(NEW YORK) — It’s hard to picture anyone in the leading roles for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain besides Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, but one director had other plans.
Before the film came to Ang Lee to direct, Gus Van Sant said he was working on the project.
In his vision, Van Sant wanted bigger stars. Ledger and Gyllenhaal weren’t quite as bankable back then, but would receive acclaim and prestige for their work on this groundbreaking film.
“I felt like we needed a really strong cast, like a famous cast,” he added. “That wasn’t working out. I asked the usual suspects: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ryan Phillippe. They all said no.”
Ledger would go on to earn an Oscar nod for his work in the film, but Van Sant said all the other names on his dream list “turned down the project, for various reasons.”
Brokeback Mountain famously broke down barriers for the LGBTQ community by following the lives and forbidden love of two gay cowboys, played by Ledger and Gyllenhaal.
The film’s producer and screenwriter Diana Ossana told Indie Wire that Van Sant was thrilled to join the project.
“Gus arrived at our door five days after we sent the script out into the world,” she said. “He was eager and passionate about it.”
After taking over the project, Lee won a Best Director Oscar that year.
“What I could have done, and what I probably should have done, was cast more unknowns — not worried about who were the lead actors,” Van Sant said. “I was not ready. I’m not sure why.”
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