When Heath Ledger was first cast to play the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight, few anticipated the indelible mark the late actor would make on the history of comic book cinema. In fact, it wasn’t until co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal had an up-close encounter with the Clown Prince of Crime on the set of Christopher Nolan’s film that she really got a sense of the sinister screen presence she was dealing with.
In an interview on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, the actress known for playing Rachel Dawes was asked about her favorite memory of working with Ledger, prompting the star to recall the first time she saw the actor’s manic, Academy Award-winning performance.
“I remember coming to work and seeing him – that scene where the Joker throws me off a roof – and seeing him come in and start to do what he was doing, which was the first time I saw it. I still think about this sometimes — it’s so hard to be good in a huge movie like that, that’s not about the acting, really. It’s so much easier to be good in a little tiny movie where it’s all about you.”
Gyllenhaal herself is currently earning plaudits for her turn in new Netflix drama The Kindergarten Teacher, but as she goes on to stress, standing out in a high-budget franchise film can be a very different ball game from more actor-driven indie fare.
“To be amazing like Heath was in a movie that’s got explosions and huge stunt scenes and big sets is a whole other thing. I don’t know if anyone’s ever, ever done that as well as he did in The Dark Knight.”
As easy as it is to see in retrospect that Ledger was the right choice for the role, the initial announcement was met with heavy backlash and criticism, both from within the fanbase and within the studio. Once The Dark Knight made its way to cinemas, however, the doubters changed their tune pretty quickly, and this celebrated take on the Caped Crusader’s most famous adversary has influenced screen psychos ever since.
Echoes of Ledger’s version can even be seen in the upcoming Joker movie. The Todd Phillips-helmed film is scheduled to hit theaters on October 4th, 2019, and when it does, Joaquin Phoenix will have quite the legacy to live up to.
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