Why Heath Ledger Can Be Replaced As The Joker

Ledger-Joker-Replaced.jpgIt 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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

  • ramond

    i think there is no need to play the joker again..in my opinion and many others this was one of the greatest performances ever..as for talking about michael jordan who as an all round basketball player has still never been matched..goys like this appear once in a lifetime just like heaths performance..arnold and body building..hes still regarded as one of the best body builders..ur comparing with another dody builder decades later..plus the steroids r even better quality nowadays..my point is talent and performance like this only appears every so often..ur in the calibre of greats..for heaths performance to be matched in this generation..in my opinion..no way man! it was electrifying..faultless..perfect..job done..bring on the riddler :)

  • steve sterling

    I believe Heath Ledger can be replaced as the Joker, but whether he is to be locked up at Arkham or in Prison or roaming the streets like the scarecrow was at the beginning of Dark Knight could actually affect how the director WANTED the Joker to act and be portrayed as. Maybe someone who hasn’t been in the spotlight since the late 90s will step up to the plate and knock it out of the park…or maybe it will be someone that people would never suspect of playing a role like that, such as Mark Wahlberg or Leonardo DiCaprio (I am not saying they would be, I am just using their current starpower status as an example). It is all about how the particular actor sees his role once the director communicates the POV, and how the actor preps. Ledger did that in a hotel room by himself for a month and was a phenomenon…maybe the next one to don the title of Joker will follow the trend and be insane and fresh and truly outstanding. The sequel’s definitely already in the works so we’ll have to wait until 2010 and see.

  • Maik V.

    how about benicio del torro?

  • charles

    Where do we begin I wish I would of found this blog earlier. To the writer of the article, kudos to you well written and I like your ideas and let me start out saying I’m pro replacing ledger. When I first heard he was casted as the joker my stomach dropped and I was pissed. Needless to say as the trailers came out I ate my words and my atticipation grew. He deserves and better win an oscar for the performance he did, but thats where the joker ends? Would he want that, most definately!!! I believe his preparing for the joker lead to his sleeping disorders which eventually led to his demise. He went nuts just look at his last interview the man didn’t have adhd, and he wasn’t coked up, he lost it alil. Whoever replaces him and it can b done just god forbig crispin glover and maybe guy pearce im not too familiar with him, they have to go by the guidlines ledger set, reinvent for themselves? No, nolan’s joker is ledger’s joker, they should do the best to cast a great actor who looks like him(come on we have makeup) and the voice is not hard to mimic I did it preparing for halloween and I’m from new york doin a mid western accent. Unfortunately the best candidate I feel is dead, the late Brandon Lee from The Crow. The riddler should go to Johnny Deep to keep women’s mouths out of it because they’ll uproar with the replacing of heath ledger stupidyly, that’ll occupy them. Nolan needs to make a decision and fast, enough with the art and yada yada, someone make a great script and nolan do your job and direct. i don’t dislike the idea of catwoman in this upcoming film i remember being angry with her not being in batman forever, but then again the hell with schumacher clooney didn’t kill batman he did with his neon light spectacle of a film. As well robin should b introdced. Finally, someone tell christain bale to talk to michael keaton(the best batman) and findout how to talk when he’s batman cuz i can’t stop laughing at these youtube spoofs. If you disagree you have the right to your own opinion but as avid a batman fan as I am, I’m not gonna argue with you because in the end you just won’t win me over.

  • Mr Greeb

    In some way I agree with you. I think that not recasting The Joker out of “respect” for Ledger is ridiculous, of reasons you’ve stated. But. I do not think they should recast the role.

    *To prepare for the role, Ledger lived alone in a hotel room for a month, formulating the character’s posture, voice, and personality, and kept a diary, in which he recorded the Joker’s thoughts and feelings.

    While he initially found it difficult, Ledger eventually generated a voice unlike that of Jack Nicholson’s character in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film.
    He was also given Batman: The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, which he “really tried to read and put it down”.
    Ledger also cited A Clockwork Orange and Sid Vicious as “a very early starting point for Christian [Bale] and I. But we kind of flew far away from that pretty quickly and into another world altogether.” “There’s a bit of everything in him. There’s nothing that consistent,” Ledger said, adding that “There are a few more surprises to him.”
    *From Wikipedia

    This is what the guy did for his role. I think it’s fair to say he recreated the character, and he went to extraordinary lengths to do so. Alone in a hotelroom, writing artificial thoughts and feelings… I imagine he almost became the character, and “knew” him. I’m having a hard time imagining any actor being able to copy that, and therefore I don’t think anyone will be able to be a better Joker IN NOLANS UNIVERSE.

    That’s an important note. I’m not saying the Joker should be buried with Ledger, what I’m saying is that I don’t think anyone could outact Ledgers Joker, which has his place in Nolans universe. For the next era of batman, sure, bring him back up. But I don’t think it would be right to give another actor a go for this role.

