Did Tom Waits Inspire Heath Ledger’s Joker?

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Did Tom Waits Inspire Heath Ledger’s Joker?

With the recent release of The Dark Knight Rises and the divisive take on Tom Hardy’s villainous Bane, many have turned back to Heath Ledger’s electric, Oscar winning performance as The Joker in 2008′s The Dark Knight.

At the time, co-star Christian “I”M BATMAN!!!” Bale said that Ledger’s gravelly-voiced tics-and-all portrayal of the psychopath criminal was inspired by the music world.

Namely that he took inspiration from Sex Pistols punk icon, Sid Vicious, and cross-pollinated it with the terrible sociopath protagonist, Alex from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Though the ‘Clockwork Orange starring Sid Vicious’ theory has stuck, and the topic of the sources that influenced Ledger’s inspired, swansong turn as the clown pirnce has become as legendary as his performance in the role; especially considering the actor’s untimely death in early 2008.

What’s been lost though, is at the time, the Aussie actor was slightly dismissive of the supposed take on his character.

In a 2007 interview about Ledger’s performance as (one fragment of) Bob Dylan in I’m Not There (another music connection), MTV News asked about Bale’s citation of A Clockwork Orange and Sid Vicious as two inspirations on Ledger’s performance. “A Clockwork Orange was a very early starting point for Christian and I,” said Ledger at the time. “But we kind of flew far away from that pretty quickly and into another world altogether.”

Of the Sid Vicious comparison, Ledger remarked, “there’s a bit of everything in him (The Joker). There’s nothing that consistent.”

Some new footage has circulated out of social media though, that suggests it was in fact a different musician that inspired Ledger’s performance of Batman’s arch-nemesis. The equally legendary Tom Waits.

Video of a Tom Waits interview taken from 1979 has brought some startling similarities between the two; particularly Waits’ stooped posture and his bizarrely endearing, tongue-in-cheek demeanour and mannerisms.

The most uncanny part is the American singer’s gravelly, barfly voice, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Ledger’s lip-smacking, turn of phrase as The Joker.

In another bizarre connection, once Ledger had wrapped filming on The Dark Knight, his official final role was as the hero in directory Terry Gilliam’s surreal 2009 feature, The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus - in which the Australian thesp starred alongside Tom Waits, playing the role of the Satan stand-in, Mr. Nick; by which time his timbre had lowered into a cigarette-fuelled growl.

Obviously it’s pure speculation given there’ll be no posthumous confirmation from Ledger or his estate, but it’s a striking similarity too close to ignore.

It’s not the first time that musicians have inspired infamous acting turns, Johnny Depp has talked frequently about his iconic Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise as being based on the shuffling, slurring mannerisms of Keith Richards.

Saying the inspiration of the Rolling Stones guitarist and Depp’s close friend, came from the idea that “pirates were the rockstars of the day,” and even scored Richards a role in the films as Capt. Sparrow’s onscreen father – sealing the offscreen influence.


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