Prior to the untimely death of Heath Ledger, he gave audiences one of the greatest performances of all time. His portrayal of The Joker was dark, insane, tragic and absolutely brilliant. Without question the greatest aspect of The Dark Knight and why the film will be remembered was because of Ledger.
When Ledger died, questions arose regarding how far he had fallen into the character and whether it played a part in his ultimate demise. It was Ledger’s own words that started the controversy. He mentioned dreams and night visions about The Joker. He told reporters that he lacked sleep, his body was exhausted and that his mind wouldn’t stop going when portraying “a psychopathic, mass murdering schizophrenic clown.” He advised that he only “slept an average of two hours a night” which on its own is enough to drive anyone crazy.
Jack Nicholson who famously portrayed the same character in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) helped stir the pot by making cryptic statements about how controlling a force the character was. He went as far to say he had “warned” Ledger about the role but never elaborated what the warning was or why it was given.
Sadly, it is well known that drugs were involved in the actor’s death. Like so many other talented celebrities, he died so young and so unnecessarily….but the question remains, was there something else? Was the character so insane that the psyche of The Joker overwhelmed Ledger? Did the character take on a life of its own in the mind of this great actor? Was he just too good for his own good?
Horror fans will recall that some years ago, there was a film entitled Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. It followed the character of Freddy Krueger who found a way to escape his films and go on a murderous rampage. Within the production, the actor Robert Englund slowly disappeared as Freddy became stronger.
Though what is believed to have happened to Ledger isn’t often thought to be as literal as Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was, there is a fear that arises when an actor engulfs their entire soul into a character. Something is bound to be lost and at times it can even be the actor themselves.