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Bizarre Things That Happened On The Set Of Dark Knight

"The Dark Knight" is a movie whose legend has only grown over time. Directed by Christopher Nolan, the 2008 film remains one of the most well-regarded superhero films of all time, and Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker is still considered the best of the best. Understandably, the legend surrounding the film deepened considerably following Ledger's death just months before "The Dark Knight" was released, but, regardless of this context, the film stands on its own as one of Nolan's great masterpieces.

Though the movie is fascinating enough on its own, we can't help being pulled into all of the stories and rumors that have surrounded the film since (and even before) its release. Did his preparation to play the Joker really drive Heath Ledger to madness? How did they do all of those crazy car stunts? What's up with Christian Bale's gravelly Batman voice? While we can't answer all of your burning questions about the film, we thought we'd take a stab at pulling back the veil on one of our favorite movies. There's sure to be some strange stories to tell, right? Read on to discover the weirdest things that happened on the set of "The Dark Knight."

An expensive IMAX camera was destroyed while filming

You can tell that "The Dark Knight" was an expensive movie to make. The budget for the film was $185 million, a price tag that is no laughing matter. However, some of that money went down the drain in an expensive on-set accident.

"The Dark Knight" was one of the first major films to have scenes shot in an IMAX format, as noted by The Hollywood Reporter. This technique utilizes a special IMAX camera, leading to 28 total minutes of footage shot in the IMAX format, according to ComingSoon. This unique shooting style –- which gives these frames an extra-large aspect ratio –- sounds (and looks) cool, but things didn't exactly go to plan.

One scene in the movie where an IMAX camera was used sees the Joker and his squad trying to escape a S.W.A.T. team using a freeway underpass. Several cars and a helicopter are destroyed, and it seems like all is lost until the Batmobile roars onto the scene. It's an exciting, action-packed sequence that the camera tracks very closely. Unfortunately, all of this action led to the destruction of one of these cameras during filming. While accidents like this happen on set, this one was particularly troubling, as these IMAX cameras are insured at a whopping $500,000.

The first four days of shooting were spent watching movies

Every director has their own strategy for preparing the cast and crew for shooting. While you may have heard of directors who do a ton of rehearsing with their actors, Christopher Nolan had a different approach to coaching his cast. According to WhatCulture (via ScreenRant), instead of starting filming right away, Nolan spent the first four days of scheduled shooting screening eight movies that were touchstones for him in the writing and directing of "The Dark Knight."

Reportedly, the films Nolan screened for the actors are as follows: his own "Batman Begins," 1942's "Cat People," Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," "Black Sunday," Billy Wilder's "Stalag 17," the original "King Kong," "Citizen Kane," and Michael Mann's "Heat."

There are some clear influences from these movies that we can find in "The Dark Knight." Mann's heat is one of the all-time great heist movies, and the cat-and-mouse dynamic between Robert De Niro and Al Pacino is one of the best of its kind. MTVNews reported that the classic Kubrick film "A Clockwork Orange" was also an early inspiration for Ledger in crafting his Joker persona (via Observer). And of course, "Citizen Kane" is often considered the greatest film of all time, one who pioneered many filmmaking techniques we take for granted today, so it makes sense as a starting point for any ambitious film –- especially one that revolves around an eccentric billionaire.

Heath Ledger told Christian Bale to beat him up

We've heard a lot about actors putting their bodies on the line to get a shot. There was Tom Cruise breaking his ankle and continuing to run in "Mission: Impossible — Fallout," Martin Sheen cutting his hand with a mirror in "Apocalypse Now," and Uma Thurman getting into a car crash on the set of "Kill Bill," just to name a few. On the set of "The Dark Knight," it comes as little surprise that the actor most willing to put their body on the line was Heath Ledger, who was, by all accounts, extremely dedicated to the role.

Per The Hollywood Reporter, Christian Bale told author Joseph McCabe that Ledger was prepared to do everything he could to make one scene in the film especially realistic. The scene in question is the interrogation room scene where Batman beats the Joker up, all while the villain seems to get a perverse pleasure out of the situation. Bale remembered that their first scene together was the interrogation room scene, and he quickly got a sense of how committed Ledger was to the role.

Bale says that he was hesitant to hit Ledger for real but that Ledger kept egging him on -– much like the Joker does in the scene. "He was slamming himself around, and there were tiled walls inside of that set which were cracked and dented from him hurling himself into them. His commitment was total," Bale recalled. Despite his intense performance, Bale noted that Ledger was a friendly, lighthearted guy when the makeup came off. "When he took it off he was absolutely fantastic company to be around," Bale says.

