The Dark Knight Scribe Says No One Understood Why Heath Ledger Was Cast

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Ask anybody who their favorite comic book movie villain is and there’s a pretty excellent chance that they’ll go for Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, whose sinister portrayal of Batman’s most famous foe earned the late actor a posthumous Academy Award and created a new template for villainy that cinema’s psychos have been following ever since.

But while it’s easy to see now that Ledger was about as perfect a fit for the role as they were ever going to find, the guy from Brokeback Mountain and A Knight’s Tale didn’t seem like such an obvious choice when his casting was first announced. Speaking at a recent roundtable with The Hollywood Reporter, Jonathan Nolan recalled the backlash that his brother Christopher received from fans for this decision, as well as the concerns of his colleagues and bosses at Warner Bros.

“When I wrote The Dark Knight, Chris [Nolan] had to figure out how we’d tackle the Joker. Chris had a good meeting with Heath Ledger. And no one got it — I didn’t get it, the studio didn’t get it. And the fan community was … we were fucking pilloried for it. ‘Disaster, worst casting decision ever!’ Chris just stuck to his guns. It was a question of not giving the fans what they’re asking for but what they want — which is, ‘Let’s find a really fuckin’ serious actor, somebody who’s going to come in and just tear this role to pieces.’”

This was neither the first nor last time that a Batman movie would come under preemptive fire for a casting decision, of course, with Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s Batman and Ben Affleck in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice proving to be similarly controversial choices for the role of the Caped Crusader himself. Nonetheless, Heath Ledger’s Joker remains undoubtedly the most dramatic example of fan opinion taking a total 180 once audiences actually got to see his engrossing performance.

Ten years later, the late Australian star has lost none of his power to frighten and fascinate as the unnerving heart of The Dark Knight, and when Joaquin Phoenix steps up to the role in the upcoming Joker movie, it sure won’t be the Jared Leto version that everyone will be comparing him against.

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