Tag: Heath Ledger


Oscar Worthy Characters [Part 2]: The Joker

January 29, 2021
Joaquin Phoenix & Health Ledger

The second article looking at the only two characters where different actors have won an Oscar portraying them – Vito Corleone and the Joker. My last article focused on the character of Vito Corleone from The Godfather films, this time we’ll focus on The Joker. This character has been played by a lot of great actors – the last four film performances (not including animation) of the character were played by Oscar-winning actors. For two of those actors, the role that won them the Oscar was the Joker.


Why So Serious?

Heath Ledger as The Joker // Credit: Warner Bros
Heath Ledger as The Joker // Credit: Warner Bros.

For me, The Dark Knight trilogy is the high-watermark for superhero films, with The Dark Knight being the best. Superhero films are made great not by the hero but by the villain and Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker is the prime example of this. It was a stunning and memorable performance. Every scene with the Joker is fantastic and adds depth and understanding to the character. Whether it’s the Joker’s ever-changing scar-origin story, to his attack on his police convoy in which for most of it he has no lines but still conveys what is going on with the character, to the perhaps ad-libbed confused look when the hospital fails to explode, Ledger is amazing. Moving the character away from a criminal who just wants money to the agent of chaos was genius and it allowed the character to work against both Batman and the mobs he originally worked for. Ledger’s Joker became a cultural icon with some much of the design of that character becoming part of fashion and wider culture.

Can You Introduce Me As Joker?

Joaquin Phoenix as Joker // Credit: Warner Bros
Joaquin Phoenix as Joker // Credit: Warner Bros

Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is a very different character. There is much debate about this character and whether it is even meant to be the Joker, but coming from the world of comic books having radically different origin stories is perfectly normal. Joker is an origins story but not just for the Joker but for many, many villains – indeed, it tries to show that this is how many real-world problems are created. South Park did an episode in which they argued Trump’s treatment of immigrants was simply creating “jokers”, people who were treated badly and would grow up angry and have a problem with America. Phoenix’s Joker is not a supervillain, he has no powers, no henchman, he’s not even very capable of committing a crime. He is simply a damaged man with nothing to lose. This Joker deals with lies, betrayal and abuse from those closest to him and complete strangers. The wildness of this character at the end of the film is hard to watch and riveting at the same time especially when compared to his passivity in other sections of the film. Some people warned of fans copying the violence in the film but most people just seemed to copy him dancing downstairs.

Phoenix’s performance is exceptional and the character does seem to go through a transformation and become a different person by the end of the film. I would argue Phoenix is the only actor who is genuinely the lead, in the Godfather films the focus is always on Michael and in The Dark Knight obviously it’s on Batman. Whilst there are a number of great actors in Joker it is Phoenix’s film and its success or failure is on him.

Two Characters Four Oscars

Ledger as The Joker // Credit: Warner Bros.
Ledger as The Joker // Credit: Warner Bros.

So why did these characters get more than one Oscar – what do they have in common? The first thing is that they are all great performances, truly Oscar-worthy acting. Brando was already an acting legend when he played Vito and De Niro is one of the most respected actors in Hollywood. Ledger was a great talent whose life was cut tragically short and Phoenix still seems to be very much at his peak. De Niro and Brando both won Oscars for other performances and both Ledger and Phoenix have given other Oscar-worthy performances.

De Niro and Phoenix both won for origins stories. How did Vito Corleone become such a powerful figure and where did his complicated moral system come from? Things are more complicated with Joker as I don’t think Phoenix’s character is meant to be seen as the same person as any of the Jokers we’ve seen on screen, more just the origins of how you would get to be someone like the Joker.

Both characters are criminals, albeit very different types, Vito has become the archetype old fashioned Mafia boss, whereas the Joker in these two films is more like an agent of chaos, not interested in financial gain or power.

Ultimately though the reason these characters resulted in Oscar wins is a collection of a number of great artists coming together – actors, writers, directors, cinematographers and more, that is what makes these characters great. And with the Oscars, there is a great deal of luck and many of the best performances ever were not rewarded with Oscars. For prime evidence of this Al Pacino did not an Oscar for his role as Michael Corleone, who I think gives the best performance of anyone in those films.

Also Read: Oscar Worthy Characters [Part 1]: Vito Corleone

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5 Captivating Performances From Method Actors

October 2, 2020
The Machinist

Method acting is a popular style of acting, wherein an actor becomes the role they inhabit. Some do this physically, such as walking with a limp or talking with a lisp, while others might mentally, such as what their character would prefer for breakfast. While many actors use this technique, sometimes a certain role will demand that they go the extra mile. Whether it be weight gain or loss, working under prosthetics or learning a new skill, some actors really go all out for their roles

Heath Ledger – The Joker (The Dark Knight)

Heath Ledger as Joker
Ledger received a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance. (Credit: Warner Bros.)

Heath Ledger’s defining performance gets a lot of praise, and deservedly so. Even if you’re the one person in the world who isn’t a fan, you can’t deny how dedicated he was to the role. Ledger locked himself in a hotel room for a month to get himself into the headspace, as well as keeping a diary. He even directed the hostage videos Joker makes in the film. One of the best and subtle parts of his performance is the constant licking of his scars, as the Joker can feel them on the inside of his mouth and never quite gets used to them.

Christian Bale – Trevor Reznik (The Machinist)

Christian Bale - Batman & The Machinist
It only takes 6 months to become Batman (Credit: Paramount & Warner Brothers)

This list could probably be filled with just Christian Bale roles, but this is one of his most dramatic transformations. Consuming just 200 calories a day, Bale lost over 25kg for his role as insomniac Trevor Reznik – and was willing to lose more before producers stepped in. Drinking whiskey and chainsmoking to lose weight. He consumed a single apple and tin of tuna during shooting. Perhaps most impressively, he then bulked up in a short six months to play Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins.

Ryan Gosling – Sebastian (La La Land)

Ryan Gosling - La La Land
Ryan Gosling had the option of a hand double but declined (Credit: Lionsgate)

Despite not transforming himself physically, Gosling still gives his all to his roles. His Oscar-nominated role in La La Land is no exception. Gosling learned to play the piano for the film, and all of the scenes of him playing are actually him. Practising for two hours, five days a week over the course of three months, Gosling learnt all of the pieces for the film by memory. On top of that, he also had to learn the dance choreography and the songs and his lines!

Meryl Streep – Sophie (Sophie’s Choice)

Meryl Streep - Sophie's Choice
Meryl Streep goes all out for every role (Credit: Universal Pictures)

Meryl Streep is an incredible actress, we all know that. Any role she’s ever had could probably go on this list. But for Sophie’s Choice she took it one step further. Her character in the film is Polish, and not wanting to offend anyone, Streep wanted the accent to be authentic. So rather than go the usual route and work with a dialect coach, to make her accent authentic, she learnt the language. When she found out that the script would also require some German, she performed it in the Polish accent, same for lines in English.

Marlon Brando – Ken (The Men)

Marlon Brando - The Men
Researching a role is the only time it’s ok to impersonate a veteran (Credit: MGM)

Another actor whose commitment doesn’t need to be questioned, his first film role shows his dedication. The Men is about a soldier who loses the use of his legs. So Brando (who was less recognisable at the time) checked himself into a veteran’s hospital as a paraplegic. After befriending some of the patients, he told them he was an actor, but most of them never knew. Amusingly, he even got out of the chair to prank someone in a bar with his new drinking buddies.

Also Read: Androids And The Actors That Play Them

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