When Brokeback Mountain first came out, hearts all over the world were touched by the many layers of life and love it managed to portray. But so much of what was going on behind the scenes was just as beautiful as the film itself. Close friendships were made, art was created, and some people even found love – and the movie’s success went far beyond what anyone expected. But unfortunately, tragedy struck just a few years later when one of its stars passed away. Since then, many of them have spoken out about their unexpected love for their late costar Heath Ledger and more from their time on set that they hold close to their hearts…
Heath Ledger & Jake Gyllenhaal Were A Package Deal
When Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee first began the tedious task of casting its heartbreaking characters, he had many actors in mind that he believed could convey the subtle and powerful feelings of the story.
Specifically, pairs of actors…and he decided that Jake and Heath might be the dynamic duo the film needed – but only together. Jake later recalled, “I heard, ‘…If Heath doesn’t want to do it, then it’s going to be somebody else.’”
Anne Hathaway Couldn’t Ride A Horse
Although Hathaway ended up portraying a rodeo queen in the film, she didn’t know how to ride a horse before the movie. The last question she got at her audition was, “By the way, can you ride a horse?”
But Anne says her parents had raised her to say yes first and learn how later. That didn’t go as well as planned, she recalls: “The horse wouldn’t do a damn thing I wanted it to…at the end it threw me – in front of everyone.”
Heath Ledger Had A Surprise Director Moment
Most of the audience either cried hysterically at the end of the film, or wondered why everyone else was. Well, here’s why:
when Ennis visits Jack’s childhood home, he finds a shirt he thought he’d lost tucked inside a shirt of Jack’s – then he takes them both home, and tucks Jack’s shirt inside of his, close to his heart. This subtle declaration of love was more than most of us could handle – and it was all Heath Ledger’s romantic idea.
The Prop Shirts Sold For Over $100,000
The same plaid shirts that were worn on the backs of the film’s two heartbreakers were long saught out after the movie’s release. Eventually, they were made available at an auction – and longtime LGBTQ activist Tom Gregory was there to bid high.
After offering $101,100.51 for them, he became the lucky winner and took those shirts home. “They really are the ruby slippers of our time,” he said of the clothing. We wonder if they’re hanging up Ennis style in his closet.
Gyllenhaal Had To Go To “Cowboy Camp”
Jake Gyllenhaal had just the right balance of muscles and tenderness that Lee wanted for the role of Jack Twist, but he still didn’t quite scream “frontier man.”
So to toughen him up, Lee sent him to a “cowboy training camp” where they taught people to ride horses, wrangle sheep, and other typical cowboy maneuvers. Lee explained, “Jake needed to get blisters and bloody hands, chopping wood, hauling bales of hay, and putting up fences.” Heath, on the other hand, had grown up on farms in Western Australia.
Two Costars Fell In Love On Set
Many actors have said the experience of watching two people fall in love on set is truly special. For the Brokeback Mountain crew, it was Michelle Williams and the late Heath Ledger. Co-writer Diana Ossana remembers when their feelings first started to show.
“The first day we filmed, we had to…take [Michelle] to the hospital,” she said. “[Heath] was…smoothing her hair back. I remember [her] looking up at him with these wide eyes…You could see it every day from thereon…He was so taken with her.”
Gyllenhaal Is Part Of The Love
After falling in love on set, Michelle Williams and Heath Ledger went on to have quite the passionate relationship spanning about two years, during which time they had a child.
Although the pair ended their relationship, many sources close to them have said that their love was still very present – splitting instead due to challenging filming schedules, and thought to be a temporary solution before Ledger’s tragic passing. The two named their costar Jake Gyllenhaal as their daughter Matilda Rose’s godfather.
Ledger Took The Film’s Message Seriously
In memory of his late costar Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal has disclosed that the actor truly took the movie’s issues to heart.
“He was extraordinarily serious about the political issues surrounding the movie when it came out,” Gyllenhaal said. “A lot of times people would want to have fun and joke about it, and he was vehement about being serious, to the point where he didn’t really want to hear about anything that was being made fun of.”
That Thing Heath Did When He Spoke
Many will remember Heath Ledger’s slow, quiet mumble for the duration of the movie with a bit of curiosity. Nobody was used to him speaking this way, and wondered if it was an accent trick, or just a character trait he wanted to portray.
But costar Anne Hathaway revealed that it was because “he was worried that flies might get in.” Either way, it certainly fit with the character’s soft-spokenness and added to his charm.
Anne Had Another Audition
For Anne Hathaway, auditioning for the role of Lureen in Brokeback Mountain was almost a stretch too far – busy acting schedule and all. She was actually in the middle of filming for The Princess Diaries II the same day.
“I was dressed in a ball gown, wearing this big hairpiece that was way over the top,” she said. “I just put on my jeans and a plaid flannel shirt, and drove across the lot in a golf cart with my big princess hair.”
The Movie Poster Was Inspired By Titanic
Although Brokeback Mountain has many themes and morals, Ang Lee wanted more than anything for it to be a story of love – and for the movie’s poster to show that.
To achieve this, the marketing team tried to find inspiration in some of the other most romantic films of all time. He said, “[We] didn’t research posters of famous Westerns for ideas. [We] looked at the posters of the 50 most romantic movies ever made.” Titanic won the romantic lottery.
The Kissing Scenes Got Rough
Neither Jake Gyllenhaal nor Heath Ledger came into Brokeback Mountain feeling like they knew what they were doing when it came to kissing another guy – but they were both completely dedicated to doing a good job.
