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'Brokeback Mountain' at 15: Jake Gyllenhaal on how filming gay romance 'was uncomfortable at times but we knew the bigger picture'

·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
·2 min read
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Though it was often far oversimplified as “the gay cowboy movie,” Brokeback Mountain nonetheless became a worldwide phenomenon upon its release 15 years ago today. It should have also become a Best Picture winner, but lost to the since-largely forgotten Crash in one of Oscar’s all-time biggest head-scratchers.

Unlike Crash, Brokeback’s legacy still mounts today. The film, about the secret and ultimately tragic love story between two men (Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger) who meet as farmhands in the rural and rugged terrain of eastern Wyoming, is generally considered one of the most impactful LGBTQ-themed releases of the century. Its $178 million box office haul proved audiences thirsted to see gay stories represented on the big screen.

“It became so much bigger than what we thought it would be,” Gyllenhaal told Yahoo Entertainment during a 2014 Role Recall interview (watch above, with Brokeback starting at 2:05). “It became so much more than what we expected. It was no longer ours, really, at a certain point. It was sort of everyone’s, in this way, and we were just a part of it.”

Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in 'Brokeback Mountain' (Focus Features)
Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain. (Photo: Focus Features)

There were far fewer actors who were out at the time of the film’s production, and as Diana Ossana (who adapted Annie Proulx’s short story with Larry McMurtry for director Ang Lee) revealed in 2018, it was a difficult film to cast because of its subject material, with names like Matt Damon, Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg and Edward Norton all once approached or involved.

“It was uncomfortable at times for us, but we also knew the bigger picture,” Gyllenhaal said of filming the love scenes with Ledger. “And we knew what the story was about and how much it meant to us and how important it was.”

Beyond its cultural impact and accolades (the film did win three Oscars, including Best Director for Lee), Gyllenhaal generally has warm memories of shooting the $14 million indie in a very cold Alberta, Canada.

Brokeback Mountain was a very special, very intimate process,” he said. “We were in the middle of nowhere, altogether. Particularly towards the beginning we were all living in trailers. So I’d wake up in the morning and Ang Lee would be doing tai chi by the river and different people would cook in the morning and then we’d walk to the set. There’s not a lot of pomp, it’s just making a movie and we’re all doing it together. It’s about telling a story and being real and being connected.”

Brokeback Mountain is currently streaming on Amazon.

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