Monday, July 14, 2008

Nolan: Ledger was not on Joker radar

BEVERLY HILLS -- Christopher Nolan admits that Heath Ledger wasn’t even on his short list of actors to play the iconic Joker in the latest Batman incarnation, “The Dark Knight.”
“I’m not sure it would have occurred to me,” Nolan told me during a recent interview at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. “It was a very unusual match up really. I think probably I would have assumed that he wouldn’t be interested (in the role).”
Now, because the young actor came forward and campaigned for the part originally made famous in the movies by Jack Nicholson (and in the ‘60s TV series by Cesar Romero, of all people), producer/director/co-writer Nolan’s sequel to “Batman Begins” stands ready to become perhaps the year’s biggest film.
“I had met Heath before a couple of times,” Nolan explained. “When he heard we were doing The Joker -- even before we actually had a script together -- he came to meet with me and told me that he was interested in doing it. I knew he was an extraordinary actor from his other work. I knew from sitting there talking to him that he figured out how he could do this.
“We talked about things in general terms. We talked about what The Joker would need to be in the selling of the story. We talked about ideas of the type of evil that he represented in the world. We talked about the character of Alex in ‘Clockwork Orange,’ for example. He was terrifying to the audience and yet somehow oddly charismatic through there.
“We just sort of felt the same way. When somebody that talented wants to take on something so daunting, and is confident that they can do it, I had never felt so sure of anything.”
Ledger never stopped working, either, even after he won Nolan’s support. “He was absolutely instrumental in figuring out how to make the iconography of the character balance with the human side of the character. Heath had extraordinary ideas on how to do those things. He spent a lot of time figuring out very meticulously how that character would move, speak, and so forth. He drew very much from the script, in terms of the illustration of that character’s energy affecting the other characters, and how that cuts through the form.
“I always pictured that his character was cutting through the film the way the shark did in ‘Jaws,’” Nolan continued. “It cuts through the narrative. It’s not a question of he didn’t need to make a character, he would go anywhere, or develop it in any way. It’s about the rise of The Joker and we wanted him to be absolutely right for it from the beginning. Heath was.”
After Ledger’s tragic death in January, Nolan said he never considered changing the tone of the film or diminishing the sure Oscar nominee’s contribution. “The thing that has really been important to me is that I felt a great responsibility to finish the performance, that is, to put the performance together in a way in which Heath intended it to be seen.
“The thing that is a relief to me, and is very good, is that people seem to be responding to it. I think it’s very much in the way that he intended it to be seen. That’s really the key for me,” Nolan concluded.

(For more on “The Dark Knight,” read my review and see what three of Ledger’s co-stars say about his performance in the Sun News. On Friday, look for Gary Oldman's thoughts about it all on my MovieZen post.)

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