The stars of The Dark Knight lit up Lincoln Center on Monday.
But the talk of the premiere, held at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square theater, was the one actor missing: Heath Ledger.
Ledger, who played the homicidal Joker, died of an accidental prescription drug overdose in January. And this film is his last finished release, with buzz of an Oscar nomination for his turn as an amoral villain. Guests, including newlywed Ethan Hawke, Gossip Girl‘s Ed Westwick and reality star Lauren Conrad, walked the black carpet, which was lined with posters of the Joker. Ledger’s family attended the premiere, but did not talk to press or pose for photos.
“I just got chills looking at the poster. Heath is so wonderful in this movie. He’s in our hearts,” said Aaron Eckhart, who plays crusading district attorney Harvey Dent. “It’s for him. It’s his movie.”
Ledger’s turn as the Joker is “fantastic,” said Christian Bale, who plays Batman. “He steals the movie. I’m quite happy to say that.”
The Dark Knight, opening Friday, stars Bale in his second outing as the caped crusader/Bruce Wayne. This time, he’s battling the Joker. Maggie Gyllenhaal fills Katie Holmes’ heels as an ambitious prosecutor torn between Dent and Wayne.
Fans, lined up outside barricades, chanted “Christian! Christian!” when Bale arrived. As for the film, among the year’s most hyped? “I hope it lives up to their expectations,” said Bale, a man of brevity. “We’ll see.”
Michael Caine, who plays Bruce Wayne’s wise butler Alfred, called Ledger’s death “such a waste. Unbelievable. When you see this movie, you’ll see one of the best performances not from him — but ever,” said Caine, who thinks Ledger is a shoo-in for an Academy Award. “I’d hate to be up for an Oscar this year in the supporting category. If someone beats him, I want to see who.”
Gyllenhaal, in a custom-made Dries Van Noten dress, kept things light before walking the carpet. “I had a glass of wine. I did some yoga,” she said.
As for Ledger, “It’s very difficult to talk about. This isn’t really the place where you open your heart up,” said Gyllenhaal. “It’s terribly sad that Heath is gone, and of course I feel bad, but it’s difficult to talk about here.”