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Brokeback Mountain writer reveals which actors almost starred in the film

How different things could have been...

By Will Stroude

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect onscreen pairing than Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Ang Lee’s 2005 gay classic Brokeback Mountain, but things could have been very different had it not been for the string of other Hollwood actors who turned down roles in the beloved romantic drama.

Ledger and Gyllenhaal won heaps of criticial praise for their portrayal of star-crossed lovers Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, but the finding two Hollywood stars willing to take the ‘risk’ of fronting an LGBT love story proved tough, according to screenwriter Diana Ossana.

Appearning at a special screning of the film in Santa Monica last week, Ossana admitted a host of “prominent young actors” toyed with the idea of appearing in the film, but that “no one would commit”.

Ossana, who adapted Brokeback Mountain from Annie Proulx’s the 1997 short story of the same name with her writing partner Larry McMurtry, revealed that at one point the movie was set to go forward with Matt Damon and Joaquin Phoenix in the lead roles, and that Mark Wahlberg was also considered.

“We sent it to Edward Norton and Joel Schumacher [to direct] and dozens of people and they all came back saying they loved it but no one would commit”, she told the audience.

“They didn’t give us any real excuse why they wouldn’t. I guess they saw it as too difficult.”

Ossana said she marked out Heath Ledger for the role of Ennis early on, but that the studio, Focus Features, felt the late Australian actor “wasn’t macho enough”.

However, after “another actor” who’d been signed up for six months pulled out, Ossan went back to Ledger, who agreed to star in the film on the advice of his then-girlfriend, actress Naomi Watts.

“Heath read it on the way home to Australia…” Ossana recalled. “And he said Naomi 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 [Lee, the film’s director] to be in this movie’.

She added: “It was a battle to get him, but boy was it worth it.”

As for the actor who Ledger replaced? Well, we might have to wait a while before his identity is revealed.

“Maybe I’ll write a book about it someday, about who committed and backed out”, Ossana teased.