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Heath Ledger to Play the Joker

I wish I could quit you, Batman.

"Brokeback Mountain" star Heath Ledger will swap his spurs and saddle for whiteface and a twisted leer to play Batman arch villain the Joker, Warner Bros. announced Monday.

The sequel to last year's "Batman Begins" will be titled "The Dark Knight," and is slated to go into production early next year, the studio said.

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In addition to Ledger, the film will reportedly see the return of Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, Michael Caine as Alfred the butler and Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon.

Internet speculation has run wild over the past year on the subject of what director Christopher Nolan will do to follow up his first "Batman," said by many critics to be the best of the Batman films.

In addition to the Joker, there could be another casting announcement on the horizon: The Batman fan site batman-on-film.com mentions Philip Seymour Hoffman may be in talks to play the Penguin.