Heath Ledger's First Scene With Christian Bale Set The Standard For The Dark Knight's Joker

From his comic book roots as a supervillain to his many incarnations on the big screen, the Joker is, to put it simply, the best villain in comic book history. And then there's Heath Ledger's outstanding performance in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight." Ledger's Oscar-winning Joker is beyond terrifying — he's a man who will do anything to achieve what he wants and goes to great lengths to watch the world burn. His interpretation of the supervillain is brutal and cunning, and no actor had nailed the Joker's maniacal countenance in this manner before.

Ledger's performance was very physically demanding, and the actor went to dizzying lengths to perfect the character's many peculiarities. Unfortunately, the performer tragically died of an ​accidental drug overdose months before the film was released. He could never see the fans' overwhelming love for his role, but his colleagues have continued to share his endless commitment to the film. Following the film's release in 2008, Christian Bale (who plays Bruce Wayne/Batman) recounted his memory of acting in his first scene alongside Ledger and how it set the standard for the rest of the film.

Heath Ledger kept slamming himself around

For his book "100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," author Joseph McCabe conducted interviews with Christian Bale and director Christopher Nolan at the time of the film's release. The interviews were later published (via The Hollywood Reporter) and illustrated Bale's understanding of Ledger's authentic performance, one he wasn't afraid to get hurt for.

When the actor was asked about his experience working with the late legend, Bale disclosed that the scene where Batman interrogates the Joker was the first they filmed together. In "The Dark Knight," after Joker is captured by James Gordon and brought to Gotham Police Department, he is unsuccessfully interrogated by him. When Gordon lets the Batman question Joker, the villain reveals his murderous plans, leading the caped crusader to throw a few punches at him. Bale talked to The Hollywood Reporter about how Ledger often stayed in character, and he was great company for him to be around:

"... I saw that he's a helluva actor who's completely committed to it and totally gets the tone that Chris [Nolan] is trying to create with this. We're not going for actors revealing their enjoyment of playing a wacky caricature. We're treating this as serious drama. You go into character and you stay in the character. I love that. I find that so ridiculous that I love it, and I take that very seriously. Heath was definitely embracing that. When he was in the makeup and the garb he was in character the whole time, and when he took it off he was absolutely fantastic company to be around."

'He was kinda egging me on...'

Heath Ledger was wholly dedicated to his craft — he took the role seriously and also hurt himself in the process. The performer kept persuading Christian Bale to throw a few punches at him to make the scene more authentic. Ledger was also "slamming" himself around, which caused a few tiled walls at the set to get cracked. The actor's commitment was unreal — and Bale let his fans know about it. He continued to The Hollywood Reporter:

"As you see in the movie, Batman starts beating the Joker and realizes that this is not your ordinary foe. Because the more I beat him the more he enjoys it. The more I'm giving him satisfaction. Heath was behaving in a very similar fashion. He was kinda egging me on. I was saying, "You know what, I really don't need to actually hit you. It's going to look just as good if I don't." And he's going, "Go on. Go on. Go on ... He was slamming himself around, and there were tiled walls inside of that set which were cracked and dented from him hurling himself into them. His commitment was total."

After seeing how formative Ledger's villainous performance was for those who came after him, it's wild to think that the studio wasn't big on casting him for the role. Ledger's compelling performance surprised not just fans, but the team behind "The Dark Knight," too.