Heath Ledger’s Joker Was Uncannily Like This Video of Tom Waits

Slate's Culture Blog
July 30 2012 2:42 PM

Was Heath Ledger’s Joker Inspired by Tom Waits?

55731411
Tom Waits performs in New York City in 2005.

Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images

Just as The Dark Knight Rises led its second weekend at the box office last weekend, new speculation arose surrounding the inspiration for Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker in the last Batman film. Batfans have been stunned to discover this 30-year-old Australian interview with chameleonic rocker Tom Waits on The Don Lane Show. While Waits doesn’t sport any scars or lipstick, there’s no denying that his voice sounds uncannily like that of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight (skip to about 1:30 for the interview):

Even Waits’ hunched-over, lopsided posture brings to mind The Joker’s.

Advertisement

So could Ledger have been inspired by Tom Waits? Some have pointed out that Ledger and Waits both starred in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, in Ledger’s last starring role. However, Parnassus was filmed in December 2007, after The Dark Knight had finished filming, and it seems unclear whether the two men ever met. This rare video, similarly, wasn’t uploaded to YouTube until December 2008, so Ledger would have had to have seen it elsewhere, such as on a fan bootleg. (Waits is well-known for giving bizarre, almost surreal interviews—just look at the interview he did last fall with Brow Beat—but his manner in this particular TV interview seems to be one of a kind.)

Such an inspiration wouldn’t be unprecedented, however. Johnny Depp famously based his portrayal of Jack Sparrow in large part on Keith Richards, a fact acknowledged by Richards' cameo in the sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. And it wouldn’t take away any of the genius of Ledger’s characterization, either, if this were confirmed as an inspiration. After all, Ledger’s performance goes far beyond this one peculiar voice—think of his duck-footed walk, the way he licks his lips, and even the way he drops unexpectedly into a growl (“Why so serious?”), not to mention his timing and intensity and all the other aspects that make up an actor’s performance.

I’ve reached out to Waits through his publicist, and will update as soon as I get a response.

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?