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Christopher Nolan's Heath Ledger Tribute

Christopher Nolan's Heath Ledger Tribute

Heath Ledger finished filming this summer’s Batman sequel, The Dark Knight, in which he plays a villain, the Joker. Christopher Nolan, the film’s director, recalls Heath‘s charisma and shared these beautiful memories in the latest issue of Newsweek:

“One night, as I’m standing on LaSalle Street in Chicago, trying to line up a shot for The Dark Knight, a production assistant skateboards into my line of sight. Silently, I curse the moment that Heath first skated onto our set in full character makeup. I’d fretted about the reaction of Batman fans to a skateboarding Joker, but the actual result was a proliferation of skateboards among the younger crew members. If you’d asked those kids why they had chosen to bring their boards to work, they would have answered honestly that they didn’t know. That’s real charisma—as invisible and natural as gravity. That’s what Heath had.

Heath was bursting with creativity. It was in his every gesture. He once told me that he liked to wait between jobs until he was creatively hungry. Until he needed it again. He brought that attitude to our set every day. There aren’t many actors who can make you feel ashamed of how often you complain about doing the best job in the world. Heath was one of them.

One time he and another actor were shooting a complex scene. We had two days to shoot it, and at the end of the first day, they’d really found something and Heath was worried that he might not have it if we stopped. He wanted to carry on and finish. It’s tough to ask the crew to work late when we all know there’s plenty of time to finish the next day. But everyone seemed to understand that Heath had something special and that we had to capture it before it disappeared. Months later, I learned that as Heath left the set that night, he quietly thanked each crew member for working late. Quietly. Not trying to make a point, just grateful for the chance to create that they’d given him.

Those nights on the streets of Chicago were filled with stunts. These can be boring times for an actor, but Heath was fascinated, eagerly accepting our invitation to ride in the camera car as we chased vehicles through movie traffic—not just for the thrill ride, but to be a part of it. Of everything. He’d brought his laptop along in the car, and we had a high-speed screening of two of his works-in-progress: short films he’d made that were exciting and haunting. Their exuberance made me feel jaded and leaden. I’ve never felt as old as I did watching Heath explore his talents. That night I made him an offer—knowing he wouldn’t take me up on it—that he should feel free to come by the set when he had a night off so he could see what we were up to.

When you get into the edit suite after shooting a movie, you feel a responsibility to an actor who has trusted you, and Heath gave us everything. As we started my cut, I would wonder about each take we chose, each trim we made. I would visualize the screening where we’d have to show him the finished film—sitting three or four rows behind him, watching the movements of his head for clues to what he was thinking about what we’d done with all that he’d given us. Now that screening will never be real. I see him every day in my edit suite. I study his face, his voice. And I miss him terribly.

Back on LaSalle Street, I turn to my assistant director and I tell him to clear the skateboarding kid out of my line of sight when I realize—it’s Heath, woolly hat pulled low over his eyes, here on his night off to take me up on my offer. I can’t help but smile.”

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Photos: Vince Bucci/Sean Gallup/Getty
Posted to: Christopher Nolan, Heath Ledger

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66 Responses to “Christopher Nolan's Heath Ledger Tribute”

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  1. 1
    so so sad Says:

    nice article.

  2. 2
    Waverly Says:


  3. 3
    Mia Says:

    Why did this have to happen to Heath… I never fully appreciated how talented he actually was…

  4. 4
    Violette Says:

    That’s a lovely piece, really really sad, but lovely.

  5. 5
    Steph Says:

    Waverly @ 01/28/2008 at 2:54 pm
    I sure hope nobody says that about you when you pass…

    This is a great compliment to a wonderful actor and from what I’ve read from his family and friends… a magical human being. RIP Heath!

  6. 6
    Brianna Says:

    Very moving, a very nice tribute.

  7. 7
    ashley Says:

    Waverly– STFU!

    C.Nolan is a class act and Heath was a beautiful, lovely person. Why did he have to die, why? :’(

    Love you, Heath bb.

  8. 8
    Susan Says:

    That was really nice.

  9. 9
    Lucí Says:

    great article! heath touched so many people, including me.
    he really had something special, and his smile was perfect

  10. 10
    sophia Says:

    this is powerful, a beautiful insight to an actor who really loved what he did. As it would seem, he wasn’t an actor who wanted to be treated like some…(special) He wanted to be treated just like everyone else. I admire that. It is no wonder he is getting tribute after tribute by his fellow actors, because of his being humble and the abilty to really appreciate the geniune love for acting. He will be missed for sure.

  11. 11
    anon. Says:

    That was beautiful. It was touching to see that instead of people talking about rumors of his death, someone was actually thinking about all the great things he’s done when he was alive, rejoicing in the time he was here, remembering the things that made him Heath, and mourning in his death. He seemed to be amazingly dedicated. That was what he loved, and he showed it so much. It was an inspirational article. Do what you love and do it in the best way you can, because you never know if you’ll get to do it again.

  12. 12
    Soph Says:

    What a touching and beautiful tribute. We will miss you Heath. Rest in peace.

  13. 13
    TIFFANY Says:

    What a gorgeous tribute for an immensely talented actor. Heath was certainly someone unique who immersed himself in his work and his family, and I’m glad that people know that. Whether they are just discovering it for themselves, or if they always knew, Heath touched everyone with each and every magnificent perfomance. He will be truly missed. Thank you for giving us what beauty and charisma you did, while you were here, Heath.

  14. 14
    TheTabloidsChic Says:

    This is nice, but let the man RIP already!

  15. 15
    Beluu Says:


  16. 16
    Annika Says:

    That was beautiful, a great tribute to Heath and it shows you how he was as a person. He’ll be missed so much.

    R.I.P. Heath

  17. 17
    ssara Says:

    Thank you for sharing that article, it brought tears to my eyes…
    Amazing how you can be touched by someone you never met…

  18. 18
    [~F a m o u s~] Says:

    i wonder how long it’ll take before someone makes a movie about heath. smh

  19. 19
    shannon Says:

    that was so sad but moving at the same time

  20. 20
    juC Says:

    he sounded like a really nice cool guy

  21. 21
    Lillianne Says:

    That’s what I like to read. Thanks JJ.

    I wish I could tell Christopher Nolan that as long as he remembers Heath his spirit will be with him.

  22. 22
    marie Says:

    i wish i saw when they were filming in chicago : (

  23. 23
    Anon Says:

    I’m glad I appreciated him when he was alive. I have been his fan since the beginning. And yet, even now, I still am learning new, amazing things about him. I will never get over this. He was so beautiful.

  24. 24
    Alwayslearning Says:

    I am glad that Matilda will have stories like this about her father to look at when she grows up

  25. 25
    lol Says:

    That’s so lovely. I’m welling up. :(

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