The Makeup And Prosthetics That Made
Heath Ledger ‘The Joker’

Heath Ledger’s role in 2008’s The Dark Knight would go down in history as not only one of the best portrayals of the villain, but too one of the best performances of recent cinematic history.

One of the most memorable factors of Ledger’s performance came in his mannerisms and method acting, of which his signature was a constant licking of his lips. However, it wasn’t a deliberate expression - Ledger’s prosthetics would repeatedly fall off during scenes, and so he continually licked the scars back down.

Connor O’Sullivan, who supervised the prosthetics, wanted the silicone scars to feel as real as possible, and so drew upon his memory of a man he had met with a Glasgow smile - a scar typically inflected as a punishment along the edges of one’s mouth.

“The last thing that Heath wanted to do was go back and spend another 20 minutes or half-hour trying to get the lips glued back again, so he licked his lips. A lot.” - Ledger’s dialect coach, Gerry Grendel.

The makeup for the film was directed by John Caglione JR., who’s vision (as described to IGN) was to make Ledger look as if he had “slept in his makeup” for two weeks.

Inspiration came from an unlikely place - Christopher Nolan sent Caglione Francis Bacon paintings as a reference point, as well as drawing from classic cinema like Eric Campbell as a Chaplain villain. It was an entirely new project for Caglione. Rather than the typical sought-after perfection in on-screen makeup, he wanted as rough a look as possible - letting his “hand go” with a brush.

To accomplish the look, he drew upon a technique used in early 1900s theatre in which wrinkles in a face were painted in. Ledger would contort his facial expressions while the makeup was being applied, creating cracks and patches in the design.

The finished product, as Caglione stated, looked like the "worst makeup in the world". It lended to Nolan's realistic vision for the character, straying so far from Tim Burton's version it was never discussed amongst the makeup team.