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Aaron Eckhart says working opposite Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight made him step up his game. "You have to," explained Eckhart. "I mean, I'm not sure either one of us really knew what we were going to do that day in the hospital. Heath really drives that scene so he knew probably better than me. I was going to go off of him and he started going and I just held on. Then my creative juices started going.
Heath was accommodating to me and I to him, so we worked really well together, and I thought came up with something good. You know, Heath is that actor that makes you proud to be an actor. Like, after that scene, I was proud to be an actor. I said, 'This is why I love to act.'"
Writer/Director Christopher Nolan allowed the actors a lot of freedom to explore their characters, and Eckhart and his The Dark Knight co-stars felt free to stray from the script at times. "I felt that if Gary [Oldman] had a good idea or if I had a good idea or Maggie [Gyllenhaal] did, that Chris was there and was listening, and would incorporate that idea. He was not steadfast. I mean, obviously he has to have the movie planned out because it's such a big movie, but he did allow for our creativity. [Said with a smile in his voice] I don't think Chris could have stopped Heath if he wanted to, you know? So that's the good news, that Heath felt that he could… You know, look, as an actor, giving such a brave performance you have to, as a director you have to let your actor go because Heath needed Chris' trust and felt like Chris would let him do whatever so that he would open up and do things, and let his unconscious come up and his creativity and his imagination, and give the great performance that he does.
If Chris tried to shut him down, Heath wouldn't have been able to give that performance. And that's why Chris is the great director that he is. He's able to balance the actors with the technical aspects of filmmaking and make this huge, entertaining movie as well as a profound, psychological thriller."
Ledger delivered a performance considered to be Oscar-worthy, and Eckhart believes he deserves an Academy Award for his portrayal of The Joker. Working alongside Ledger left a lasting impression on Eckhart. "I have to say Heath is foremost on my mind when I think about this movie, which is a good thing. I think that Heath will give me strength as an actor, opening it up and being vulnerable and going for the fences and stretching myself as an actor by virtue of his performance. I think that my time with Heath, however small, will always live with me and make me be a braver actor."