Amidst all of the media coverage of Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain — and there has been just a bit — much has been made of the "courage" it took for two Hollywood leading men such as Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger to play Jack and Ennis, cowboys who, during the isolation of a sheepherding job, most unexpectedly fall fiercely and intimately in love with each other. Gyllenhaal, though, shrugs off the use of such a loaded, powerful word, saying, "All we did was service a story, something which, to this day, I feel is a lot bigger than any one person involved in the film.
"Does it take courage nowadays [to dramatize a gay romance] when people have very different opinions of what that type of relationship is? I guess," the actor allows. "But what is really courageous is people who are trying to be intimate in their real life and who are up against real obstacles. Heath and I, we were just making a movie for two months."
As both actors garner critical kudos for their performances, it's interesting to note that Gyllenhaal originally eyed the role that ended up going to Ledger. "When I read the script for the first time, I thought that Ang would want to cast me as Ennis and Heath as Jack," he reveals, "just because I felt Heath [like Jack] was more outgoing. You're used to him being a less passive presence. But when we were cast opposite what I thought, I realized that Ang recognized in both of us something that I don't think either of us saw. The want to push forward and progress and change things was something in Jack that I felt like I had, too, while Heath is the kind of guy who carries his heart on his shoulder, and is always protecting himself in different ways."
Once the roles were assigned, the rest fell into place, thanks to screenwriter Larry McMurtry's adaptation of Annie Proulx's novella. "I know it sounds very 'actory' of me, but the story is filled with so much subtext already, all I had to do, really, was show up to the set," says Gyllenhaal. "If you read the script, it's pages and pages of scene description for the actors, about how one's feeling for the other is 'like 1,000 streams of blood rushing through his veins.' The words and the people and the ideas beneath it drove us. If we had tried to do anything more than what we do in the movie, it would have been overdoing it."
Indeed, Brokeback pulls not a single punch, not even shying away from the men's love scenes, which at the same time are intense and roused with emotion. "In this movie, the love scenes are not very different from the fight scenes," Gyllenhaal notes. "It is an exaggeration to say that Heath almost broke my nose [as has been reported], but yeah, it was very physical between the two of us.
"I was afraid of how Ang was going to shoot it," he continues. "I think it's fair to say that even he wasn't sure how he was going to shoot it, whether he was going to show the initial [moments] and then cut away to the outside of the tent. But I consider myself a relatively strong-minded person, and I probably would have fought [for my ideas] until it came out the way that it did. But Ang did do it that way, so no worries."