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Theater Owners See Heath Ledger's Joker

03/14/2008 at 12:00 PM EDT

Theater Owners See Heath Ledger's Joker
Heath Ledger as the Joker
Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.
The public doesn't get to see Heath Ledger as the Joker in the Batman adventure The Dark Knight until July 18, but movie-theater owners got a sneak peek Thursday

With Christian Bale starring as the Caped Crusader, Warner Bros. previewed the sequel to 2005's Batman Begins at ShoWest, a theater-exhibitors' convention in Las Vegas, the Associated Press reports.

During a bank robbery in the opening scene, Ledger's deranged clown-faced villain tells an accomplice, "I believe whatever doesn't kill you simply makes you stranger."

Last November, the Australian actor said of his Batman character – a sardonic sociopath: "It's the most fun I've had with a character and probably will ever have. The movie itself is far exceeding my expectations. I think it's going to be a really fun movie to watch."

Unfortunately, of course, Ledger would never be afforded that opportunity. The Australian actor, 28, was found dead from an accidental prescription-drug overdose in his Manhattan apartment on Jan. 22.

Shortly after Ledger's death, Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan praised the actor for his screen presence and natural charisma.

With the film now being previewed, Nolan says of Ledger's role, "The psychopathic clown, that's an icon to stand with the guy with the ears and cape. It's just a wonderful visual relationship, and it's a terrifying image."

Christian Bale's Reaction

For his part, Bale, 34, admitted to watching the preview Thursday with a heavy heart, but said of his costar's performance, "I hope that this can be seen as a celebration of his work."

Ledger, said the Welsh actor, "did a phenomenal job. It was a real joy working with the man. It was a joy knowing him, as well. I liked him a great deal, and I liked also how seriously he took his work."

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