Ledger frightening in final role in "Dark Knight"

Mon Jun 30, 2008 2:48pm EDT
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By Iain Blair

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - He hired actor Heath Ledger to portray a frightening villain whose chaotic life threatens audiences, and Chris Nolan, director of new Batman movie "The Dark Knight," says he got exactly what he wanted.

The film marks one of the final big-screen appearances for Oscar nominee Ledger, who died in January of an accidental drug overdose at 28, and his portrayal of the villainous Joker has wowed audiences in early screenings.

"We both saw it (the part) exactly the same way," Nolan told Reuters in an interview on Sunday. "It had to be very frightening, very much a force of anarchy, someone completely devoted to chaos and the idea of ripping down the world around him for his own amusement."

At a Saturday showing in Los Angeles for reporters, cast and crew, there was an audible gasp of shock from some audience members when Ledger's evil Joker first appears on screen during a tense bank heist in the opening sequence.

With his scraggly matted hair, chalky-white scarred face, smudged raccoon eyes and drunkenly-applied blood-red lipstick -- all the more disturbing when worn with a neat shirt, tie and vest -- Ledger seemed to have tapped into his darkest, deepest demons, only to channel them back into a malevolent anti-hero.

In the movie based on the "Batman" comics, the Joker orchestrates a series of murders, kidnappings and bombings in an attempt to bring Gotham City to its knees, and it's up to Batman (Christian Bale) to stop him.

Ledger's villain is a far cry from the campy Joker that Jack Nicholson portrayed back in 1989's movie, "Batman."

LEDGER'S LEGACY   Continued...

<p>Heath Ledger is shown in an undated publicity photo as The Joker in Warner Bros. Pictures&rsquo; and Legendary Pictures&rsquo; action drama &ldquo;The Dark Knight.&rdquo; REUTERS/Warner Bros./Handout.</p>