Heath Ledger Would’ve Turned Down His Infamous Joker Role if Tim Burton Directed ‘The Dark Knight’
It’s no secret that Heath Ledger was a phenomenally talented actor. But his role as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s film, The Dark Knight, is among his most well-known. Ledger played Batman’s disturbed nemesis to perfection, truly honing in on the unhinged nature of the character. In fact, Ledger’s legendary performance in the part earned him a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor back in 2009.
But what made Ledger such a memorable Joker? One can argue that first and foremost it was his commitment to the role. It would’ve been easy for the actor to treat the role as a comedic parody, but he managed to play the character with nuance that allowed the audience to view him as a wounded, if not deeply disturbed, human. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Christian Bale, who played Bruce Wayne/Batman, got candid about what it was like to work closely with Ledger in The Dark Knight.
Chrisitan Bale once shared what it was like to work with Heath Ledger in ‘The Dark Knight’
“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,” Bale shared about witnessing Ledger step into the Joker’s shoes. “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 brilliant as Nolan was as the Joker, fans could’ve easily missed their chance to see Ledger in the role. Prior to his death, Ledger shared that if Tim Burton decided to remake his classic 1989 film, Batman, the actor would’ve turned down the opportunity to take on the part because he respected Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker so much.
Why the actor wouldn’t have been the Joker if Tim Burton was directing
“I really loved Batman Begins, and the character of the Joker was just too good to turn down,” Ledger once shared. “I’ve said this before, but…if Tim Burton was doing The Dark Knight and asked me to play the Joker I wouldn’t have taken it. Because to try and even touch what Jack Nicholson did in Tim Burton’s world would be a crime.”
Fortunately, Ledger was intrigued enough by what Nolan had done in Batman Begins to be interested in taking on the role of the Joker. “So when Chris came to me, and…I knew how Chris was. He had already set up the world for me,” the actor stated. “I’d seen what world it was that I would be playing in. So I knew it was open for a fresh interpretation. I also instantly kind of had something up my sleeve, which happened to be exactly what Chris was kind of looking for. We sat down and kind of shared ideas, and they were the same. So we just went with it.”
Nobody can deny just how committed Ledger was to the role of the Joker. Clearly, both he and Nicholson showed phenomenal talent in their renditions of the iconic role.