Heath Ledger gets most of the credit for reinventing The Joker with his performance in the 2008 film The Dark Knight. But creating a look for the character that diverged from the comic books was a collaborative process, and makeup artist John Caglione Jr. played an essential role.
In an interview with IGN, Caglione reflected on the makeup he did for The Dark Knight that earned him an Academy Award nomination. Unlike his work on movies like Dick Tracy (1990) and Chaplin (1992), precision wasn't the goal in this case. Instead, he wanted to give The Joker an organic appearance that matched director Christopher Nolan's realistic take on Gotham City and a crazed style that reflected the character's unpredictable nature.
"What would it be if this guy slept in his makeup?" he said in the interview. "If he didn't spruce up his makeup for two weeks? You think of a clown's makeup and for the most part they're pretty detailed with sharp lines, but this had to be the opposite of that."
Caglione worked with Ledger to scrunch and contort his face as he applied the makeup—an old trick borrowed from theater. This method resulted in lines and creases in the paint that made it look like the character had been wearing his makeup for days.
The makeup artist also drew inspiration from classic art and cinema when crafting the character. At the start of the design process, Nolan sent Caglione a book of abstract Francis Bacon portraits for him to reference. During the interrogation scene, The Joker's dark eye makeup is smudged above his eyebrows, a nod to Eric Campbell who played the villain in many Charlie Chaplin films.
You can watch the full interview below.