The voice is dead on. Not just the sound, but the ebb and flow of his syllables as they crescendo in and out with each statement. Sounds familiar? It’s probably because Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar, for his role in The Dark Knight, using the same tics and mannerisms as Waits did in this interview from 1979.
Heath’s performance wasn’t exactly Joker as Tom Waits, as Ledger was able to supercharge the nuances; the steady rocking, the introspective self-serving humor, the sly grins and hunched over shoulders. It’s all there, and just as mesmerizing as Ledger’s amazing performance.
It’s also ironic that towards the end of interview the topic of film and acting comes up.
Another thing to note when watching, is how much of a pretentious prick host Don Lane is despite mentioning at the top of the interview how much he adores Waits, which seems further and further from the truth as the thing goes on (sometimes uncomfortably).
Did Ledger use Waits as fodder for his Joker? It’s very possible. They both worked on The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, so it’s possible the two met before The Dark Knight began filming. Ledger was a cerebral actor, embodying various characters with different vocal inflections, especially during the end of his career (i.e. Brokeback Mountain).
And, if you think actors just “wing it” when it comes to portraying a character, think again. Actors use pop-culture influences to help them manifest their portrayals all the time. Anthony Hopkins mentioned in a 1999 interview that he used Katharine Hepburn and evil A.I. Hal 9000, from 2001: A Space Odyssey, for his performance as Hannibal Lecter (just one example).
Is it just a coincidence that Heath’s Joker was so eerily similar to this Wait’s interview? It’s possible, but I doubt it.