Jake Gyllenhaal Remembers Heath Ledger: “I Miss Him as a Human Being”

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal remembers Heath Ledger ten years after Brokeback Mountain was released. MarionCurtis/startraksphoto.com

Time doesn’t always heal all, but it does teach us some things. Ten years after the groundbreaking release of Brokeback Mountain and more than seven years after Heath Ledger’s tragic death, Jake Gyllenhaal still misses his costar immensely, he said in a recent interview.

In a conversation with NPR’s Terry Gross, the Southpaw actor opened up about his friendship with Ledger and the lessons he learned from their on-screen and offscreen time together.

“I’m trying to be present where I am. I’m trying to have relationships that are as real as they possibly can be on a movie set, be close to people because I know that it’s precious,” Gyllenhaal said. “And I know, not only can this career end in a very short period of time and this or that can happen, but also that life is precious.”

“I think losing Heath and being a part of a family that was something like the movie, that movie we all made together, makes you …appreciate that and hopefully moves you away from the things that really don’t matter to the things that do.”

brokeback mountain
Focus Films/Everett Collection

Gyllenhaal, 34, and Ledger, who died of an accidental drug overdose at age 28 in January 2008, played cowboys and lovers in the 2005 Ang Lee-helmed flick. The pair became close friends from the film, and Gyllenhaal has spoken out about how he and Ledger prepared for their roles.

“It couldn’t just be a story about friendship because there’s a part of two people connecting intimately, sexually, that drives that intimacy through the years,” he said in a 2005 interview. “In my opinion when you see the movie, as soon as that happens, you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m here now. I’m ready to see what’s going to happen.’ Or, ‘I’m out of here. I’ll see you later.’ But either way it does knock you into something.”

Even now, Gyllenhaal told Gross, he can feel the void Ledger left within the entertainment industry. 

“I miss him as a human being and I miss working with him,” he said, “and what an unfortunate thing it is that we won’t be able to see the beauty of his expression.”

Asked if Ledger was the first person he was close to who died, Gyllenhaal became emotional.

“He was incredibly special and that doesn’t even come close to encapsulating who he is, who he was,” he said.

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