Heath Ledger Met With Christopher Nolan For ‘Batman Begins,’ But Not For The Joker

by Ryan Rigley

With Joseph Gordon-Levitt rumored to be playing the next incarnation of the Dark Knight, it seems like just about everyone has something to say on who should be the new Batman and why. As you all well know, Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy has raised the bar for comic book movies due in large part to the phenomenal work that actor Christian Bale put in for the dual role of both Bruce Wayne and the Caped Crusader.

But before Christian Bale was even considered for the part, Nolan met with a plethora of other talented young actors — including the late, great Heath Ledger.

In a recent Q&A at New York City’s Lincoln Center Theater, Nolan discussed approaching Ledger about the role and his initial rejection of all comic book films in general. Which is ironic considering Ledger would later go on to play the most iconic comic book movie villain of all time: The Joker.

“He was quite gracious about it, but he said, ’I would never take a part in a super hero film,” recalled Nolan on meeting with Heath Ledger for the part of Bruce Wayne and Batman. However, after the immense success of “Batman Begins” in 2005, Ledger came to realize that a Christopher Nolan super hero film is more than a cut above your average super hero film.

“I explained to him what I wanted to do with ’Batman Begins’ and I think maybe he felt I achieved it,” Nolan said on Ledger’s sudden willingness to take part in “The Dark Knight.” When approached to play the part of the Joker, not only did Ledger immediately say yes but he also signed on for the film before Jonathan Nolan was even done with the first draft of the script.

“We cast him even before the script was written,” confirmed Nolan. “So he had a very long time to obsess about it, think about what he was going to do, to really figure it out.” Apparently, Ledger tried out a lot of different pitches and tones for the Joker before settling on that trademark nasal-y voice. He also experimented with various hairstyles and meticulously picked his way through an assortment of rubber knives.

“He didn’t like to work too much,” Nolan elaborated on Ledger’s acting habits. “He liked to do a character and then stop working and let enough time go by until he was hungry for it again. And that’s what happened when he came in; he was really ready to do something like that.” Nolan fueled the flames of Ledger’s obsession with the character by providing him with research that he thought might be helpful; including Anthony Burgess’s novel “A Clockwork Orange” and a handful of artwork from famed painter Francis Bacon.

“Like a lot of artists, he would sneak up on something,” Nolan continued. “He’d sit with Christian and there would be a line or two where his voice was a little different, throw in a little bit of a laugh. And then we would film hair and makeup tests and try different looks, and in that, he’d start to move, and we’d have these rubber knives and he’d choose what weapon and explore the movement of the character. We weren’t recording sound, so he felt quite able to start talking and showing some of what he was going to do. And in that way he sort of sneaked up on the character.”

Given how amazing Ledger’s performance was as the Clown Prince of Crime, it’s hard to imagine what his Dark Knight would have looked like. However, judging by the utter dedication and commitment to his craft as detailed in Nolan’s interview, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Ledger would have made an outstanding Batman. In fact, it puts a smile on my face just thinking about it.