"The Dark Knight" reunites several members of the ensemble cast from "Batman Begins," leading with Christian Bale in the title role. Bale says he welcomed the opportunity to once again inhabit the solitary figure, who has had to relinquish much of his personal identity for the greater good. He offers, "Bruce is certainly sacrificing, both mentally and physically, as a consequence of this character of Batman whom he has unleashed and now is unable to rein in anymore. More than a persona, he has created a symbol, and that symbol can't have limits. He can't show weakness ever. So you have the conflict between what is good for Bruce Wayne and what is the right thing for Batman to do, because the two of them are not always compatible."
"Working with Christian is a joy and just a lot of fun. He is a very engaging presence to have on the set," says Nolan. "He also has an intensity about him; he is incredibly focused on tapping into the psychological reality of whatever character he's playing. He applies the same disciplined approach to finding the truth of that character and sticks to it. That is a great help to me as a filmmaker because I know he is prepared and has a handle on how his character is going to move through the story. In fact, he has a lot of the same qualities that Bruce Wayne brings to bear in changing himself from an ordinary man into this extraordinary crime-fighting figure."
"Christian brought everything to his performance that you could want for the character--the stature, the emotional resonance, the complexity," Roven states. "It was amazing to be on the set watching him. He took his role to another level in this film."
Nolan adds that although Bale portrays the same character in "The Dark Knight" that he did in "Batman Begins," the two films presented the actor with very different challenges. "On 'Batman Begins,' it was a lot of physical effort--he had to get himself in terrific shape and learn all kinds of skills in terms of the way Batman fights, the way he moves. On this film, I would say it required more of an internal process because Bruce is realizing the personal toll of living this double life and is questioning the choices he's made. Christian conveys that emotional struggle very convincingly, often without saying a word."
Nevertheless, the role of Batman has an inherent physicality, so Bale immersed himself in a refresher course on the Keysi Fighting Method (KFM) that Batman employs against his enemies. A relatively young martial arts discipline, KFM is an intuitive fighting method with a strong emphasis on mental focus, but Bale also had to be in peak physical condition. He trained with Keysi fight coordinators Andy Norman and Justo Dieguez for two to three hours every day. "In KFM, you learn to develop every part of your body as a weapon, and it's not easy," Norman relates. "We worked Christian extremely hard, and it was fantastic how quickly he absorbed everything. There was a definite progression in his training since the first film. He understands KFM a lot better, so he was more powerful and his movement was incredible."
"It's a fascinating fighting method," says Bale, "because it uses the adrenaline that everyone feels entering into a threatening or violent situation. It really comes from the gut. Rather than the kind of Zen calm that some martial arts call on, KFM is based on animal instinct and honing those instincts to be lethal, so it's perfect for Batman."
But The Dark Knight is about to confront a singular criminal called The Joker, who has little regard for Keysi or any other fighting method. In a fair fight, "Batman would obliterate him," Bale asserts, "but The Joker doesn't fight fair. He has other tricks up his sleeve, so it's more of a mind game. But he finds in Batman a very worthy opponent, and I think he enjoys that."
Heath Ledger plays the role of The Joker, the malevolent clown who is arguably the most recognizable of Batman's arch-nemeses. In casting the part, Nolan says that the defining quality he was looking for "was fearlessness. I needed a phenomenal actor, but he also had to be someone unafraid of taking on such an iconic role. Heath created something entirely original. It's stunning, it's captivating…it's going to blow people away."
The director recalls that he first met with Ledger about the role even before there was a script. "We talked about how we saw this character and we both had exactly the same concept--that The Joker was about the threat of anarchy and revels in creating chaos and fear on a grand scale. Heath seemed to instinctively understand how to make this character different from anything that had ever been done before."
Roven elaborates, "The Joker is one of the great villains in comic book lore--psychopathic, enigmatic, clever, diabolical, charming, funny and completely enjoyable to watch. We knew it would take an extraordinary actor to play him and Heath delivered on every front. From every physical nuance to each vocal turn of phrase, it's just an unforgettable performance."
