Holy crap, Batman

22Jan08

Actor Heath Ledger Is Found Dead

Holy crap indeed.

Okay, on a shock level, this ranks up there with Steve Irwin’s very ironic death. Perhaps it even trumps Death-by-Sting-Ray. Not only am I saddened because today, January 22nd, 2008, we’ve lost a respectable actor, but because of the upcoming Batman movie, The Dark Knight.

Now, to all you Batman/comic book/Heath Ledger (aka That Other Brokeback Mountain Guy)/Christian Bale fans, while there is no official word on how Ledger’s death will affect the movie, the film is apparently in post-production, meaning that there’s a good chance it’ll emerge unscathed. However, this is not so for Ledger’s most recent reported role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

That other Brokeback Mountain guy.

Not even a week ago it occurred to me that the next Batman movie was probably more than well on its way. So I looked it up on IMDB and watched the trailer. I didn’t even know it was Ledger playing the Joker until I looked at the cast listing. At first I didn’t like the idea, but then it grew on me. He might actually do a good job. After reading up on some of the movie’s news, it sounded like Ledger’s commitment to the reinvention of the role would make it more than worthwhile to see.

And then, today, when I found out he’d suddenly died, it was more than creepy. I had just talked about this guy with incredulity and then appreciation and anticipation. I was looking forward to seeing the movie—and the consequential response to his portrayal. That is, knowing he’d be alive to receive the feedback.

I also started thinking: If it was suicide (not the official cause of death, but come on, there were pills “strewn all over”), maybe his dedication to the role of the Joker pushed him off the edge:

He is here in London filming the latest episode of the “Batman” franchise, “The Dark Knight.” (Mr. Bale, as it happens, plays Batman; Mr. Ledger plays the Joker.) It is a physically and mentally draining role — his Joker is a “psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy” he said cheerfully — and, as often happens when he throws himself into a part, he is not sleeping much.

“Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night,” he said. “I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.” One night he took an Ambien, which failed to work. He took a second one and fell into a stupor, only to wake up an hour later, his mind still racing.

Even as he spoke, Mr. Ledger was hard-pressed to keep still. He got up and poured more coffee. He stepped outside into the courtyard and smoked a cigarette. He shook his hair out from under its hood, put a rubber band around it, took out the rubber band, put on a hat, took off the hat, put the hood back up. He went outside and had another cigarette. Polite and charming, he nonetheless gave off the sense that the last thing he wanted to do was delve deep into himself for public consumption. “It can be a little distressing to have to overintellectualize yourself,” is how he put it, a little apologetically.

Conducting a tour of the house, which he is renting for a few months, he made wry remarks about the art. One painting depicts a crowd of creatures who appear to be in hell, but who seem determined to extract as much sexual pleasure as they can from their eternity of free time; Mr. Ledger has turned another one around and hung it upside down, to no apparent ill advantage.

An open bag with clothes spilling out lay on the floor of the master bedroom. “I’m kind of addicted to moving,” Mr. Ledger said, perhaps on account of having had to shuttle back and forth after his parents’ divorce, when he was 11. He carries his interests around with him, and his kitchen table was awash in objects: a chess set, assorted books, various empty glasses, items of clothing. Here too was his Joker diary, which he began compiling four months before filming began. It is filled with images and thoughts helpful to the Joker back story, like a list of things the Joker would find funny. (AIDS is one of them.) Mr. Ledger seemed almost embarrassed that the book had been spotted, as if he had been caught trying to get extra credit in school.

“He’s very disciplined and takes it very seriously,” said Marc Forster, who directed Mr. Ledger in “Monster’s Ball,” in which he played a troubled prison guard. Mr. Ledger came to the part at the last minute, but caught on quickly. “Heath at the time was something like 22, and I thought: ‘He’s incredible. He’s so smart and so intuitive and so observant, and he really understood the part and the character.’”

Either way, I’m not laughing.

Because he just died, that’s why.

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One Response to “Holy crap, Batman”

  1. 1 Misha

    That article does put a bitter ironic spin on things. He always did strike me as something of a method actor. Such a tragedy that a movie should in some small way contribute to the death of a man. It will be a bizarre experience watching it this summer.

    Thank you for the thoughtful tribute.


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