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Former DC Creative Director Recalls Working with Heath Ledger on The Dark Knight Teaser Posters

Aside from Christopher Nolan, David Erwin was the only person to direct Heath Ledger of the set of the 2008 Batman film.

By Josh Weiss

Only two people alive today lay claim to the distinct honor of getting to direct Heath Ledger on the set of 2008's The Dark Knight (now streaming on Peacock). The first, of course, is Christopher Nolan. The second is a guy named David Erwin. He may not sound familiar, but his tenure as Executive Creative Director of DC Comics proved integral to the film's overall success.

Months before the acclaimed Batman flick opened in theaters and completely redefined the comic book movie genre, Erwin conducted a hype train of highly effective teaser materials, setting the stage for a game-changing performance. You probably remember the poster of Ledger's unforgettable Joker tracing the words "Why so serious?" in what appears to be blood behind a pane of frosted glass. That was Erwin's doing. "I would direct all the photo shoots," he tells SYFY WIRE over the phone. Another memorable poster shows the anarchic villain from behind as he brandishes a playing card and knife in the middle of a rain-slicked Gotham street.

Former DC Creative Director Remembers Working With Heath Ledger on The Dark Knight Teaser Posters

"We were shooting and I felt Heath was starting to burn out," remembers Erwin, who most recently served as publisher and chief creative for Heavy Metal Magazine. "The propmaster had told me earlier that Heath was really into knives and would do all these knife tricks. I went over to the propmaster and asked him to bring me one of his knives. Once the knife came in, Heath just kind of lit up again. He found renewed energy."

For More on The Dark Knight Trilogy:
Christian Bale Explains Why He Turned Down the Offer to Make a Fourth Dark Knight Film
Oppenheimer Star Robert Downey Jr. Reveals He Lobbied for Scarecrow Role in Batman Begins
Why Oppenheimer Star Cillian Murphy Didn’t Read Dark Knight Rises Script Beyond His Own Cameo

Posters of the Joker for The Dark Knight (2008).

Erwin describes the experience of working with the late actor as "truly magical" and unlike anything he's seen before or since. "No matter what you do, you always learn something," he explains. "Christian Bale, for example, wants direction. When I was working with him, he wanted my direction and was looking for it. Then you have Heath."

The former creative director continues: "I went and reviewed everything with him and we talked it over. We’re in front of the camera and then I get out of camera and then slowly, I just see him morph his physical being — spreading his feet out like Charlie Chaplin, starting to hunch over. He starts talking to himself and the next thing I know, the actor Heath that I was just talking to has completely vanished and I am there now with the Joker ... Then after we go through the shoot for a while, or any time I interjected or came in-camera, then I’m back to talking with Heath. Then he’d go right back into the Joker."

Despite the fact that the Joker uses a knife several times throughout the film, Warner Bros. Consumer Products was initially concerned about showing an obvious weapon in any of the promotional materials and ordered that all traces of it be removed via Photoshop. "Then it went back to Nolan for approval and he was like, ‘Why did you have him hold the knife if you were just gonna take it out?’" Erwin says. "But I was very stubborn and created all these designs with the knife [left in]. Wal-Mart ended up seeing some of it and they loved it. Of course, when Wal-Mart gave their approval, then suddenly it was a whole new day and we put the knife back in."

If you want to revisit Nolan's whole game-changing series, the entire Dark Knight trilogy is streaming now on Peacock.