In "The Dark Knight," The Joker arrives on the scene without warning and climbs ruthlessly to the top of Gotham City's criminal food chain. "We never wanted to do an origin story for The Joker in this film, but we wanted to show the rise of The Joker," Nolan maintains. "In a sense, The Joker is the logical response to Batman, who has instigated this kind of extremity of behavior in Gotham."
Bale adds, "The Joker wants to break Batman, to prove that everybody has a price and even Batman can be leveraged in such a way that he would compromise his principles. I actually think he's delighted to find that Batman won't do that, and it creates for The Joker an even better opponent in this game he's playing. He's a fascinating character, and Heath did an extraordinary job with it. I don't think the movie would have worked as well if we hadn't had an actor of the caliber of Heath Ledger, who was able to really up the ante, much as The Joker does in Gotham."
"We wanted The Joker to represent pure, unadulterated evil, in the sense that he has no logical motivation for his actions. That is what we wanted to unleash on the city of Gotham. He is an absolute," Nolan sums up simply.
Yet, Emma Thomas is quick to note, "He is very funny. I know it sounds somewhat bizarre, because how could someone so deplorable be funny? Heath's take on the role was not campy but still hilarious, both physically and in a dry, sardonic way. With The Joker, I think you'll find yourself being horrified and terrified, but hugely amused at the same time."
On the other side of the law, another figure has risen to prominence in Gotham City: Harvey Dent, the newly elected District Attorney, who is on a mission to break organized crime's stranglehold on his beleaguered city. Harvey Dent is played by Aaron Eckhart, who offers, "Harvey has charged himself with tackling organized crime and cleaning up the streets. He is the shining new hope of Gotham City, the 'White Knight,' as he is called. He starts out full of optimism and enthusiasm…where he ends up is somewhere completely different," he hints. "It's a great role and I'm a big fan of Chris Nolan's, so when he approached me about doing the film, it was a no-brainer."
Nolan says that while Eckhart looks every inch the part of the handsome and charismatic DA, his reasons for casting the actor ran deeper. "We were looking for somebody who could embody that All-American charm because you have to invest in him as a very attractive, heroic figure at the beginning of the movie. But he also had to have an edge; he had to suggest this undercurrent of anger and darkness that Harvey Dent needed to have, so where he goes in the story is believable. You can't present a character like this as simply a heroic figure with no flaws, no dark side. Aaron captured all of those qualities very, very well."
As the new Gotham City DA, Harvey Dent not only has to contend with a rise in crime, but also with a masked vigilante known as Batman. "It's an interesting dynamic," Eckhart remarks, "because Harvey sees Batman fighting crime in a way that he would like to but cannot. Harvey has to stay within the boundaries of the law. He has to do overtly what Batman is doing covertly. He admires Batman's intentions, even if he can't publicly support his methods. But what he thinks of Bruce Wayne is quite different. He sees Bruce as nothing more than a playboy about town without any real credibility."
"Harvey thinks Bruce is a complete upper-class twit," Nolan affirms. "It would astonish him to find out he is really the man behind the mask."
Dent's opinion of his public persona notwithstanding, Bruce Wayne appreciates the new DA's efforts on behalf of the city. Nolan comments, "It seemed most logical to us that Bruce initially saw Batman as a short-term crusade, as a symbol to inspire the good people of Gotham to take their city back. In Harvey Dent, he finally sees the response he was looking for. Harvey is the hero that Gotham needs--the hero with a face, not one wearing a mask."
But, Thomas says, "There is a certain amount of personal opportunism going on there, as well, because if Harvey Dent can succeed, then maybe Bruce can stop being Batman. Maybe there is a world in which he can return to a normal life. There's a big part of him that does wish he could hang up his cape. Whether Bruce would actually enjoy hanging up Batman's cape at this point, I don't know. I don't think even he knows. But there is definitely a part of him that feels he has started something that has spun out of control, and Harvey Dent may be his only hope for being able to end it."
