Make Up in Film: The Joker


When you think of make up in the film industry, it's easy to want to focus solely on the female characters, because it is so much more obvious. Make up is designed predominantly for women, however, men need to get a mention sometimes too. This week we're looking at an actor and a character who are both incredibly tragic, and it's hard to write this post without a little bit of deep thought about it. Because even though it was over four years ago now, it still seems incredibly sad to have lost someone who was such an amazingly talented actor, and it seems so creepy that this would be his final (completed) work:


When Ledger was first cast into the role of The Joker, a lot of critics didn't think that he could possibly fill the big boots of previous Jokers, such as Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson. But, if there is one thing that the Batman films taught me after Batman Begins, it was: Trust Christopher Nolan. And I did, and Heath Ledger did not fail to impress in the role that he so rightly deserved. I'm a huge believer that this was always going to be the start of big things for Ledger, it's just a shame he never saw the chance to see it for himself.

Sentiment aside, Ledger really did have a lot to live up to, because both of his main predecessors had created characters that were memorable in their own ways. I could spend a life-time comparing and contrasting the characters, but this isn't an entertainment blog, so I'll curb that back and just look at their make up and behave myself ;)

When the original Batman TV series was created, the world of television was a completely different place. And as someone who was born just under twenty years after they were made, I find it difficult to watch them with a straight face. The whole concept was simple, down to the action sequences, the outfits and of course the make up.

You probably couldn't get more simple than Cesar Romero's make up, who I can imagine probably didn't spend that long in the Make Up Department each morning putting his slap on. In fact, I think it's fairly certain that the biggest challenge for the Make Up Artists, was probably hiding his lovely moustache.

Rumour had is that Romero refused to shave his moustache, and so the Make Up Team were forced to hide it as best they could!

Ultimately, it looks like all it took to create this "look" was a slathering of white make up over the entire face, and a bright pink lipstick applied to the lips, the the area around the lips (and not necessarily tidily either) and up at the corners! Sooo, basically like a man did it then...!!! ;)

Flash forward to the late 1980's when Tim Burton made his first "Batman" film, and Jack Nicholson's Joker was very similar to Cesar Romero's, however, he was somewhat "tidier". Whilst Romero's make up looked like it had been slapped on in ten minutes flat, Nicholson's make up looked more like a neatly choreographed painting.

It certainly feels like a smarter version of the original idea, but with more attention to detail. There is of course the continued emphasis on the huge clown-type mouth, with the use of make up creating a much wider mouth type of look that is more creepy than the typical Circus Clown.


When it first came out that Heath Ledger would be playing The Joker, a lot of people wondered how Nolan would convert this pretty boy into the classic Batman villain. And knowing how important getting The Joker right really was, it was no surprise that it was this character that would take up a large chunk of the films very early teaser promos:

The above teaser really gave very little of Ledger's make up away. However, it is undeniable, focusing on the hair alone, that can be seen through the frosted glass, that Nolan had taken great inspiration from Cesar Romero's original get-up, as it became evident that the hair would remain the same, as would the overall concept of the clown face.

However, when the first snap shots of Ledger in full make up began trickling into light, it became clear that that was where the similarities really did end,  because the creature that was created was so similar and yet so completely different to both Romero and Nicholson:


The idea of creating a look where the clown face is an extension of some very sinister-looking scars is a very dark one. It gives more depth to a character who already has so many question marks around his head. Of course the scars create plenty of questions, and offer no answers, because each suggestion that the character offers completely contradicts another story he has already told.

The picture on the right, was actually the first ever image of Heath Ledger, as The Joker, that I ever saw. And to say that there is very little of Ledger visible is kinda intimidating. In fact, Tom Hardy's current role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises is a very similar feel to how I felt about Heath Ledger. I know that it is them playing the part, but to look at them, and not actually know that fact, I honestly don't think that I would have ever guessed it (indeed, in Tom Hardy's case, I actually thought that my other half was pulling my leg when he told me that Tom Hardy was Bane! I'm still not 100% certain I believe him, and I'm going to have to see him in the role to really believe it!)

Nevertheless, if that alone is not a perfect example of how incredible the make up and prosthetics used on the Batman films really is, then I don't know what is!

Just looking at the above image, of Ledger with the prosthetics alone, and no make up, it's hard to believe that it is just pretend. He really looks like he has scars, and it's strange to look at.

One of the things that I love the most about Heath Ledger's make up, is that even though you know that almost every little detail has probably been planned meticulously, in a way to create the desired look, by the Make Up Artists. It still has this sense messiness and the feel of self-application, as if The Joker got up that morning, and I can imagine him standing in front of a dirty mirror, inside a cockroach-infested bathroom manically applying this make up. His aim? Who knows. But the effect is so befitting to the psychopath that Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger created so beautifully.

For me, Heath Ledger will always be the perfect Joker, especially in the make up sense. I know that a lot of Stalwart Batman fans prefer Romero and/or Nicholson, but I'm not a fan of the originals. I think they look out-of-date and more a symbol of the time period that they were created in. That was of course fine in the sixties and eighties, and Ledger is the perfect example of how it should be done in the noughties, and personally I find this one so creepily more appealing.

Which Joker do you prefer? 
And how do you think they did with Heath Ledger's make up? Did it work? 
How might you have done it differently?

This entry was posted on Monday, 20 February 2012 and is filed under ,,,,,,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

3 Responses to “Make Up in Film: The Joker”

  1. Just wanted to say I love these posts! The research and analysis makes a great read :)

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    1. Awww, thanks B. I'm glad that you love them, because I absolutely love writing these posts, even if they do take me ages to type up :)

      At least I'm getting a little bit of use out of the Film Studies side of my Degree ;)

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    2. No problem! I love reading these so thought I'd show a bit of appreciation so you continue writing more :)

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