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Dark Knight producer: 'Heath was the coolest guy around'

  • Story Highlights
  • "The Dark Knight" producer Chuck Roven talks to "The Screening Room"
  • How he and Christopher Nolan revived the Batman franchise
  • Plus, he talks about his friend, the late actor Heath Ledger
  • "The Dark Knight" smashed opening weekend records taking $155 million
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By CNN's Mairi Mackay
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The rise and rise of the comic book movie continues tonight as "The Dark Knight" juggernaut rolls into London for the UK premiere.

"The Screening Room" talks to "The Dark Knight" producer Chuck Roven about reviving the franchise, working with Heath Ledger and more.

It has only been four days since Christopher Nolan's second Batman movie premiered in New York but it is more than living up to the hype -- it is tearing up the record books.

In its first weekend, it has conquered the all-time takings record previously held by "Spider Man 3," pulling in just over $155 million in three days.

Ahead of tonight's premiere, "The Screening Room" (TSR) talks to "The Dark Knight" and "Batman Begins" producer, Chuck Roven (CR) about reviving the Batman franchise, his friend the late actor Heath Ledger and what makes Christian Bale's take on the bat-suited hero so compelling for audiences.

(TSR): Was your aim to do something in the comic genre but overturn the traditional idea?

(CR): I came into the "Batman Begins" process when the first draft of the script had already been written. But the goals for that project from Chris Nolan and Emma Thomas who was my producing partner, were exactly that.

I had been a comic book fan when I was a kid. I had my comic book collection and I was a huge Batman fan and over the course of years the Batman character and the tone of the Batman comics had changed. Because of the television show and then, of course, Tim Burton did his Batman films, Joel Schumacher did his Batman films and the character moved further away from the original character when the franchise first started so many years ago.

But also further away from what I call the great seminal comic books that the more recent comic books that writers had written. Like Frank Miller when he did "Batman Year One" and "The Killing Joke" and Jeff Lowe's "Long Halloween."

So, the goal was to go back to that because Chris felt -- and we agreed -- that the core fans had been a bit disenfranchised by where the films had gone.

(TSR): How did you go about doing that?

(CR): We wanted to go back by doing that we would make the film feel more real -- what I call a hyper-reality.

The characters would live in a world and do things in a world that mirrored the reality of our world today so you would have a much greater emotional investment in what's going on and thereby things would be more thrilling because they feel real, more dangerous.

(TSR): Do you ever recall a moment when you read the script and really felt chills down your spine?

(CR): When we decided to do "The Dark Knight" and Chris [Nolan] had worked on the story with writer, David Goyer [who is credited with "The Dark Knight" story], he came and told me what his vision was for it and of course we had certain goals we were trying to achieve doing a sequel to "Batman Begins."

A number of months later I read the first draft and I had that feeling -- whether it was the hair on the back of my neck or the hair on my arm or just putting it down and going "Wow, that's something."

(TSR): What do you think is so compelling for audiences about the Batman that you, Chris Nolan and Christian Bale created?

I think that first of all, Batman is a real person. He doesn't really have any super powers. He can be hurt, he bleeds. Everything is done through his intellect and his guts. He's a guy who through the force of his will and desire has made himself very extraordinary.

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His one great power if he has one is his fabulous wealth and he's allowed to use that and that's the other part he gives us. He gives us a great wish fulfilment aspect as a character. He's a guy that's relatable enough but he does things that we all wish we could do if we were like Bruce Wayne. I think that certainly goes a long way in making us want to go on a ride with this guy.

(TSR): Tell "The Screening Room" about casting Christian Bale for "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight."

(CR): Most of the principal cast in "The Dark Knight" and in "Batman Begins" didn't really come from any casting sessions -- they came from discussions. Christian Bale did have to go through a screen test when he did "Batman Begins" and, again, I came into the process after Bale was already cast.

Bale was cast and we were negotiating a deal with one other person but Christian did a screen test and he had just finished doing that role, in a film I think was called "The Machinist" and had lost a huge amount of weight. He looked exactly like a stick and he had to put on the suit. He was trying to gain weight as fast as he could but both Chris, Emma and the studio had to go a long way in terms of the look because he clearly didn't look like a muscular guy -- he looked like a guy that was anaemic. But his performance was so great that the studio and Chris went with him.

(TSR): The rest of the cast in "The Dark Knight" is exceptional. How did you fill those roles?

(CR): Everyone else really came out of meetings and sessions or we just offered it to them because we felt they were right. And the thing that drew everyone in was this amazing script -- the wonderful characters that had so many dimensions to them. It's what I call 'meat on the bone' and it attracted what is the most extraordinary cast.

What you've got in all the key roles are people who have bee nominated for Oscars, won Oscars, been nominated for Golden Globes, won Golden Globes. It's really a great tribute to the fabulous script work that the writers did.

(TSR): Heath Ledger's performance is really mind-blowing. How did you cast him and during filming did you feel the chill?

(CR): Chris had had some brief encounters with Heath and I had done a film with him a couple of years before -- a Terry Gilliam film called "The Brothers Grimm." I got close with Heath during the making of that film and one of the great things about him -- first of all that was a film that was made under very difficult circumstances -- and Heath was always the coolest guy around; he could go with any flow. Nothing that happened that didn't affect his role would knock him off; when the camera rolled he would do his stuff and he always brought something; no matter what he discussed with the director he would always bring a great idea or two or three. He had endlessly great ideas about what to do with his character.

(TSR): How did you choose Ledger for the role of The Joker?

When Chris, Emma, me and the studio started talking about The Joker [Ledger] was right there on top of a very short list. And then we got a call from a great friend of mine who was his agent saying, "He hasn't done anything since Brokeback [Mountain] and he's a huge fan of Chris' and you guys are close and he might be interested in talking about this."

We didn't even have a script so Chris and Heath met and Chris talked him through his ideas for the character and there was this great creative give and take already and that continued from the time he was cast.

What was Heath like to work with?

When he was on the set he was like a kid who was excited -- he couldn't wait to get in front of the camera to do his stuff. But he yet always came from this amazing, real place and that raised everyone's game on the set. It was a real pleasure to watch him.

He was very much involved in what his prosthetic was going to look like, what his scars were going to look like, the colour of his hair, his outfit -- and he always brought these amazing, great ideas with him. He was always so enthusiastic and that was the great thing.

He was also quite funny...

He's lethal but he's also entertaining and compelling -- you can't take your eyes of him and you do laugh.


Do you think he'll get an Oscar nomination?

Everyone's buzzing about it. I love the buzz. I'm thrilled both as a producer and for him.

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