It would be pretty cold to talk about the 2008 death of 28-year-old Heath Ledger only in the context of how it screwed up Batman movies. So before we go any further here, let’s establish that Ledger’s passing was extremely sad principally ‘cos he was a dude with a daughter and friends and family. Furthermore, we’ve all gotta pull together as a society to erase the stigma surrounding addiction, ‘cos if pills did in a creative genius/millionaire like Ledger, then we’re all just one or two bad decisions away from the same type of peril.
But the screwing up of Batman movies was, nonetheless, a comparatively trivial, side-consequence of Ledger’s death. It’s well known that after Ledger’s untouchable performance in The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan intended The Joker to return in what became The Dark Knight Rises. So whatever the director’s original plans were for his third Batman movie, they had to be severely rejiggered.
And in an indirect way, Ledger’s death added an aura of danger and mystique to the real world job of pretending to be The Joker that movie actors will embarrass themselves trying to emulate with tacky stunts forevermore.
The notion that Ledger took method acting too far and the role itself killed him has been long since established as fanciful bullshit, but Jared Leto’s behavior on the Suicide Squad set tells us at least one person still believes it.
In fairness to Leto, that myth isn’t based on nothing. Ledger absolutely put extra, extra effort into ensuring he’d do the Clown Prince of Crime justice. Plucking an excerpt from 100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, THR lets us know that when Batman corners The Joker in the Gotham City Police station’s interrogation room, Christian Bale lands his punches, as per Ledger’s request.
“As you see in the movie, Batman starts beating the Joker and realizes that this is not your ordinary foe,” Bale tells author Joseph McCabe. “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….’”
Earlier in the same interview, Bale recalls that Batman and The Joker got along swimmingly between takes. So apparently it’s possible to do a terrific job method acting as Gotham City’s greatest menace without being a pain in everyone’s dick.
“When he was in the makeup and the garb he was in character the whole time,” he says. “And when he took it off he was absolutely fantastic company to be around.”