Sunday, January 27, 2008
Heath Ledger-A Method To The Madness
The death of Heath Ledger occurred for about the most bizarre reason, apparently, from which anyone could ever die. If you wrote his obituary in the most concise manner possible, it might well read-
Cause Of Death-Overacting
That is pretty much the truth of the matter. It would be too easy to make an ironic statement to the effect that he was a real life victim of DC Comics villain The Joker. Yet, there is some merit to this as well.
When Ledger worked on the role of the Joker for the soon-to-be-released film The Dark Knight, he threw himself into his role, as he always did. To those who are more than vaguely aware of Hollywood, acting, and movie terminology, this is a well-known theatrical device known as “method acting.”
Ledger was an acclaimed master of the art. In one recent movie, he researched his role of a drug addict by getting to know a real life heroin addict, whom he befriended and who gave him much pertinent information of a technical and real-life nature.
No, I will not make any off-color jokes about how he might have researched for his role in Brokeback Mountain. Let’s just assume he researched cowboys and leave it at that.
As for the Joker, Ledger’s version is reportedly one of the darkest, probably the overall darkest version of them all. There was none of the camp of Caesar Romero’s television Batman version, and for all of the menace of Jack Nicholson’s Batman movie role, Ledger reportedly approached this role with an extra intensity even Nicholson’s version did not attain.
In most versions of the Joker, the villain’s power and menace derives from the prospect that no one would take such a ridiculous looking or acting character seriously, until it is too late. This Heath Ledger version of the Joker, however, is far from ridiculous. This is the archetypical “evil clown” writ large.
In method acting, you are required to “become” your character. You reach deep down into the furthest depths in order to find that identity, and you make it your own. It literally becomes a huge part of who you are. In this case, the Joker was, to Heath Ledger, a psychotically deranged mass murderer, a paranoid schizophrenic maniac and criminal genius.
How far down into the depths of his subconscious did Heath Ledger reach-and what exactly did he dredge up to the surface in reaching down to those depths? Whatever it was, it had a disturbing effect on his psyche, so much to the point he barely managed to sleep two hours a night at the most, even with the aid of prescription medication-overuse of which was evidently the ultimate if at the same time merely the technical cause of his death.
We may and more than likely will never know what dark demons Ledger dredged up from his subconscious, but if anything, this should serve as a caution to anybody that engages in this style of acting. It seems that many if not most actors that engage in this technique tend to be brooding loners. Maybe there is a reason for that. Unfortunately, the brooding loner type might be the very ones who, though most naturally adept at such an intense endeavor, are at the same time the most vulnerable to its ravages.
It is, in a very real sense, a kind of magic. As we have seen here, it can be a very dark and destructive magic.