It was, in this writer’s opinion, the single greatest performance given by an actor in the history of the comic book genre of film. It was also the performance of a lifetime which only adds to the tragedy of his early demise. Heath Ledger’s performance playing “The Joker” will long be remembered and long be talked about. A performance so strong, that it makes us forget he’s not with us anymore. A performance so strong that its presentation overshadowed the shock of his passing. A performance that will be his legacy, and one that will probably earn him an Oscar nomination 6 months or so from now.
But as “The Dark Knight” finishes its life at the box office and the excitement of the DVD release comes and goes, we will once again be reminded of the fact that Ledger is not with us any longer. When our thoughts turn once again to the NEXT Batman movie we’ll be revisited yet again by the sad truth that Ledger will not return to play the Clown Prince of Crime.
The question will be raised by some: “Who should be next to play The Joker”? It’s an inevitable and also fair question to ask.
But as much as the asking of the question is certain… one of the responses is just as certain. There will be a great number of people who will answer that question (and indeed are already saying as much) that no one should play the Joker again, because (in their opinion) no one will ever be able to do as well as Ledger did.
That response is understandable due to the brilliance Ledger brought to the role, but it’s also a response I 100% disagree with.
Before I go into the reasons why I reject the idea that “no one will ever be able to play The Joker as well as Ledger did”, let me briefly address another issue I’m hearing some people bring up. Some people are suggesting that having another person play The Joker at this point would somehow be an “insult” or a “slap in the face” to Heath Ledger. That notion to me is utterly absurd.
First of all, do you think Heath Ledger put all his heart and sole into that character, sank so much energy and effort into the role to elevate it and raise the bar… just so the character would be retired if he couldn’t play the part anymore??? That’s sheer nonsense in my opinion. That’s the equivalent of saying “The best way to honor the magnificent career of Michael Jordan and to thank him for what he did for the game of basketball is to shut down the NBA after he retired”. Or “Lance Armstrong was so good at being an inspiration to people in his recovery against cancer, that no one else should ever try to overcome the disease and inspire others”. If WB doesn’t want to use The Joker again because he doesn’t fit into their future story plans, that’s totally fine. But to not use The Joker (who Ledger worked so hard to elevate and raise the bar for) because of some misguided notion that it would somehow be disrespectful to Ledger’s memory is one I reject outright.
Secondly, just because an actor does a wonderful job portraying a character, does not suddenly mean the character BELONGS to that actor. Ledger did his job magnificently… but his job was only one part of brining The Joker to “The Dark Knight”. The director who guided Ledger owns The Joker just as much as Ledger does. The Nolan brothers who wrote all the things that The Joker said and did owns The Joker just as much as Ledger does.
So would getting another actor to portray The Joker in the future be an “insult” to Heath Ledger? No, not even remotely. On the contrary, it could be the greatest honor you could give him.
But now let’s address the main issue here. The notion that no one could ever do as well as Ledger did playing The Joker. As amazing as Ledger was… i reject this idea. So due to the following reasons, here is why I believe Heath Ledger can be replaced as The Joker:
#1 – HEATH LEDGER WAS A GOOD BUT NOT GREAT ACTOR
During his career, Heath Ledger turned in some truly exceptional performances. Brokeback Mountain (which despite how good Ledger was in it, I believe was an overrated movie) and The Dark Knight showed us how good Ledger could be when he was really on his game. But unfortunately, for every one Brokeback performance, there were 2 Casanova’s and The Order’s. For everyone one “The Dark Knight”, there seemed to be two The Four Feather’s and A Knight’s Tales. Ledger was hit and miss. That fact doesn’t detract from his accomplishment as The Joker one little bit… but there are many better actors out there than Ledger, and to suggest none of them have the potential to turn in an even better performance than Ledger did is pretty myopic and short sighted. It’s not to say that anyone WOULD be better… but that there are actors out there who carry the potential to do even better if they were really on their game like Ledger was on his. I’m not saying it’s PROBABLE… I’m saying it’s POSSIBLE.
#2 – WHAT IF GUY PEARCE GOT THE ROLE INSTEAD OF LEDGER?
Let’s play “what if” for a moment. Let’s say that Christopher Nolan ended up choosing Guy Pearce to play The Joker instead of Heath Ledger. Ok, now let’s assume that Pierce did an amazing job (when does Pearce ever do anything less?) playing The Joker, let’s say just 0.0005% less well than Ledger ended up doing. Ok… now follow me here. We’d all be praising Pierce for the great job he did right? Now can you imagine how much you would be laughing at me if I came out of nowhere and said “I bet Heath Ledger would be an even better Joker than Pearce just was”. I would have been laughed out of town. “Pierce’s Joker was perfect” people would be sure to tell me. “No one will ever be able to do it as well as he has”. Yet little do they know that Ledger would have been better… even if only by 0.0005%. It would therefore be naive of us to not acknowledge that out there are some people that would be 0.0005% better a Joker than even Ledger was… and probably names that we would laugh at in our ignorance, just as we would have laughed at Ledger’s name 2 years ago.
#3 – IT CAN ALWAYS BE DONE BETTER
There was a time when it was said no one would EVER be as dominant or equal the accomplishments of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the world of professional bodybuilding. The man won the Mr. Olympia 7 times. You’re an idiot if you think anyone will ever do it better! Yeah well… that sounded safe enough to say until the day Ron Coleman won his 8th Mr. Olympia in a row. Whenever anyone says something has been done as well as it will ever be done… someone comes along and does it better. That’s the nature of things. Remember at the beginning of this post I mentioned that it is my opinion that Ledger’s performance as The Joker is the best performance in the history of the genre? That’s true… but it won’t be forever, or maybe even for long. Someone else will come along, probably someone we don’t really expect, and will beat it… and that’s a great thing to think about if you’re a fan of the genre.
#4 – ONLY CRISPIN GLOVER CAN BE THE JOKER. ONLY LACHY HULME CAN BE THE JOKER…
I remember back before Ledger was cast for the role, the online message boards were filled with casting ideas for The Joker… and usually the word “ONLY” preceded their name. ONLY Mark Hamill can be The Joker. The only person to play Joker is Guy Pearce. No one else other than Crispin Glover can really make the role work. The only person they should consider is Jack Nicholson again! Yeah, everyone had their idea about who the “ONLY” person alive was who could adequately play The Joker. Turns out they were all wrong, because Heath Ledger came in and rocked the hell out of that role. But now people, refusing to learn their lesson, are once again using the word “ONLY”, but this time it’s with Ledger. The lesson here is that there is NEVER “only” one person for a role.
At this point we have no idea if The Joker was even in the plans for the next Batman movie before Ledger died, so all this discussion could be for nothing. My only point here is to say, as great as Ledger was as The Joker (I believe great enough to warrant Oscar consideration), to believe that no one can possibly do it as well or better is completely naive in my opinion. And being aware of that fact is in no way a “slam” on the breathtaking performance he gave us, but rather just a recognition of how life and reality works.
Should they have The Joker in the next Batman flick? That’s a totally different question. Maybe the character doesn’t fit in with the story arch plans they have. But if they do have a story in mind that involves The Joker character, then it is possible that another actor could do the role just as well or even better than Ledger did, and to do so would be honoring and a tribute to the level that Ledger brought that character to in his final, and most brilliant performance.