In 2008, on this day box office records were smashed in the United States and Canada with the opening of "The Dark Knight".
Headlines screamed "The Dark Knight: Nicholson's performance is hypnotic", "Midnight stampede to 'The Dark Knight' sets box office record" and "Nicholson's compelling Joker thrills, Ledger's absence saddens fans as 'The Dark Knight' opens" with nothing but rave reviews published from Toronto to Los Angeles.
Nicholson's compelling Joker thrills, Ledger's absence saddens fans as 'The Dark Knight' opens
The caped crusader is taken down a darker path as perhaps best exemplified by one character who prophetically says,"you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain". Two actors were also taken down very different paths.
Heath Ledger had been chosen to portray the Joker, whom the actor described as a "psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy" .
Director Christopher Nolan had wanted to work with Ledger on a number of projects in the past, but had been unable to do so. When Ledger saw Batman Begins, he realized a way to make the character work in that film's tone, and Nolan agreed with his anarchic interpretation. To prepare for the role, Ledger lived alone in a hotel room for a month, formulating the character's posture, voice and psychology. It's difficult to judge how good Ledger's performance would have been because it is impossible to watch him without being influenced by the tabloid fanfare surrounding his mental breakdown (did playing The Joker lead him to his mental collapse? asked the Toronto Metro).
The director of The Dark Knight Christopher Nolan made an unexpected offer - would seventy-year old actor Jack Nicholson reprise his 1989 potrayal of the role of The Joker following Heath Ledger's withdrawal on mental health grounds?
Frighteningly close to a complete mental collapse, Ledger had quit the set shortly after filming started. Ledger stated that his role preparation had taken a toll on his ability to sleep: "Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night. ... I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going". At that time, he told Lyall that he had taken two Ambien pills, after taking just one had not sufficed, and those left him in "a stupor, only to wake up an hour later, his mind still racing".
"It was tremendously emotional, right when he quit" Nolan recalled. "But the truth is, his potrayal was just too Marlon Brando. With Jack Nicholson I feel very lucky to have something productive to do, to have a performance that he was very, very proud of, and that he had entrusted to me to finish".