10 Years After Brokeback Mountain, Anne Hathaway & Jake Gyllenhaal Open Up About Heath Ledger

Photo: Focus/Everett/REX USA.
This winter will mark a decade since the groundbreaking drama Brokeback Mountain hit theaters. On December 9, 2005, the harrowing and heartfelt love story, about two male ranchers named Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (the late, great Heath Ledger) who are forced to keep their affair quiet in 1960's Wyoming, touched critics and audiences deeply. Ten years later, the film is remembered not only for its infamous Oscar snub (it lost to the polarizing race drama Crash) and its unforgettable performances, but its powerful message about love. In anticipation of the anniversary, Out magazine has released an oral history of the film.

The history includes fascinating insight from the film's Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, Brokeback short-story writer Annie Proulx, and some of the film's stars, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and Randy Quaid. One thing that still resonates with the cast and crew is what an impact the film had, not only on them, but on the LGBTQ community, and how essential making a film like this felt. Gyllenhaal tells Out, "I knew it would be a difficult film to make, and something that would put people off, but I didn’t know how difficult it would be to get made." Quaid, who plays ranch hand boss Joe, echoes that sentiment, saying, "It was definitely a movie that needed to be made. It afforded an opportunity for society, particularly American culture, to confront its core issues with the gay community. Placing the confrontation in a milieu that is traditionally perceived as hetero male — John Wayne and the Western cowboy — was a brilliant stroke by Proulx."

Hathaway, who plays Jack's wife Lureen, notes the incredible fact that the main cast members were all under 25-years-old when they brought this important story to the big screen. The actress recalls, "I remember sitting there and looking at beautiful Heath, and Jake, and Michelle, and it hit me that we were all under 25. It’s funny how recent it was, but at the time, we were very far away from this burgeoning humanist moment that we’re having now with gay rights. And it felt like a very big and important step — a statement about love, about the need for love, about the consequences of limiting people."

Of course, much of the talk in the oral history goes back to Ledger, who tragically passed away in 2008. The film was an important one for him, not only because it's where he fell in love with co-star and onscreen wife Michelle Williams (Ossana shares a particularly sweet story in which Ledger took care of Williams after she experienced an injury on-set), but because, as Gyllenhaal puts it, he "was extraordinarily serious about the political issues surrounding the movie." So much so, in fact, that Ledger hated that the iconic line, "I wish I knew how to quit you," became something of a punchline. Gyllenhaal says that Ledger "didn't really want to hear about anything that was being made fun of."

Ledger's heartbreaking performance as the stoic Ennis is a clear reminder of his lasting legacy, and his impact was most certainly felt on those who worked with him. Ossana puts it simply and beautifully: "Actors like that don’t come along very often in one’s lifetime." Gyllenhaal says of his late friend and co-star, "While there are many parts of the real story that are sad, one of the saddest things is that I won’t be able to exchange ideas creatively with Heath again, because that was one of the most beautiful things to come out of that."

While the entire oral history from Out is worth exploring (including Lee's admission that the project brought him out of a possible retirement), it's also worth revisiting the film if you haven't seen it in a while. Granted, it's not an easy watch (the final scene with the shirt will still destroy you), but it remains such an essential one.
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