There was a practical reason why the Joker lipped his lips so much

There are few character choices that make Heath Ledger's Joker so iconic. One of them is the incredible makeup, another is his chilling laugh, and another is the unsettling way he constantly licks his lips. While it may seem like another one of Ledger's brilliant ideas for making the character his own, it didn't start that way.

As part of his preparation for the role, Ledger worked with dialect coach Gerry Grennell to perfect the Joker's terrifying way of speaking. While Ledger's incredible performance is likely in large part due to preparations like this, Grennel says the lip-licking was actually a result of the prosthetics Ledge was wearing — at least initially.

Grennel explained the situation in an interview featured in the documentary "I Am Heath Ledger," where he stated, "The prosthetics came up onto the lip, and feathered onto the lip, so it was almost halfway into the mouth. And, of course, when you speak, the feathering of the prosthetics became loosened. The last thing Heath wanted to do was to go back and spend another 20 minutes or half an hour trying to get the lips glued back again. So he licked his lips — a lot. And then slowly that became part of the character." Considering that the Joker's hair and makeup are some of the most important aspects of the character, we're happy to hear that they contributed to Ledger's incredible performance.

There was actually a stuntman driving that flipped truck

There are loads of incredible car crashes and other action sequences in "The Dark Knight," and sometimes it can be difficult to puzzle through how exactly they were captured on film. In this case, we've dug up some answers for you.

One of the most famous of these action sequences is the scene where Batman and the Joker are chasing one another around the streets of Gotham. Batman is on his Batpod, while the Joker drives an eighteen-wheeler truck. Batman attaches two cables to the front of the truck, which causes it to dramatically flip over in the middle of the street.

A scene like that had to be CGI, right? According to stunt coordinator Paul Jennings, that's not the case. Speaking with IGN, Jennings explained how they shot that incredible sequence. As Jennings tells it, the first time they tried it was on a runway to ensure it wouldn't topple over sideways in the middle of the Chicago banking district. The second time they flipped the truck was on the streets of Chicago, and they successfully got the truck to balance on its nose in the air before flipping over. The craziest part about the story is that there was actually a person driving the truck while it happened – a stuntman named Jim Wilkey. According to Jennings, Wilkey is a tobacco-chewing legend who had no qualms about flipping over in the truck. We can't say we'd feel the same way.

Michael Caine was so afraid of the Joker he forgot his lines

It's always fun to try and work out how much an actor is "acting" and how much they're just reacting to what's around them. During one moment in the filming of "The Dark Knight," Michael Caine claims something on set rattled him so badly he forgot what he was doing.

During a press junket interview (via LiveAbout), Caine recalled that he had never met or seen Ledger in full makeup before filming, so their first interaction was quite the surprise. On the first day of rehearsal, they ran through a scene where the Joker and his goons come up the elevator to Batman and Alfred's home. Alfred thinks it's friends coming over and is surprised to find the Joker, and Caine was just as alarmed as his character.

As Caine described it, "So on the first rehearsal, I've never seen him. He has like seven dwarfs with him, like Snow White, only it's not like that. When the bloody door opened on that lift, he came tearing out. I forgot every line. Terrifying." Seeing Ledger's Joker step out of an elevator has to be a spine-chilling experience for anyone, so we don't blame Caine at all for his gobsmacked reaction.

Ledger didn't sleep much while shooting the film

A lot has been said about Ledger's role in "The Dark Knight" and whether or not his obsessive preparation for the part somehow led to his untimely death. Setting aside the speculation for a moment, Ledger himself has spoken about his commitment to the role and what he did in preparation to play the part.

Ledger told journalists that he locked himself in a hotel room for a month and kept a diary to figure out who the Joker was and what made him tick. This was an exciting part of the acting process for Ledger, even if it was emotionally and physically taxing. Speaking with The New York Times in 2007, Ledger told a reporter, "Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night. I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going."

While this intensity may seem troubling to some, his family members maintained that he loved his work and wasn't a somber guy, despite what some reports have said. Speaking with USA Today, his eldest sister maintained that "He had so much fun [playing the Joker]. It was actually the exact opposite. There was no doom and gloom. ... That was a shock to me that people even thought that, really." Other members of the cast and crew, including makeup artist John Caglione Jr., say that Ledger was a lot of fun on set when he wasn't in Joker mode, even if sleep may have been evading him.

