Heath Ledger is synonymous with the Joker. His portrayal of the iconic comic book villain earned him a posthumous Oscar. But did you know that Ledger was originally approached to star as Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins?
Speaking at the Lincoln Film Centre in New York, Nolan said in 2012, “He was quite gracious about it, but he said, ‘I would never take a part in a super hero film’.” The role eventually went to Christian Bale, and having observed Nolan’s take on comic book films, Ledger reconsidered and signed on to play Joker in The Dark Knight. “I explained to him what I wanted to do with Batman Begins and I think maybe he felt I achieved it,” Nolan said.
“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.” The director confirmed that Ledger didn’t remain in character on set. “He didn’t like to work too much,” Nolan elaborated. “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 continued, “Like a lot of artists, he would sneak up on something. 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.”
Interestingly, actor Joaquin Phoenix, who also won an Oscar for playing the Joker, was considered for the role of Batman as well. Director Darren Aronofsky was tasked with rebooting the Batman films before Nolan signed on. Aronofsky told Empire in a recent interview, “The studio wanted Freddie Prinze Jr and I wanted Joaquin Phoenix. I remember thinking, ‘Uh oh, we’re making two different films here.’ That’s a true story. It was a different time. The Batman I wrote was definitely a way different type of take than they ended up making.”
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