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Why Fans Think Heath Ledger Based His Joker Character On This Interview

The influences behind Heath Ledger's iconic performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight have been guessed at and puzzled over ever since the film premiered in 2008. Ledger's untimely death just months before the film's premiere only added another layer of mystery to what might have inspired such a unique and all-consuming performance. Ledger ended up posthumously winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role in 2009, and the performance remains perhaps the most admired interpretation of the character in film history.

It's known that Ledger took much of inspiration from Alex DeLarge, the swaggering, disturbingly violent main character of A Clockwork Orange. In the documentary Too Young To Die: Heath Ledger, Ledger's father shows us the notebook Ledger kept during the filming of The Dark Knight. 

There is one voice, however, that seems uncannily similar to Ledger's Joker drawl — and fans believe it's almost too similar to ignore.

Some fans believe Ledger was inspired by singer-songwriter Tom Waits

In a clip from a 1979 interview, the American singer-songwriter Tom Waits gave on television, it's hard to deny that Ledger may have been influenced by Waits. Heck, the interview was even on Australian television. Listening to the idiosyncratic voice that Waits is known for, gravely and nasal from years of cigarette smoking, along with his twitchy manner, you can easily see the similarities between the two. Waits, whose singing voice goes several octaves down and becomes nearly monstrously booming and gruff, like sandpaper held up to a megaphone, is known for his emotional songs and lyrics. One can also say he's a long-suffering poet on par with the Joker — a citizen of the musical underworld, you might say.

Waits himself has a rather extensive filmography as an actor, perhaps appearing most notably in Jim Jarmusch's Down by Law, where he plays a jailbreaking criminal in New Orleans. He's collaborated with Jarmusch frequently, also appearing in his films Mystery Train, Night on Earth, Coffee and Cigarettes, and The Dead Don't Die. You may also remember seeing his distinctive face in The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, Mystery Men, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The two actors clearly share a similar sensibility, and it's indeed possible that Ledger was inspired by the actor's repertoire, both in music and film. We may never know, but we can certainly keep replaying the clip ad infinitum.