They're in his corner now, but Batfans were initially slow to embrace Heath Ledger in the role of the Caped Crusader's nemesis, The Joker.
When asked why he cast Ledger as the malevolent, psychotic clown prince of crime, director Christopher Nolan said “because he’s fearless.” But while they trusted Nolan, the director of “Batman Begins,” fans were not convinced that Ledger, who had just played a gay cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain," was the right man for the job.
“Heath Ledger’s casting did seem a little odd at first; he usually took more art-film roles as opposed to being a part of big commercial blockbusters,” said Daniel Hubschman, 23, a fan from Douglaston, N.Y., who relied on Web sites like imdb.com for updates on the film.
"He also never played a villain before. But then again, what isn’t an odd choice when Jack Nicholson is the predecessor of the role? That was going to draw comparisons no matter what.”
Hubschman wasn't impressed with other buzzed-about contenders for the part, either.
“Web sites like imdb.com had listed in the trivia section for the movie that actors like Paul Bettany and Adrien Brody had expressed interested in the role, neither of which seemed like an inspired choice right off the bat," he said. (Nolan recently proclaimed that Ledger was the only person on his list of names after seeing the actor’s performance in “Brokeback Mountain.”)
But upon seeing the very first picture of Ledger in makeup (which first appeared on the now blank site Ibelieveinharveydenttoo.com) — as well as hearing his demonic cackle in the teaser trailer — fans gradually got on board. Each new viral marketing campaign, photo and video of the film that surfaced further persuaded fans that Ledger just might be the right choice. His Joker just kept getting darker and darker, even downright scary.
Tim Sparrow, a 26-year old fan from Wakefield, Mass., was one of the many fans who were intrigued by the first photo of Ledger as the Joker.
“I have always respected Ledger’s work in his previous films and that first picture made me realize he looked sadistic enough to fit into the world the director has created,” he said.
But it took more than production stills from the film to sway Hubschman.
“When the first pictures of Heath as the Joker surfaced, I personally was still not convinced, although looking at the comments on Web sites like imdb.com and comingsoon.net, it looked like many fans were," said Hubschman. "That first picture made Ledger look like as if he was starring in a horror movie, not a Bat-flick. He looked like Sweet-Tooth from the Twisted Metal video games."
It wasn't until the first trailer shown in theaters that Hubschman started to warm up to the casting choice.
"His voice was blistering, his look was frightening, and his cackle was perfect. That first trailer proved to me that he had a different take to give and that it was fine-tuned to perfection," he said.
The trailer is also what convinced Ben Weisberg, 26, an assistant fund manager for XLI Holdings in New York.
“After seeing the first full-length trailer, I think it's safe to say that it was looking like Christopher Nolan made the right choice [in casting Ledger]. Bringing a different style to such a popular character can keep things fresh," he said.
After the first trailer was released, the multitudes of Bat-fanatics got on board and were soon constantly checking Web sites like superherohype.com as well the film’s marketing Web sites like www.whysoserious.com for updates.
“I read news from the set on ainitcoolnews.com and everyone involved would talk about not only what a great performer [Ledger] was, but how hard he worked. He really captured the essence of Batman’s arch-nemesis in a way no one had done before,” said Sean McNally, 28, of Fresh Meadows, N.Y.
Following Ledger's death in January from an accidental overdose at age 28, rumors circulated that the role of the Joker had taken its toll. Not sleeping, and keeping a diary of all the sadistic things his character would think were hysterical, Ledger overdosed on a cocktail of painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication.
But Ledger's untimely death shot “The Dark Knight” straight into the “event of the decade” stratosphere. Even without seeing the film (which opens on Friday), fans like Shannon Kleehaas, a junior at Queens College in New York, are already rooting for Ledger to win a posthumous Academy Award.
“I hope he gets the Oscar. From the trailers alone, it looks as if he did a fantastic job. All the hype about his performance has built up my excitement to see the movie, and I’m impatiently counting the days," she said.