    I could, of course, be wrong. But this is what I think. In fact, I think there shouldn’t be another movie. I pictured the next movie as the grand arena for Batman and Joker, different from Dark Knight somehow, dunno how, though… But he’s the best villain Batman’s got, as far as I’m concerned. And I find it improbable that ANOTHER villain SUDDENLY appears. I mean, where do they hide all the time? A third villain would be, in my imagination, ridiculous(I don’t count two-face as a real villain). Ras Al Ghul lead an army that had already existed for thousands of years, and Joker, well, he suddenly found a playmate^^ But a third… Nah. Besides, I like open endings. They could easily not make another movie without me getting angry. Everyone else, however…

    Well, sorry ’bout the wall of text, folks^^ Hope someone replies:P

  • I think the Joker can always be played by someone else. This may take a while to be accepted because the Joker Heath persona is so very much associated with Batman’s Joker but it’s more the Joker that makes this villain than it is Heath Ledger or any actor for that matter. The character was cast long ago and has been embraced by every Batman fan around the world. Heath’s performance, as well as all the other actors, was brillinat in this latest film. But this won’t be the last memorable Joker. You can take that guy and make him as crazy, ugly, hideous or as clever as you want and someday someone will do just that and it will be another great Batman film. But for now we will relish this masterpiece for a few years.

  • (Type your comment here. Make sure you’ve read the commenting rules before doing so) I don’t agree with your article, I think Heath’s shoes are some pretty big one’s to fill. I think out of respect for Heath, they should just retire the role of the Joker.

  • Jonathan

    You have a very good point. When I watched The dark knight I almost instantly afterwards began to wonder who would be a good replacemnt to the joker (if there would be one). My first thought was in fact Johnny Depp, my favourite actor. Not only because of his similar thraiths and the fact that he has already partially replaced Heath Ledger in another, unfinished movie with two other actors, but he is also an excellent actor. If you want to look for the guys I think would be the best to replace him cause of their good acting I would say Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Keaton, Crispin Glover and of course Johnny Depp.
    But if focus upon an actor looks very similar to Heath I would say Joseph Gordon Lewitt and Edward Furlong. However, I can’t remember any role who would indicate that Joseph would make an acting as good as Heath or not. Edward may look similar to Heath and look good in make up (as you see in in The crow:Wicked prayer) but I fear that he might be to young and unexperienced for the role.

    And I think that the joker will probably play a role in future installments to the series. It could be a cameo at Arkham asylum or big role i a movie. Personally, I think he will play a role similar to Hannibal Lecters in Red Dragon or The silence of the lambs.
    Like try to imagen this:
    Since the Joker appeared several bad guys similar to him have appeared (ex. The penguin). Plus the police is still chasing Baman. In addition to this a new super villain appears and begins to leave his marks on the town(most likely the Riddler). Officer Gordon tries to further explore what the villain may do next and tries to get advice of the Joker. But the Joker replies that he won’t give them anything unless they are willing to give him a meeting with the Batman. A thing very hard to fix indeed. At the same time the joker could probably lure himself out of Arkham with the help of Harleyquin (if she would appear I think she should be played by Jennifer Tilly).
    Anyway that’s just my idea of it. I bet that the third movie will be worthy seeing with or without the joker.

  • x

    “…People (including his colleagues) view the Joker as Heath’s swan song and they went in to this movie already wanting him to be amazing. He did not disappoint. He took the part to another stratosphere. Even if there is someone who could play the role, none of the current generation of actors would ever step into that purple suit. That’s Heath’s suit…”

    I love the way Sophie put it. Ledger really put his heart and soul into the character. He cannot be replaced and that’s the simple truth. I’ve always loved the Joker character, moreso, perhaps, even than The Batman, and what Ledger did to it’s presentation was flawless. If it could please even the most fickle of comic book fans, it deserves to be celebrated and again, as Sophie put it, it was his swan song.

    The Guy Pearce analogy doesn’t work. See, what you fail to stay coherent to is that Ledger was on square one and he built The Joker from there all by himself to fit into Nolan’s Gotham. If Guy Pearce had done the same, Ledger would just ruin the role. No one can fit into those shoes. Can’t be done!

    You’ve already been corrected on the Jordan analogy but I’ll reiterate the other comments, just for good measure… just because Heath died, it doesn’t mean acting needs to stop as a whole. It just means that The Joker HE created needs to be his own. I’m sure you wouldn’t want someone pissing on your grave that way either.

    And… I’m sure it can be done better. But not if it’s done the exact same way. If it’s done the same way, as the same Joker in the same continuity, it’ll be lucky to even be as good as Ledger, if at all even decent. You can’t compare body-building to art.

    Finally, I’d like to ask you all a question about this topic… Let’s say, for one second… Nolan decides to cast some other actor after all. It can go one of two ways… One, he’ll suck and ruin the franchise as a whole… Two, he’ll be better or as good and poor Ledger’s accomplishments and pioneering will become a footnote in the Batman mythos. Is that what we want for a creative, industrious, and all-around decent man? For his crowned performance to be forgotten this way by vultures? I certainly disagree. After watching TDK, I grew to care for Ledger and started look into his life and older movies. He was a good man. No doubt about that whatsoever. And I also have no doubt, whatsoever, that he will not be replaced. Nolan isn’t an idiot. ‘Nuff said.

  • LightsCameraAction

    Movies are made to tell stories, and if the story calls for a joker then get one. However, I completely disagree with your analogy.

    “…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”….”

    Retiring an individual character and shutting down an entire sport are not equivalent to one another at all!!!

    Your analogy is SHEER NONSENSE, the equivalent would not be to shut down the NBA, it would be to retire the players number out of respect for that particular player. No one is asking to get rid of “acting” all together, they’re simply suggesting to retire the character out of respect, not the actual act of acting.