into character quickly, and had no problem being chummy with the crew in-between takes (while he was still in full make-up and costume).
He Did All His Own Stunts In The Patriot
Tom Cruise doesn't own the monopoly for doing your own stunts. Case in point, Heath Ledger did all his own stunts for the Revolutionary War action-drama The Patriot. That means he handled stunts such as horseback riding, firing muskets, close-range combat and working with Mel Gibson all on his own. That's mighty impressive considering the movie had a heavy emphasis on action and could be pretty physically demanding; more than one tomahawk is thrown in this movie. One can only imagine the lengths Ledger went to while preparing for the non-combat scenes.
He Nearly Broke Jake Gyllenhaal's Nose Kissing Him So Hard
One of Heath Ledger's most significant and popular films is Brokeback Mountain, in which he and Jake Gyllenhaal star as cowboy lovers. In the movie, the two actors share a passionate kissing scene and reportedly, Ledger almost broke Gyllenhaal's nose because of how hard he was kissing. Additionally, he and Gyllenhaal would kiss off-screen for co-star Michelle Williams, who felt that it would help her get into character. Williams was dating Ledger in real-life at this point, so she felt watching him kiss someone else would really get her into her character's mindset.
He Asked Christian Bale To Punch Him In The Face For Real
The Dark Knight's interrogation scene is one of the most well-known in the movie, as Batman truly begins to realize the madness he's facing. The Joker isn't a foe he can just punch into submission because the more Batman beats him, the more he likes it. Heath Ledger was apparently getting into it, too. Christian Bale said that Ledger was egging him on to really punch him in the face, but Bale understandably wouldn't do it. After all, it looks just as good with a fake punch as it would with a real one. Bale commented that Ledger was so committed to the role, that he was cracking the tiles in the room because of how hard he was throwing himself around.
He Wore The Real Skip Engblom's Clothes For Lords Of Dogtown
In the film Lords of Dogtown, Heath Ledger plays Skip Engblom, the owner of a surf shop and promoter of a local skateboarding team in Venice Beach. To get into character, Engbolm's wife let Ledger wear some of her husband's clothes. Keep in mind that this movie took place in the '70s, so Ledger was wearing some authentically old and groovy clothes. Additionally, the real Skip originally wanted Ledger to play him in the movie and got his wish! And then the actor was wearing his clothes, so it was a double whammy.
It's sad to think that we'll never get another Heath Ledger performance, but the actor certainly left an impression on those he worked with in the short amount of time he was on this Earth. I doubt Christian Bale will ever forget that a man dressed as a psychotic clown asked him to punch him in the face as hard as he could. Based on comments from directors who worked with Ledger, he was a deeply observant and intelligent actor who throw himself fully into a wide range of roles. Ledger rarely repeated himself and it's safe to say that he avoided his fear of getting typecast. At least we have these memorable stories to remember a great talent.