When Heath Ledger yelled “Hit me” as the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight, he really meant it, as revealed by newly-printed interviews in 100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Joseph McCabe. The book released last Sunday, and excerpts from McCabe’s interviews with Christian Bale, Chris Nolan, and Ledger were reprinted in the Hollywood Reporter.
In a prior interview, Christian Bale said of Ledger’s performance, “He’s so much more interesting than me and what I’m doing.” In the new interview, Bale speaks of Ledger’s total commitment to making the memorable interrogation scene look realistic:
“Our first scene was in an interrogation room together, and I saw that he’s a helluva actor who’s completely committed to it and totally gets the tone that Chris [Nolan] is trying to create with this. […] As you see in the movie, Batman starts beating the Joker and realizes that this is not your ordinary foe. Because 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….’ He was slamming himself around, and there were tiled walls inside of that set which were cracked and dented from him hurling himself into them. His commitment was total.”
Here’s the scene, for reference:
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about Ledger throwing himself (sometimes literally) into the part. He spent about a month in a hotel room practicing the voice and making a diary which included clippings from the comic, pictures from A Clockwork Orange, joker playing cards, and more.
Director Chris Nolan also referenced one of those cultural touchstones when McCabe asked him about what informed Ledger’s performance. Nolan says some of the influences they discussed included Alex from A Clockwork Orange (who is both anarchic yet charismatic), Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, and… ventriloquist dummies? “The way they would talk and the way they would move and all kinds of peculiar ideas that I wasn’t really able to get a handle on until I saw him start to perform the scenes, and start to show how the character moved and how the character gestured and how the character spoke, with this extraordinarily unpredictable voice,” Nolan explained. “The range of the voice, from its highest pitch to its lowest pitch, is very extreme, and where it shifts is unpredictable and sudden.”
We assumed Tom Waits was an influence, but ventriloquist dummies also make sense and could probably be the subject of a great Tom Waits song, come to think of it.