Brokeback Mountain has captivated audiences with its haunting portrait of forbidden love. It takes place in the American West during the '60s. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal star as Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, cowboys who fall in love after spending a summer herding sheep together.
The star-crossed lovers soon part ways knowing that they cannot publicly be together. They marry and have children, but over many years continue seeing each other when they can.
Not only did this groundbreaking movie take home four Golden Globes® and three Oscars®, people say Heath and Jake gave the performances of their lives.
Despite the potentially controversial subject matter, Jake says his doubts ended once he read the story. "It was really the most beautiful love story I had ever read, and I couldn't not do it," he says. "When you see the movie and you read the script and you read the short story, I think all those things [like potential controversy] kind of oddly go away."
Heath agrees. He says he was initially anxious about the risks involved in starring in Brokeback Mountain. "I think it bled into my initial reaction," he says. "But then that kind of disappeared, and I was just left with this beautiful story. It felt important. It felt like a story that had never been put to screen."
"We can't say that we weren't nervous about it," Heath says. "But once the first take was over, it's like, 'Okay. So what? It's kissing another human being. How are we going to finish this scene? Let's get on with it, and let's get out of here."
Was it more awkward doing a love scene with a man than doing one with a woman?
On filming loves scenes with a woman, Jake says, "I think we approach it like a dance, you know? So you have to say, 'Okay, I'm going to move you here, I'm going to go here. I'm going to touch you here, then we're going to kiss. Then I'm going to lay you down.' And that's how it was with us. In [one of Brokeback Mountain's love scenes,] it was like, 'Okay, I'm going to come up and we hug and we're going to look at each other. And Heath, you're going to pull me back and you're going to slam me into the wall and then I'm going to grab you and slam you into the wall.'
"There have been times when I've been working with women," Jake adds, "and they just said, 'Hey, I've faked it before. I can fake it again.'"
Heath: I think whether or not the subject is controversial is relative to the person you are. ... I never found the subject to be controversial, so I never went in there nervous.
Jake: I figure if we knew the response to the movie before we did it, I don't think either of us could have done it.
Heath: You have to pretend no one's ever going to see it in order to allow yourself to expose yourself and be vulnerable.
Jake: Especially the stuff that we do in the movie!
"Ennis had very few words to express because of what was going on," Heath explains. "He had this real inability to express and to love and to be loved. So I really wanted to represent that physically and through his voice. I wanted his mouth to be a clenched fist, and I wanted the words to really fight their way out from within. Any form of expression should be painful for him."
Jake says that in acting with Heath, he saw something in the character of Ennis that many viewers don't immediately identify. "[Heath said] to me, before we started shooting, 'I think Ennis is really sensitive to light.' And, 'I think that Ennis doesn't like to look people in the eyes and it makes him really uncomfortable.' I think a lot of people say that he's a repressed character, but to me what was interesting in playing off of him was that it felt like he was incredibly sensitive. Just sensitive to everything."
"I don't know what the last thing Ennis says when he's looking at the postcard," Oprah says. "We're crying but we don't know what he said! I've called three people to ask them, 'What did he say at the end of the movie?'"
Well, Heath is ready to unravel that unintentional mystery. He says, "Jack, I swear."
"I still find it personally disappointing that people kind of go out of their way to voice their disgust or their opinions against the ways in which two people choose to love one another," Heath says. "I think that's really unfortunate."
Jake says that Brokeback Mountain depended on certain factors to even make it to the big screen. "I think it's taken a while for somebody who wanted to approach the story in such a universal way—someone like [director] Ang Lee—to jump on it and make the choice to do it."
One thing is for sure about this film. It may be the "gay cowboy movie," but no one would say that Jack or Ennis are effeminate.
Even still, Jake says, people tell him their gender theories of Jack and Ennis's relationship. "I think what's interesting to me is to hear people say, 'Oh, well, you're really the woman in the relationship and he's really the guy,'" Jake says. "And then someone else said, 'No, but you really try and go after him, so you're really the guy and he's really the woman.' And it's like, what are you talking about? I don't understand what you're talking about? To box people in, I think, is what this movie is trying to go against, you know?"
Knowing they can never be together, Ennis and Jack move on and marry two very different women. Former Dawson's Creek star Michelle Williams plays Alma, Ennis's devoted wife. Anne Hathaway, star of The Princess Diaries, plays Lureen, a sassy rodeo queen who marries Jack.
Anne says that as soon as she read the script, she knew Brokeback was going to be special...and she wanted to be a part of the magic.
"I was just grateful that I read such a beautiful story," she tells Oprah. "I mean, in Hollywood to have a beautiful love story that's honest is so rare. So all of a sudden, you know, you're reading the lines on the page, and you're, like, 'Oh, my God. I've had this fight.' And I found that I could relate to it for a lot of reasons. I was just proud that people were making it."
"I remember being at rehearsal and seeing the two of them sort of, like, googly-eyed looking at each other," Jake tells Oprah. "Then I left for two weeks and came back—and they were in love! So there were four trailers, and then there quickly became three trailers."
Anne also remembers sparks flying on day one of shooting the film. "There were sparks immediately," she says. "The first day we were sitting having lunch together, and Michelle had hurt her knee. Heath was playing with her crutches, and every once in a while, he would look and she would look and they were just adorable. "
"I had to adjust quickly," she tells Oprah. "We started promoting the movie about three weeks after she was born, which was too soon. I'm just learning lessons now, like learning how to be a working mom—which my mother wasn't."
"She's the perfect mom," Heath says about his fiancée. "I'm so proud," he says. "I just fall deeper and deeper in love with both my girls."
"That was hardest for me because I'm not an aggressive person in that way," Anne says. "So all of a sudden, I was, like, 'How do you walk in a sexy way?' I had no idea what I was doing."
Jake, on the other hand, says one of his favorite scenes was with Anne. After making out with Heath for weeks, Jake says getting intimate with Anne was "a breath of fresh air."
Though Brokeback Mountain earned eight Oscar® nominations—the most for any 2005 film—and won three statuettes, the actors say the experience itself was the greatest reward.
"At this point, what the movie's achieved and what it's done and the way it's hit people's hearts... yeah, being nominated for an Oscar would be amazing," Anne says. "But what it's done so far has kind of surpassed any award I think anybody could get."