Brokeback Mountain almost cast Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Hartnett in lead roles

Josh Hartnett and Joaquin Phoenix , pictured separately

Brokeback Mountain almost had Josh Hartnett and Joaquin Phoenix in the lead roles before Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger were cast.

Harnett, 43, had revealed he was forced to turn down the part due to a scheduling conflict with the 2006 thriller, The Black Dahlia.

Speaking to, the Pearl Harbour star explained: “Unfortunately, I was going to do Brokeback Mountain. And I had a contract with [The Black Dahlia] that I had to film, so I had to drop out of it.”

He continued: “It was a different film altogether. But they went on to do it with Heath and Jake… I’ve always wanted to kiss Joaquin, so that’s my biggest regret.”

Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain

Jake Gyllenhaal starred in Brokeback Mountain with the late Heath Ledger. (Focus Features)

An adaptation of an Annie Proulx short story, the Ang Lee-directed film followed the complicated and tragic love story between two gay sheepherders in the rural West.

Brokeback Mountain became one of the biggest LGBT+ films of all time and was, for many, the first time they had seen same-sex romance on the big screen.

Both Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger landed Oscar nominations for their performances, while the movie won three major gongs after successfully smashing through expectations as one of the first queer-focused films to hit the mainstream.

In 2018, the film was inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. Films chosen for inclusion are deemed worthy of preservation for future generations for their “cultural, historic and aesthetic importance to the nation’s film heritage”.

In his book, Out at the Movies, film critic Steven Paul Davies said: “Thanks to Brokeback [Mountain], film financiers will continue to back scripts that don’t simply rely on gay stereotypes… and that will certainly be progress.”

During lockdown in 2020, writer Gaby Dunn reimagined the story with an all-trans cast for New York’s annual LGBT+ film festival.

Brian Michael Smith, Jen Richards, Leo Sheng, Alexandra Grey and Theo Germaine were among the trans and non-binary actors to perform a 90-minute version at a virtual reading.