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Was Heath Ledger’s Joker inspired by this strange Tom Waits interview?

Will Perkins
Wide Screen
July 31, 2012

If "The Dark Knight Rises" did anything for audiences, it likely reminded them how much they missed Heath Ledger's Joker. Bane (Tom Hardy) was a wonderful big screen villain, but Hardy's performance was doomed to be compared to Ledger's twisted turn as the clown prince of crime in "The Dark Knight."

The late Australian actor's performance will arguably go down as one of the greatest movie baddies of all time, and won him a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Given that Ledger passed away six months before the release of "The Dark Knight," much has been made of his performance in the movie. Where did he get all that wonderful inspiration? All actors draw on things for their roles, but fans never really got to hear him talk much about how he developed the character, or how he got so into the role.

In an interview with the New York Times, the actor described the Joker as a "psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy," adding that the role was extremely draining.

Ledger also mentioned Alex DeLarge from "A Clockwork Orange" and punk rocker Sid Vicious as inspirations for the character, but beyond a few interviews, he didn't really speak about the character that much. "There's a bit of everything in him. There's nothing that consistent," Ledger told MTV a few months before his death.

In the years since the release of "The Dark Knight," many have pointed to gravelly-voiced singer/songwriter Tom Waits' general demeanour as a possible influence for Ledger's Joker. Rock stars have influenced performances before -- just look at Johnny Depp's Keith Richards-esque turn as Captain Jack Sparrow in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise. For evidence of Waits' possible influence on Ledger, you need only watch a chain-smoking 1979 interview from Australian TV. Remind you of anyone sinister?

Between Waits' squeaky/gravelly voice and his twitchy bearing, constant squinting, and lip-smacking, it's hard not to see some similarities to the Joker. It's a little uncanny. Coincidentally, Ledger and Waits both starred in Terry Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" in 2008, but it's unknown if they ever worked together on the film.

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