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Despite the untimely loss of Heath Ledger in 2008, The Dark Knight boasted one of the strongest box office receptions in recent memory, earning critical and commercial acclaim and landing Ledger a posthumous Oscar (only one of two ever awarded) for his turn as The Joker. Since his passing, Christopher Nolan has made it known that there will be no recasting for the role.
Outside of what villain(s) will appear in The Dark Knight Rises, the biggest rumor surrounding the project for months now (years even) is if Ledger will make a cameo as the Clown Prince of Crime, despite being dead for over two years. Recently, Showbiz Spy claimed that Nolan may use "unseen" footage of Ledger's performance from The Dark Knight in some capacity for The Dark Knight Rises. Now, Emma Thomas, producing partner to Nolan who has worked on both of his "Batman" films, has told Heat Vision that the rumors are not true.
The rumor spread like wildfire when a "source" told Showbiz Spy,“the idea is to use these fragments of cut scenes and use CGI to have The Joker appear one last time” and that it would only occur with the full consent of Ledger's family.
Mind you, this rumor has been going on since The Dark Knight was first released. It's no secret in Hollywood that Nolan was already drawing up plans for a third “Batman” film and that Ledger's Joker would be featured in it. His death brought Nolan's future involvement in the franchise into question as many wondered if he would be willing to return for personal reasons not to mention having to rework the story arc he originally set out to make.
Which is why Ledger's potential cameo (given the universal acclaim for his portrayal) in the upcoming sequel was a rumor that, for lack of a better term, just wouldn't die.
The idea of using stock footage and CGI to feature an actor who has died after production is not so wild a theory though. One of the most prominent examples is in 2000's Gladiator, when Oliver Reed (in the role of Proximo) died during filming with scenes left unfinished. Through the use of a body double and CGI, a “mask” of Reed's face and voice were developed and his scenes were finished. If they were capable of doing that ten years ago in the middle of a production as big as Gladiator, you know they could swing something 10 years later prior to the start of production.
However, Nolan and co. believe that Ledger's performance is best kept within The Dark Knight. In news that surprises nobody, Nolan has told Entertainment Weekly that The Dark Knight Rises will be his last "Batman" film. While you'd be hard pressed to find someone who did not want to see more of Ledger's Joker, in any capacity, you've got to respect the fact that Nolan and his crew won't do anything to jeopardize the integrity of Ledger's original performance.