Nearly a decade later, Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning role as the Joker in The Dark Knight remains one of , if not the most memorable and acclaimed performance in a superhero movie. The late actor infamously went to great lengths to play the iconic Batman villain, at one point locking himself alone in a hotel room for a month in order to become better acquainted with the character. The Dark Knight’s interrogation scene in particular truly shows off Ledger’s prowess, so it’s really not all that surprising to learn that the actor pushed both himself and his co-star Christian Bale in order to make the scene feel more authentic.
In the new book 100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die [via The Hollywood Reporter], author Joseph McCabe includes interviews he conducted with Bale and The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan in 2008 around the time of the film’s release. McCabe also spoke with Ledger in November 2007, when the actor was promoting I’m Not There. Ledger passed away at age 28 on Jan. 22, 2008.
In the excerpt below, Bale talks about filming the interrogation scene and how Ledger pressed him to get physical:
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. 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 you see in the movie, Batman starts beating the Joker and realizes that this is not your ordinary foe. Because the more I beat him the more he enjoys it. The more I’m giving him satisfaction. Heath was behaving in a very similar fashion. He was kinda egging me on. I was saying, “You know what, I really don’t need to actually hit you. It’s going to look just as good if I don’t.” And he’s going, “Go on. Go on. Go on…” He was slamming himself around, and there were tiled walls inside of that set which were cracked and dented from him hurling himself into them. His commitment was total.
And here’s Ledger on what drew him to the role of the Joker:
You’ve gone on record as saying you weren’t a huge fan of comic books. What attracted you to The Dark Knight?
Heath Ledger: Yeah. The only reason I wasn’t [was] I grew up in a household of girls. So there were very few Batman comic books lying around. There [was] mainly Archie. So that’s probably the only reason why I never grew up reading Batman.
But I really loved Batman Begins; and the character of the Joker was just too good to turn down. 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. So when Chris [Nolan] came to me, and…I knew how Chris was. He had already set up the world for me. 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.