For Bruce Wayne, a chance for a normal life also means a chance for a future with the love of his life, Rachel Dawes, who now works for Dent as an assistant district attorney. In that regard, the DA is not a hope but a hindrance, because Rachel is involved with him not only professionally but romantically, as well. "When it comes to Rachel, there is a contradiction in Bruce's feelings about Dent. While he does respect Dent, another part of Bruce just wants to knock him out," Bale says only half-jokingly. "So Bruce's ideological side and his very human side are again at loggerheads with each other."
Cast in the role of Rachel, Maggie Gyllenhaal notes, "Rachel made the heartbreaking decision that it is impossible for her to be with Bruce as long as he is Batman. Then Harvey Dent came into her life, and she is crazy about him. I think the thing she really admires about Harvey, as opposed to Batman--or, rather, what Bruce Wayne is doing as Batman--is that Harvey is not a vigilante. He is not putting himself above the law for what he believes is ultimately best for the people of Gotham City. Instead, Harvey believes in the system, even if it's broken, and he is going to work within the system to change things that are corrupt. I think that's why Rachel loves him and thinks he is a hero in his own way. At the same time, she still genuinely loves Bruce and she obviously knows he is still in love with her, so it's a real predicament.
"But for me, I mean it's Christian Bale and Aaron Eckhart and they are both pretty spectacular, so as an actress, it was easy to live with that predicament," Gyllenhaal laughs. "My wanting to be a part of this film had almost everything to do with Chris Nolan and the rest of the cast. From the beginning, Chris was so engaging and so interested in my ideas about the role. He was clear that he wanted Rachel to be smart and capable and not the damsel in distress, although she is in distress sometimes. We were really good for each other because that's very much what I wanted, and we pushed each other in different ways to make Rachel who she is."
"Maggie is just a fantastic actress," states Nolan. "I've always loved her work and had wanted an opportunity to work with her, and the role of Rachel in this film seemed like the perfect match. Maggie has great intelligence and maturity and she is also very warm and, of course, lovely. You really believe her in this role. I think she beautifully conveyed the conflict in Rachel standing between these two men in her life, and you can see why both men would naturally be drawn to her. Rachel has so much history with Bruce and he will always be in her heart, but she also loves Harvey and can see a future with him."
However, that all changes in an instant when a shocking incident transforms the once redoubtable Harvey Dent into the horribly deformed Two-Face, who is now bent on one thing: revenge. "Something terrible happens that alters everything in his life and rage takes over," says Eckhart. "He takes strength from his grief and his pain and sets out to kill the bad guys…or those he now perceives as the bad guys. He still wants justice, but now he pursues it outside of the law he once lived by. I don't think of him purely as a villain in the way The Joker is. But at the point that Harvey becomes Two-Face, his outlook is so twisted that he starts to see The Joker as a kindred spirit…and The Joker knows he has Harvey where he wants him. It's a great scene, and Heath did such a wonderful job. As an actor, it was exciting to work with him. Heath's performance made this Joker an indelible screen character. He was everything you could want in an arch-villain as infamous as The Joker, and yet he was completely original."
Nolan says, "The Joker is terrifying because there appears no rhyme or reason for what he does. He's just a force of nature tearing through. With Two-Face, you see his transformation and you understand where his anger and his grief come from. Aaron did an extraordinary job of portraying the tragic arc of Harvey Dent and Two-Face; he takes you on that emotional ride with him."
Apart from the obvious example of Harvey Dent/Two-Face, the director observes, "There are a number of dualities in this film, and there are also several mirrored relationships. The relationship between Batman and The Joker is an interesting one, as is the relationship between Harvey Dent/Two-Face and Lieutenant Gordon."
Reprising his role from "Batman Begins," Gary Oldman plays Lieutenant Jim Gordon, the head of the Gotham City Police Major Crime Unit (MCU). "Gary is such a remarkable actor," Roven says. "Gordon could have been a comparatively straightforward role, especially surrounded by the more eccentric and even bizarre characters, but Gary brought so many colors to his performance."
Nolan comments, "In the first film, Gordon was a very reserved character. It required an actor who could play an important role, but in a very subtle and restrained way. I was thrilled to be able to bring Gary back as Gordon, but in a story that challenges the character more and lets Gary show more of what he's so great at."