Ledger accidentally knocked an actor out while filming a scene

One of the coolest practical effects in "The Dark Knight" is a particular scene involving a pencil. In this early scene, the Joker waltzes into a meeting of Gotham's top mob bosses. He tells the mobsters that he will perform a magic trick that will make a pencil disappear. He does this "magic trick" by taking a mobster's head and smashing it into a table where he's affixed a pencil, thus "disappearing" the pencil straight into the mobster's head.

Vulture spoke with several people involved in the shoot for their oral history of the scene, including the actor Charles Jarman, who played the mob henchman impaled on the pencil. Amazingly, there was no CGI or special effects involved at all. In reality, they just had to shoot the scene twice -– once with the pencil and once without it –- and then splice the shots together.

According to Jarman, however, things got a little scary at times. He remembers doing around 22 takes and being knocked out at least three of those times. As Jarman puts it, Ledger only entered and exited the scene as the Joker, but he was very professional on set. "He only broke character once, which was when he first hit my head, and knocked me out," Jarman said. "Heath actually asked me when I was coming to, saying, 'Are you okay? Are you okay?' I was like, 'Yeah, yeah, I'm good.' Then he slipped back into the Joker again." At least Jarman now has the distinction of being able to say he was knocked out by the Joker.

Ledger would ride his skateboard to set in full Joker makeup

For any actor who's ever played a role that involves a lot of heavy makeup or costuming, we've got to imagine it must be odd for everyone around them to watch them do anything other than act while they're dressed up. For instance, Broadway star Idina Menzel was famously taken to the ER in green makeup after falling through a trap door while performing "Wicked." In this vein, it's hard to imagine anything weirder than seeing Heath Ledger, dressed as the Joker, do anything other than play the Joker.

According to makeup artist John Caglione Jr., Ledger's antics on set were just as entertaining as you might imagine. During filming in Chicago, it just so happened that the makeup trailer was up the hill from where the actual film was being shot. Speaking with HuffPost, Caglione noted that Ledger took advantage of the elevation and would skateboard over to set after he was finished in the hair and makeup trailer. "He'd have his costume and makeup on" and "just fool around" with his skateboard, Caglione said.

Caglione maintains that Ledger was fun to be around on set and wasn't actually in character the whole time. "Even in the makeup he'd ride his skateboard to set and goof around and smoke cigarettes. It would not be in character," Calgione recalled. "You could come up to him and hang out with him with the makeup on and the costume and he was Heath."

A stuntman died after filming a car chase

While watching "The Dark Knight," you might wonder just how dangerous it was to film the movie's many action sequences. As it turns out, shooting the film was just as dangerous as it looks on screen. The Guardian reported that while filming a test run in a Nissan 4x4, a stunt technician died after the car ran into a tree. The man's name was Conway Wickliffe, and he had been leaning out the window of the vehicle filming a stunt car when the crash happened.

The scene they were testing that day was one where the Batmobile was blown up, according to information revealed during an inquest following the incident. The car -– which was being driven by another special effects technician -– was meant to make a 90-degree angle turn at the end of its run but hit a tree instead. Wickliffe was an experienced technician originally from New Zealand and a father of two. He was memorialized in the film's closing credits, which read, "In memory of our friends Heath Ledger and Conway Wickliffe."

Wickliffe's death is not the first or the last time someone has died on a film set. According to The New York Times, there have been at least 43 deaths on television and film sets in the United States since 1990.

The Batpod was incredibly hard to ride

More so than most other superhero films, Batman films tend to contain a lot of driving. This is due to the fact that Batman owns a lot of snazzy vehicles, including the Batmobile, the Batpod, and the Batplane. While the magic of movie editing makes it seem like Batman is driving these high-tech machines, that, perhaps unsurprisingly, is not the case.

Speaking with ComingSoon, "Dark Knight" star Christian Bale discussed how the driving in the film was actually done. Bale revealed that while he did practice driving the Batmobile -– which has a Lamborghini inside of it –- himself, all of the driving you see on film is done by a stunt driver named George Cottle. With the motorbike –- known as the "Batpod" –- Bale spent hours practicing, even though all he had to do on the bike was get on and get off.

This was more challenging than it might seem, however. "The Batpod, that was an embarrassing challenge. I have to admit that there's not a single moment in the movie I am in control of that thing," Bale said. "There was only one man, Jean-Pierre Goy, world class biker, who was able to control that and not fall off." Even seasoned bikers couldn't stay on the bike for long, Bale continued, because the wheels were so large and unwieldy. In any scene where you see Bale on the bike he is getting dragged by another vehicle, but it was "still an adrenaline rush," Bale said.