Given the restrictive nature of the characters’ romance, their passion was supposed to be a bit rough around the edges. But Ledger may have followed those guidelines too closely, and smashed his face into Gyllenhaal’s so hard he almost broke his nose.
It Narrowly Missed “Best Picture”
Many people in Hollywood wanted and even expected Brokeback Mountain to win the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture after its release in 2006. When it lost out to another candidate Crash, everybody in the theatre and watching on television could hear a gasp come from the crowd.
Even the award’s announcer Jack Nicholson was shocked, and told the audience that he had voted for Ang Lee’s movie. To say the decision was questioned for a decade to follow would be an understatement.
It’s This Actor’s Favorite Movie
Fellow actor Daniel Day-Lewis, one of Hollywood’s most iconically rogue talents, has made no secret out of calling Brokeback Mountain one of his favorite films. And specifically, he believes that Heath Ledger’s performance truly brought it to life.
He’s quoted as saying that Ennis’ ending scene in the film was “as moving as anything I have ever seen,” and after Ledger’s passing, he dedicated the SAG award he received for There Will Be Blood to his memory.
Jake Gyllenhaal Got Positive Feedback From The Writer
After seeing the movie, Annie Proulx (the writer of the inspiration story Close Range) sent Gyllenhaal a copy of the original with a personal note, which Jake says, “has made – no matter what happens and how people respond to the film – the entire movie…totally worth it.”
“She said that Jack Twist refers to ‘twist’… the strength of thighs and butt muscles that a bull rider has to have in order to stay on the bull…[What] I relate to in the character was that one thing, and it honored me.”
The Stars Brainstormed Together
In order to do the best job at something they’d both never tried before, Jake and Heath discussed their love scenes in depth. “We dove off the boat into the deep end,” Jake said.
“Like when you’re terrified of the water, you see a little kid thrown in the water…There was a high five and jump in.” When Heath was asked if he was afraid of playing a gay man, he replied that he was only afraid of not being mature enough to do it justice.
The Director Got Important Feedback In The Bathroom
After watching one of the first cuts of the film, Ang Lee recalls accidentally running into writer and producer James Schamus in the bathroom, where Lee couldn’t wait for another second to ask for some honest feedback.
Cryptically, he advised Lee to make the movie shorter and sadder. The specific words he used were, “That was great, but it was three hankies and two bladders. My goal is four hankies and one bladder.”
Anne Hathaway Almost Played A Different Role
When Anne Hathaway was first thought of for the film, it was for the role of Ennis’ wife Alma Beers. But after reading the script, she just didn’t feel like it was the role for her – mostly full of quiet and heartbreak.
Lureen Newsome, on the other hand, seemed right up her alley – the star of her own show. So she decided she would only audition for that part. And that was the part she got.
The Film Borrowed Some Song Lyrics
After Jack’s passing in the movie, Lureen tells Ennis over the phone that he wanted his ashes spread over Brokeback Mountain – but confesses that she was never sure if it was a real place.
“Knowing Jack, it was probably some pretend place, where bluebirds sing…” the character said. This line was inspired by the famous American folk song “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” which tells a story about a made-up place that would be any hopeless man’s paradise.
The Movie Out-Succeeded Itself
The movie had far more success than was originally anticipated – it began with a low budget, but wouldn’t ultimately cost much to make, so this wasn’t a problem. But the production team was astonished when it made back its production costs during its first week.
By 2010, Brokeback Mountain had made it onto many critics’ and publications’ “Best of the Decade” lists, including Peter Travers, Entertainment Weekly, The London Times, The A.V. Club, Time Out New York, and The London Telegraph.
The Film’s Sheep Became A Problem
And they weren’t Ang Lee’s first sheep problem. He first encountered the difficulties of herding sheep while directing Sense and Sensibility, during which many cited him as saying, “No more sheeps. Never again sheeps.”
But then Brokeback Mountain came along, and the herding problems re-herded for him. When asked about filming the intimate scenes, he said they were much easier than working with the sheep. In the end, most of the flock was digitally animated.
Kate Mara Felt Way Too Old For Her Character
Despite only being four years younger than him, Kate Mara played Heath Ledger’s daughter in the film. “I was a little bit nervous about that,” Mara later said.
“I was nervous it wasn’t going to seem real. I thought ‘Oh gosh, this is going to be a horrible mistake,’ but I wasn’t going to say anything about it. But [Ledger] was so genius that he never made me feel odd about it during the scenes.”
The Film Was Released To DVD Early
In a rare move, Universal made the decision to release the film on DVD before it had even left theaters. On top of that, it was the first film to ever be released as a DVD and a download on the same day.
Although it hasn’t been explicitly said, it’s not hard to guess why: with hate crimes far from being a thing of the past, one can only imagine that some people who would be eager to see it wouldn’t want to in public.
The Stars Had Literature Homework Before Filming
Before filming began, director Ang Lee gave the two costars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal copies of the book, Farm Boys: Lives of Gay Men from the Rural Midwest by Will Fellows.
Both Annie Proulx and Diana Ossana had said that it would be a good choice for their character-building. After reading the book, Jake Gyllenhaal seemed to understand that “gay” wasn’t really a developed idea around the midwest. “I don’t think that these two characters even know what gay is,” he said.
They Motivated The Set Extras With Hockey
Since much of the film was shot in Calgary, Alberta, the production team hired locals from the area to be extras on the set.
When there were scenes that required the extras to be extremely energetic and excited, they were directed to channel their inner hockey fan and picture their local hockey team, the Calgary Flames, winning – specifically winning the Stanley Cup, which is the most important victory in the sport of hockey.