Imaginative, chaotic, restless…, the one word to describe the mind of Heath Ledger is perhaps, overdrive. His thought process was constantly on the go trying to figure out what to do next and once figured out, it was constantly on the go to find out how to do it.
He longed to express himself with the aim to take his psyche apart piece by piece and recollect everything into something mind twisting.
His journey of growing into the artist he became, leading up to creating an iconic character like the Joker in The Dark Knight, you can’t help but notice, there’s a strangely intriguing and haunting similarity between Heath Ledger and the Joker he created.
Taking a closer look at his key projects, his first big break was ’10 Things I hate About You’. Following the film’s release, critics and audiences alike were won over by Ledger’s charm at work. But much to his displeasure, he started receiving lead roles similar to what he did in ’10 Things’ as he proved to be so good at it.
This is where the industry found out that Ledger’s not the traditional leading actor they thought he was, turning down all these high profile roles being thrown his way as he despised the idea of repeating himself. Even a single thought of doing what he had already done before, felt like wasting time no matter how much money was being put on the table.
Ledger wanted the thrill, the pleasure and the risk of creating something new every time he worked on a project which led to him taking on the lead role in ‘A Knight’s Tale’, the story of a peasant who poses as a Knight, competing in tournaments and winning accolades while stacking up friendships with historical figures.
A Knight’s tale catapulted Ledger into unanticipated stardom with his face on the posters and the responsibility of promoting the film going from country to country, answering queries in a manner that entices the audiences to go and have a look at the movie. This is where Ledger realized the fame he got, wasn’t really something he wanted.
As he continued to understand his own mind, he continued taking on roles that would extract some unusual performances out of him leading up to the biggest challenge of his life. He took on the role of Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain, the story of a man who develops a complex romantic relation with another man. The film became a sleeper hit, stirring up numerous controversies and landing Ledger his very first Oscar nomination.
Perhaps this is where the industry truly understood just what kind of an actor Heath Ledger really was as Rolling Stone gave the following review to his performance “Ledger doesn’t just know how Ennis moves, speaks and listens; he knows how he breathes.”
Three projects later, Ledger found out director Christopher Nolan had begun work on The Dark Knight and was looking to cast the next Joker. He immediately called his agent and got himself in the same room with Nolan where he was able to convince the mastermind to hand him over the daunting task of creating something that what exceed what Jack Nicholson had done with his own Joker 20 years ago.
Ledger’s mind immediately went into overdrive where he locked himself away in a room for six weeks straight. The isolation gave him the necessary headspace to come up with different mannerisms for the Joker with an emphasis on his breath and how the tone of his voice would sound like.
On the 18th of July, 2008, The Dark Knight was released and the world was blown away with what Ledger had created. A character never seen before in such shape and form infused with horror, terror and unpredictability every second of the way. This led to another Oscar nomination which he ultimately won and became the very first actor to win it for portraying a character in a comic book movie. Unexplainably, Ledger didn’t live through to see any of it, he didn’t live through to see the legend he had become, he didn’t live through to see the legacy he had given birth to.
On the 22nd of January, 2008, six months before The Dark Knight’s release, Heath Ledger passed away due to an accidental intoxication of prescription drugs which brings me back to using the one word that defined his mind, overdrive. Ledger was on medication because he was unable to switch his mind off. It constantly wandered off giving him a max of 2 to 3 hours of sleep slowly shoving his mind into madness. Battling sleep deprivation and dealing with the exhaustion of creating the Joker, Ledger was unable to experience peaceful sleep even with proper medication and this is where things got out of anyone’s hands.
Ledger left the world in tears creating something that will never be forgotten in the cinematic history. Nolan perhaps wrote the perfect ending monologue to honor Ledger’s memory in the sequel to The Dark Knight spoken by Commissioner Gordon “I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts and in the hearts of their descendants…, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do…, than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest that I go to…, than I have ever known.”
Heath Ledger had always been one of those actors who immensely enticed you to have a look at his project every time he went to work. When his performance in the Joker was released, that image elevated to unimaginable heights and that motivated me to produce this narrative.
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