Ledger to play The Joker in Batman sequel, "The Dark Knight"

Reaction to the 2005 release of "Batman Begins" was almost universally positive as Director/Co-Writer Christopher Nolan and Co-Writer David Goyer brought a very realistic looking Batman to the silver screen, as portrayed by actor Christian Bale. While the end of the film clearly indicated the next villain Batman would face would be the Joker, there had been no official word on that possibility. Until now.

Warner Bros. Pictures has told CBR News that the next Batman film will see Heath Ledger play the role of the Joker. While many names have surfaced in the last month rumored to play the role, Ledger's name came up most often in the last two weeks and it appears the rumor mongers were correct.

Also, Warner's confirmed that director Christopher Nolan will be back to direct the sequel, which will be titled "The Dark Knight." Rumors indicate Goyer will be back as well, apparently having already written some 80-pages that will later be used in a script.

Christian Bale, Michael Caine (Alfred) and Gary Oldman (Lt. Jim Gordon) are all under contract for three Bat-films and are expected to return for "The Dark Knight." It is also expected that Katie Holmes and Morgan Freeman will reprise their roles originated in "Batman Begins."

Warner's indicated that an official press release about "The Dark Knight" will be released Tuesday morning.

Updated 7:10 PM

A little over an hour after posting our original story, Warner Bros. issued the following press release, which we've reprinted in its entirety below.

Official Press Release

BURBANK, CA, 31 July 2006 - As a follow up to last year's blockbuster Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan is set to direct Warner Bros. Pictures' The Dark Knight, written by Jonathan Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David Goyer. The film will be produced by Emma Thomas, Charles Roven and Christopher Nolan. Additionally, Christian Bale will resume his role as Bruce Wayne and Academy Award nominee Heath Ledger has been cast as The Joker. The announcements were made today by Jeff Robinov, President of Production, Warner Bros. Pictures.

Christopher Nolan revamped the Batman franchise in 2005 with the immensely successful Batman Begins, starring Christian Bale in the title role, which chronicled the early years of the superhero. Nolan first garnered attention from critics and fans in 2000 with the groundbreaking drama Memento, which he wrote and directed. He went on to direct the thriller Insomnia, starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams, and recently wrapped production on The Prestige, with Hugh Jackman and Bale.

Bale was most recently seen in the ensemble cast of Terrence Malick's The New World. His other credits include Little Women, Portrait of a Lady, Metroland, American Psycho, Laurel Canyon and Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, which was his first starring role.

Ledger most recently earned Oscar Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG Award nominations and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ennis Del Mar in the award-winning drama Brokeback Mountain. His other credits include Casanova, Monster's Ball, Lords of Dogtown, The Brothers Grimm and The Patriot.

"Chris' unique vision is what made Batman Begins such an outstanding film and we could not imagine anyone else at the helm of The Dark Knight," said Robinov. "We also can't wait to see two such formidable actors as Christian and Heath face off with each other as Batman and The Joker."

"I'm excited to continue the story we started with Batman Begins," added Nolan. "Our challenge in casting The Joker was to find an actor who is not just extraordinarily talented but fearless. Watching Heath Ledger's interpretation of this iconic character taking on Christian Bale's Batman is going to be incredible."

Production is set to begin on The Dark Knight in early 2007.

Nolan and Ledger are represented by CAA.

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