“This is a movie about two men who fall in love. It’s very specific,” screenwriter Diana Ossana said during an April 2018 Q&A session moderated by The Wrap. “It’s about Ennis and Jack and it’s about their flaws and their mistakes and their struggles and their humanity.”
In the film, cowboys Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) develop a sexual and emotional relationship, which is only made more complicated when they get married to their respective girlfriends, Alma Beers (Michelle Williams) and Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway) and have children.
The 2005 movie was not a “universal love story,” Ossana recalled, noting that “nobody would commit” to the lead roles. She remembered a long list of “prominent young actors” agreeing and later leaving the project during its eight-year development process.
“We sent it to Edward Norton [to direct] and Joel Schumacher and dozens of people and they all came back saying they loved it, but no one would commit,” Ossana continued. “They didn’t give us any real excuse why they wouldn’t. I guess they saw it as too difficult.”
Big names, including Matt Damon and Joaquin Phoenix were at one point tied to the project when director Gus Van Sant was on board, but later fell through. Ang Lee was later chosen as the film’s director.
Ossana explained that despite all of the casting ups and downs, she always wanted Ledger in the role of Ennis. “Nobody wanted Heath but me and [co-writer] Larry [McMurtry]. The studio felt he wasn’t macho enough,” she revealed.
The Australia native eventually signed on after reading the script on his way home. “He told me on the set, you know, ‘It’s the most beautiful script I’ve ever read in my life, and I would’ve rowed a boat halfway around the world to meet with Ang to be in this movie,’” Ossana said. “It was a battle to get him, but boy was it worth it.”
After finding its leading men, Brokeback Mountain went on to two three Academy Awards — Best Achievement in Directing, Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay and Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures. It received five more nods, including Best Motion Picture of the Year.
Scroll down to see which stars almost played Ennis and Jack: