‘Brokeback Mountain’ Director Recalls Heath Ledger on Set: ‘Heath’s Aura Powers The Whole Story’


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Seventeen years ago, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal paved the way for new onscreen chemistry, changing the norm. Director Ang Lee is still amazed by how much of a genius Ledger was, not only in his film Brokeback Mountain, but as an actor in general.

The director paid tribute to the actor, who tragically died of an accidental overdose in 2008. Lee stated the actor brought wisdom and passion on the set of the 2005 film, starring ad Ennis Del Mar. The actor’s character falls in love with western cowboy, Jack Tist, portrayed by Jake Gyllenhall, after spending the summer together herding sheep. 

Brokeback Mountain has the elegiac mood of a Western and inner-twisted repression — Ennis is a very repressed character, macho but gay, gay but homophobic — and often there is no vocabulary to express his feelings. So Heath’s aura powers the whole story,” Lee said speaking with Empire. “He did a lot of preparation, mostly on his own. And he often surprised me with what he brought to his work.”

Brokeback Mountain Trailer

Years later, Lee is now stating that it was the “quieter moments” of the actor’s performance that resonated with him the most. Such as the sense where Ennis ran into his ex Cassie Cartwright, played by Linda Cardellini, in a local diner. 

“Ennis is alone, eating a slice of apple pie. Linda is acting her heart out, she’s in tears, confronting Ennis: ‘Why did you do this?’ But she doesn’t get a word from him. Throughout the whole scene, Heath does nothing: he just eats the apple pie. But watching the dailies, the crew were all crying too, saying, ‘Just leave the guy alone!'” Lee remembered. “I both understood, and cherished, Heath’s quietness, the subtlety of the moment, and how he carried himself in that scene. We are all very lucky we were able to make movies with an actor of that caliber. He had a God-given gift.”

“In his heart, I think Heath knew the character of Ennis deeply,” the director continued. “On a technical level, he took direction very well, but worked alone. He’s not someone you really needed to talk to a lot, because he was very independent. For me, if the result is right, then I’m happy. If it’s not, I could tell him, and he would work something else out.”

Jake Gyllenhall on Brokeback Mountain Role

Lee also noted it was a “gift” to watch the relationship between Gyllenhaal and Ledger’s characters slowly develop their offscreen and offscreen relationship. Yes, even though the two butted heads at times. 

“When it came to Jake, Heath had a very different attitude towards their work. Sometimes there was friction — not quarreling, but a clash of styles,” he noted. “Sometimes I would mediate that, but they were both good in different ways. They would always make the effort to find a way through.”

The director did note that both Oscar winners were required to attend “Cowboy camp,” but that Ledger hardly needed it. “He was a natural,” he noted. “He was so good with animals, too. When he sat on that horse, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind. He was a cowboy.”

Read More: Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams’ Onscreen Romance Became the Real Thing

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