In the blockbuster film The Dark Knight, iconic makeup artist John Caglione Jr. had the chance to work closely with Heath Ledger. He helped the actor transform into the role that made him a household name and win him a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
From an innocent-looking guy, he transformed Ledger into a “dirty” and “realistic” character, which was what Christopher Nolan wished for. And obviously, the result was creepy and haunting.
In Heath’s honor, we present you some behind-the-scenes stories about his iconic onscreen transformation.
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1. Before the rougher version of Joker was created, there were several cleaner versions of this character.
Initially, Caglione tried out a very clean version of The Joker. He did several makeup tests and sketches with Ledger, creating a look that was totally different than the final face. Slowly, the two tried to degrade the face. However, it seems that in most of the iterations, “it still looked very much like a makeup guy did it”. He then explained to The Huffington Post:
“As a makeup artist you want it to be perfect, but it had to be imperfect for the character … And to me it looked like, you know, I would never work again. It was like the worst makeup ever. It was really messed up looking and I just thought, “Oh my god, this could be really terrible for me.”
He went on and talked about the early days when they decided to have the rougher look instead. He joked, “There were days when I would look at it and I’d be like, ‘Oh, my career is over.'”
At the end of the day, the overall look ended up just perfect. Caglione was then nominated for an Academy Award.
Of course, it is worth noting that the story of Ledger designing the face of the character using some department store cosmetics is already a legend. Caglione said he was not aware about that and that the actor never really showed some pictures or designs to him.
2. The highlight of designing the face was when Christopher Nolan shared the paintings of Francis Bacon.
Over the past few years, Nolan showed interest in the paintings of Francis Bacon. In fact, in 2013, he talked in length about how Bacon’s paintings inspired the look of The Joker.
Specifically, Bacon’s triptychs, as shown above, influenced Nolan’s concept of The Joker. The director was struck by the contrast of the contorted face against the black background.
Caglione shared with The Huffington Post how Nolan used the paintings of Bacon to finalize the look of The Joker. He said, “I remember Chris bringing in a book on Francis Bacon paintings and it was some really great images, really distorted images and that was kind of our bible and we would go off that. That was an inspiration.”
3. While filming, Ledger would consistently ride his skateboard around the set and wear full makeup and costume.
Because filming took place in a hill in Chicago, Heath Ledger was often seen hopping on a skateboard and rolling down to the set. Caglione said, “He’d have his costume and makeup on and just fool around with his skateboard”.
He also explained that Ledger wasn’t actually filming a scene, “He was just himself and even in the makeup, he’d ride his skateboard to set and go around and smoke cigarettes. It would not be in character”.
“You could come up to him and hang out with him with the makeup on and the costume and he was Heath,” he continued.
Perhaps, the skateboarding was Ledger’s way to relax on set. Caglione said, “He was just so cool and not freaked out by the scope of the film”.
The makeup artist has worked with lots of award-winning actors, such as Johnny Depp and Al Pacino. But, he counted Ledger as one of the best due to his ability to relax and not let the nature of his role overwhelm him.
“Not only was he relaxed or trying to relax. But he was making other people around him relax. That’s really true with these great actors. You relax and you’re doing your best,” said Caglione.
4. By the time the filming starts or ends, Ledger would give the crew a round of bear hugs. He still goofs around and be friendly even if he is still dressed as The Joker.
In an interview with the Movie Geeks United!, the makeup artist revealed that Ledger gives bear hugs to all actors, makeup artists, and other crew members.
Caglione told The Huffington Post, “He’d come in and give us big hugs in the morning, that’s one thing that always happened”. People can easily interact with the actor even if he was dressed as The Joker. And, what’s even more amazing is that his true personality was way too different than the movie villain.
“He always was in good humor. Never lost it or anything like that. Never was mean to anyone. As The Joker, being in character,” said Caglione.
5. Ledger always carry around The Joker Diary, so that he could easily switch into the character once the cameras start rolling.
People are very curious about what’s written in Ledger’s “Joker Diary”. But, according to rumors, it was just a sort of scrapbook, where Ledger would compile all horrific drawings and news.
Caglione talked how the actor would use the diary on set. He said that the actor brought it with him a lot of times that it helped him switch into the role immediately.
Apparently, when shooting for the film ended, Ledger wrote the words “BYE BYE” in the last page.
Caglione recalled, “I’m glad I had a chance to know him”.
“He made it look easy,” said Caglione, who only had great things to say about the late actor.
Before Caglione’s interview with The Huffington Post ended, he talked about his great respect of Ledger’s ability to stay friendly, calm, and cool throughout filming, even if he had to play a villainous role. He even admitted that he was “more of a nervous wreck” than Ledger was.