Brokeback Mountain writer reveals who was originally meant to star in the film

Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger are iconic as the two lovers in Brokeback Mountain.

The film became one of the greatest LGBT films of all time and was, for many, the first time they had seen same-sex romance on the big screen.

But it turns out the men were not always due to play the two lovers.

Screenwriter Diana Ossana has revealed a string of other Hollywood greats were originally in line for the major roles.

Speaking at a Q&A in Hollywood, Ossana said it took eight years to make the film as they struggled to cast the roles and find big budget support.

She says many “prominent young actors” hopped on and hop off the project, which became known around tinsel town as the “gay cowboy” movie.

“Nobody would commit,” Ossana said of the film.

“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.”

Heath Ledger (Ennis Del Mar) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Jack Twist) in "Brokeback Mountain"

Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain” (Photo by River Road Entertainment)

Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon were both originally considered for the leading roles.

“They didn’t give us any real excuse why they wouldn’t. I guess they saw it as too difficult,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.

One of the biggest challenges for filmmakers was getting film bosses to understand that this was not a “universal love story,” as many tried to position it.

“This is a movie about two men who fall in love. It’s very specific,” she said.

“It’s about Ennis and Jack and it’s about their flaws and their mistakes and their struggles and their humanity.”

One thing that was certain was that Ossana wanted Heath Ledger to front the film.

“Nobody wanted Heath but me and [co-writer] Larry [McMurtry]. The studio felt he wasn’t macho enough.”

Another actor original played the role, before they dropped out six months into the project, leaving the film in a rut and allowing them to go back to Ledger.

“Heath read it on the way home to Australia … and he said Naomi [Watts, his girlfriend at the time] read it and she was jumping up and down on the bed telling him you’ve got to do this role for all kinds of reasons – for your career and for the world.

“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.’ It was a battle to get him, but boy was it worth it.”

Ledger died in 2008 after an accidental drug overdose, aged just 28.

Speaking to People magazine, Gyllenhaal said he can barely put into words the impact of the death of his close friend and colleague, years later.

Asked about the tragedy, he said: “I don’t know if I can answer that in one answer. Personally, it affected me in ways I can’t necessarily put in words, or even would want to talk about publicly.

“In terms of professionally, I think I was at an age where mortality was not always that clear to me.

“You live in this bubble of making films… there are real friends, and there is a real community, but also [as Macklemore sings on his new album] there’s that moment where ‘the curtain closes and nobody notices.’

“I think that’s true, and I think that’s okay. At the time, I assumed everyone would notice – and they did with Heath dying -but I think it [gave me] the experience of ‘this is fleeting’.

He added: “None of the attention or synthesised love that comes from the success of a film really matters at all.

“What matters is the relationships you make when you make a film, and the people you learn from when you’re preparing for a film. That changed a lot for me.”