I was on a shuttle bus at Sundance when my wife text messaged me the news about Heath Ledger. By the time I made it off the bus, everyone was buzzing -- his death had hit the fest like a virus. It didn't take much time, and only a few hours later I started seeing stories from people wondering whether Ledger's death had anything to do with the amount of work he put into the role of Joker in this summer's The Dark Knight. When the New York Times interviewed him last month, Ledger admitted to locking himself in a hotel room for a month to get into character, then downing sleeping pills afterward to catch up on some much-needed rest. Though we're not entirely sure yet, it was most likely a combination of sleeping pills and other medication that did him in.
Warner Bros. has already toned down their aggressive Dark Knight marketing plan, turning the movie's official website into a make-shift shrine dedicated to the actor. So if it was this role that ultimately sent Ledger off in an unhealthy direction, why did he take it on in the first place. ComicMix currently has up an exclusive audio interview with Ledger, conducted last month, in which the actor explains why, exactly, he decided to take on the part. According to the actor, he had no interest in re-creating what Nicholson had so expertly displayed earlier, and that if Burton was directing this film he probably wouldn't have done it. But when Christopher Nolan asked Ledger to play Joker, he watched Batman Begins, saw a different angle he could take and jumped right in. You can check out the interview over here.
Personally, I think it's a cop out to blame a role in a movie for a person's death. Obviously actors and actresses take on all kinds of roles in any given year -- some of which are a lot more demanding than the Joker -- and they come away just fine. What it boils down to is the kind of person you are; how much pressure you put on yourself and what you do to alleviate that pressure. Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family this weekend as they say goodbye to a man so many people loved dearly.