Reflecting on Heath Ledger’s ‘Joker’ Diary

September 4, 2015

How do actors get into character? The possibilities are endless! But we can get a glimpse into the techniques Heath Ledger used to get into character of the nefarious Joker from The Dark Knight Rises. Indeed, Ledger kept a diary entitled, “The Joker” to help him fully commit to his iconic role. Although he was known to fully immerse himself in each of his parts, according to his father, Heath took it up a notch for The Joker. Locking himself up in a hotel room and then his apartment for about a month, he used the diary to “inhabit his character.” Heath once stated that by the end of those weeks he landed “in the realm of a psychopath.”

A clip from the German documentary titled Too Young to Die reveals Heath’s father, Kim Ledger, sharing some of the charismatic actor’s Joker journal. It contains handwritten notes, scrawled-out dialogue, as well as sources of inspiration including Batman comic book clips, playing cards, photos of Alex DeLearge from Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film A Clockwork Orange, and even a hyena which may have inspired the Joker’s style of disturbing laughter.

Heath explored how his dimented character would look by playing with Francis Bacon-inspired makeup to get the right look, and adding the made-up photo of himself to his diary.  Before the final days of the shoot, Heath wrote “BYE BYE” on the last page of the diary. His father said, “It was hard to see this.” Sadly, Heath passed too soon after playing The Joker due to accidental intoxication from abusing prescription drugs at the age of 28. Of course, the late Ledger won an Oscar for his terrifying portrayal of the villainous Joker.

For those of you who’d like to watch the whole Too Young to Die documentary, it’s available through Vimeo.

Soul-Crushing Roles

September 17, 2012

Mandy Patinkin, Criminal Minds

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut

During a recent interview with New York Magazine, Mandy Patinkin came clean about his abrupt exit in 2007 from the CBS crime drama Criminal Minds after only two seasons. “The biggest public mistake I ever made was that I chose to do Criminal Minds in the first place,” Patinkin said. “I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality. After that, I didn’t think I would get to work in television again.”

Heath Ledger reportedly lived by himself in a motel room for a month to prepare for his role in Batman as the maniacal criminal mastermind, the Joker. In the dingy hovel Ledger gave birth to the deeply disturbed and psychologically unhinged monster by studying dark Batman comic books and endlessly watching Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Heath purportedly used the ultra-violent Alex as his inspiration for the Joker. He later talked about the strain of the role saying, “Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night. I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.” Ledger’s deceased body was discovered in his New York City apartment on January 22, 2008, after The Dark Knight had finished filming and was in post-production. It was later discovered that he had died from an accidental overdose of prescriptions drugs, including sleeping pills.

These two guys, along with scores of other dedicated actors, agreed to take on roles that were very demanding and unusually intense–not to mention shockingly gruesome. If you, dear actor, are excelling in your job, there may come a time when you’re asked to play a serial killer, a rapist, a pedophile, or any number of indecent reprobates. And you may abhor the characters you’re asked to breathe life and personality into. Your personal beliefs, and possibly your moral or political beliefs, may be in stark contrast with these characters. So whether you decide to take the role, be sure to go into it with open eyes and know these decisions are not to be taken lightly. And keep in mind that art is not a safe place. Never has been; never will be. Cave wall paintings depicted brutal scenes from archaic life. Ancient Greek theatre dealt with murder, incest, and genocide. The great Shakespeare himself never shied away from the darkness.

Have you ever committed to a role that started to wreak havoc on your personal life?

Are You Prepared to Succeed as an Actor?

August 10, 2012

You have the vision of working at a high level as an actor, you can just about see yourself onscreen performing the characters of your dreams, and you can almost feel what it’s like to walk down the red carpet. But if you do indeed succeed (and I’m sure you will!) what will your life really be like? Living the dream–yes, with a healthy paycheck, steady work, recognition, financial freedom, glamour, prestige … It’s all anyone can ask for, right?

I think it’s safe to say people like Marilyn Monroe, Heath Ledger, Brittany Murphy, and James Dean underestimated the price of success and fame. Even the most talented, trained, ambitious, and revered can be caught off guard by the realities of the acting job. With all the imagination the field requires of individuals, for some reason it can be so hard to imagine that one’s dream coming true can actually create tremendous personal strife on occasion.

You have to ask yourself if you’re prepared for the times you’ll need to live on location away from family and friends–with the attendant isolation and loneliness it can trigger. Are you prepared for the potential strain on your most intimate relationships? Are you ready for people to hassle you for photos and autographs on the street when you’re sick or having a bad day? Working long hours that exhume enormous amounts of your energy? Such hard work and long hours may not be as glamorous as you might think. And many stars confess to the fear that their current success may vanish with their next project. That’s undeniable pressure.

The stories of successful actors include both triumph and tragedy. When you’re dreaming of your future, consider how you might approach the unique challenges this field can throw at you. Take a realistic look at both the positives and the negatives of the acting profession, and move forward with your eyes wide open. And when you do make it big time, you’ll be better prepared to make the most of your fate, and never look back!