Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was one of Hollywood’s first mainstream films about a same sex relationship, and even took home three Academy Awards in 2006. Yet, despite the win for LGBTQ+ representation, jokes about the “gay cowboys” movie persisted in the media. According to star Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger didn’t find Brokeback Mountain jokes funny at all — and he took a hard stand against them at the Oscars.
Gyllenhaal, who played Jack Twist, friend and love interest to Ledger’s Ennis Del Mar, revealed in an interview with Another Man that Ledger refused to present at the Oscars with Gyllenhaal over planned jokes about their film.
“I remember they wanted to do an opening for the Academy Awards that year that was sort of joking about [the relationship in the movie,]” Gyllenhaal explained to the outlet. “And Heath refused. I was sort of at the time, ‘Oh, okay...whatever.’ I’m always like: it’s all in good fun. And Heath said, ‘It’s not a joke to me – I don’t want to make any jokes about it.’”
This isn’t the first time Gyllenhaal has stated Ledger refused to engage with homophobic jokes about Brokeback Mountain.
“I see people who have joked with me or criticised me about lines I say in that movie — and that’s the thing I loved about Heath,” Gyllenhaal told Sunday Today in a 2019 interview. “He would never joke.”
Ledger was seemingly an ideal person to bring to the role: He considered the relationship between the characters something sacred and worth treating seriously. In 2018, director Gus Van Sant, who was slated to helm the film before Lee, said it was challenging to find male actors of a certain caliber willing to do the project.
"Nobody wanted to do it," Van Sant told IndieWire. "I was working on it, and I felt like we needed a really strong cast, like a famous cast. That wasn’t working out. I asked the usual suspects: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ryan Phillippe. They all said no."
Ledger, who died of an accidental overdose in 2008, remained close to Gyllenhaal until his death: Gyllenhaal is even the godfather of Ledger’s daughter Matilda, whom Ledger shares with their Brokeback Mountain co-star Michelle Williams.