In "The Dark Knight," Lieutenant Gordon is facing mounting pressure from all sides in the wake of the recent escalation of crime, but as a career cop, he knows his first, best option is to follow his gut instincts, which tell him to trust Batman. He understands that Batman now poses some danger to Gotham, but he believes Batman may ultimately be its salvation, especially with the arrival of The Joker. "The police have never encountered anything like The Joker," says Oldman. "He's not interested in money or even power, in the usual sense of the word. The Joker is all about chaos; he does what he does for the fun of it. How do you police someone like that?"
Thomas adds that in addition to being tested because of Batman's efforts and the effect they are having on his city, "Gordon doesn't entirely trust Harvey Dent yet because there has never been a politician in Gotham City who wasn't corrupt in some way. He knows something must be done and decides Batman is his best bet because he knows Batman's intentions and has faith that things will get better in the long run."
Bruce Wayne has two other trusted allies in his life: his loyal butler, Alfred Pennyworth, who, since Bruce's parents were murdered, has essentially been the only father Bruce has ever known; and the brilliant Lucius Fox, who is now the CEO of Wayne Enterprises, in addition to being the architect of Batman's high-tech arsenal. Oscar-winning actors Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman return as Alfred and Lucius, respectively, having played the same roles in "Batman Begins."
As Bruce Wayne's closest confidants, Alfred and Lucius know Batman's true identity, but with that knowledge comes responsibility. Each in his own way also serves as a mentor, an advocate, and sometimes as Bruce's conscience. "The bond between them is very clear, but you see the different sides of their relationships," Nolan says. "Lucius Fox is fully aware of what Bruce is doing as Batman and approves to a large extent. But over the course of the film, we test the limits of what Lucius finds acceptable in terms of what Bruce does as Batman."
Freeman notes, "I see Lucius as practical-minded in doing what has to be done in order to facilitate this man's mission. Batman has set himself up as a champion of justice, and once he's established that idea and the world is counting on him, he has to step up to the plate and deliver. But Lucius questions if there are limits to what he will do to help Bruce meet that challenge."
On the other hand, Nolan says, "Alfred is a firm believer in what Bruce is doing and encourages him to take it even further if necessary, because Alfred believes it's the right thing to do. Of course, Alfred is also concerned for the human side of Bruce because Alfred raised him from a boy, but he tries not to let his own fears for Bruce's personal safety get in the way of telling him to carry on with his quest."
Bruce Wayne tells Alfred that, as a symbol, Batman can't have limits, but "to Alfred, Bruce is a real person and does, in fact, have limits," says Caine. "Bruce is like his child, and you always see your children as kids, even when they are all grown up. So, of course, Alfred worries about what he is doing. I think of Alfred as Bruce's guardian angel, not only physically, but psychologically and morally. There are real issues there, and Alfred often has a go at him about it. Alfred's relationship with Bruce is the most human and also, I think, the most humorous," Caine smiles.
The director says that Alfred's humor comes naturally. "Michael is a very funny guy; I've never worked with an actor who could time comedy quite so effortlessly. He knows exactly what to do with a line to get the biggest laugh.
"Working with great veterans like Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, I benefit massively from their experience," Nolan continues. "They have a calm presence on the set that everybody responds to, and they just inspire everyone around them to be on their best game. It was a privilege to work with them in the first film and an honor to have them back for 'The Dark Knight.'"
The film's main cast also includes Eric Roberts as Maroni, one of the heads of Gotham City's crime cartel; Chin Han as Lau, an Asian business mogul, who makes Gotham's crime syndicate an offer they can't refuse; Nestor Carbonell as the Mayor of Gotham City; and Anthony Michael Hall as a television news reporter. Cillian Murphy also makes a return cameo appearance as Scarecrow.
Overall, Nolan states, "The cast is a terrific ensemble of some of the most extraordinarily talented actors working in movies, which made it very exciting for everyone involved. It generated a great atmosphere on the set, and it was magical to watch actors with very different approaches come together and work so hard towards the same goals."
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