On July 27, 2021, a new TikTok video was posted that claimed actor Heath Ledger “completely improvised” the hospital explosion scene in the role of the Joker for the 2008 Batman film, “The Dark Knight.”
30 Million Views
The video was viewed more than 30 million times in less than one month. It was published by @learnwithsteve:
This was false. Ledger did not “completely improvise” during the hospital scene, nor was there a “little mishap on the set” that caused the timing of explosions to malfunction. While it’s true that Ledger likely brought a bit of his own flair to the scene, it was not “completely improvised” after a problem occurred. Screen Rant previously debunked this claim in January 2020, as did Showbiz Cheat Sheet in June 2021.
Another video with millions of views also made false claims about Ledger purportedly improvising during the scene. In the YouTube description, the user wrote: “The explosion really failed but they didn’t afford to stop shooting so Heath just did what he does best.” This was not true.
‘A Practical Scenario’
In reality, director Christopher Nolan said that the film’s crew took great care to ensure that every moment of the hospital explosion scene was “rehearsed endlessly.” This was the opposite of the idea that Ledger, then a major movie star, improvised during the dangerous scene.
Nolan, who also co-wrote the script and served as the film’s producer, said that special effects supervisor Chris Corbould added “a little beat where the first set of explosions stops”:
Chris [Corbould] and his guys, working very closely with the demolition team, they were able to come up with a scenario in which Heath [Ledger] could actually be walking out of the building. Because what Chris worked out is if we put in a little beat where the first set of explosions stops, as if something has gone wrong, and the Joker just takes a second to look around, surprised, like the audience is surprised, then the major demolition comes in, and he jumps straight in the school bus.
In that way, he was able to come up with a practical scenario in which we could actually take a principal actor, walk him out of a building that’s about to be destroyed, and literally drop a building to the ground.
In other words, the pause between explosions was planned.
Nolan noted that the cast and crew carefully rehearsed the scene around 12 times, as they only had one shot at getting it right:
We rehearsed endlessly with Heath that morning. We walked him out, going through exactly what he was going to do. Chris Corbould calling the explosions where they would take place. We rehearsed it, I think, about 12 times, I think, we literally walked him out, videotaped the rehearsal, and looked at it from different camera angles.
Heath was such a perfectionist to be so precise in what he was doing, which was essential because this was obviously a one-take thing, and the angle I knew that we really needed, despite all of the other cameras we set, we really needed that close shot on him walking out to work perfectly.
He did it very, very precisely. I don’t know how he resisted looking back, you know, all of the explosions and lightweight material that the special effects guys were blowing behind him. I think he winded up with bits in his hair at the end of it, so close he was to everything that was going off.
Nolan also mentioned that multiple camera angles didn’t make it into the final cut, all because he felt it was important to “show the fact that we had done it for real and that Heath had done it for real.”
The Final Cut
When the scene came together for the movie, only two exterior shots of the hospital explosion made it in the film, at the 0:06 and 0:55 marks in this clip:
Ledger died in 2008 before “The Dark Knight” was released. In 2009, he won a posthumous Oscar for his acting, which members of his family accepted for him.
In sum, it’s false that Ledger improvised the hospital explosion scene in “The Dark Knight.” In reality, it was perhaps one of the most carefully planned and rehearsed scenes in the entire film.