Ang Lee Had to ‘Mediate’ the ‘Friction’ Between Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger During ‘Brokeback Mountain’

"Not quarreling, but a clash of styles," Lee recalled of Ledger and Gyllenhaal's respective approaches to their roles.
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, 2005, (c) Focus Features/courtesy Everett Collection
Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal in "Brokeback Mountain"
©Focus Films/Courtesy Everett Collection

Ang Lee is recalling the tension during the “Brokeback Mountain” production.

The director remembered late lead star Heath Ledger in a tribute for Empire’s Greatest Actors Issue and detailed the “friction” between Ledger and co-star Jake Gyllenhaal for the queer Western cowboy romance.

“Heath’s aura powers the whole story. He did a lot of preparation, mostly on his own. And he often surprised me with what he brought to his work,” Lee said. “One aspect I cherish was getting to witness Heath and Jake [Gyllenhaal] develop that relationship between their characters. I saw it unfold right in front of my eyes, from rehearsal all the way to filming.”

Lee continued, “Michelle Williams broke her knee during pre-shooting, but Heath was always looking after her. He was so naturally caring towards Michelle. 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. Sometimes I would mediate that, but they were both good in different ways. They would always make the effort to find a way through.”

Lee continued, “In his heart, I think Heath knew the character of Ennis deeply. 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.”

Ledger died in 2008 and won a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.”

“Heath Ledger was a brilliant young actor,” Lee summed up. “God only knows what he would have achieved later in life. He had so much talent — I’m sure he would have been a great director. We are all very lucky we were able to make movies with an actor of that calibre. He had a God-given gift.”

Ledger’s “Brokeback Mountain” co-star Gyllenhaal looked back on the legacy of the film earlier this year.

“The relationship between me and Heath while we were making this movie was something that was based on a profound love for a lot of people that we knew and were raised by in our lives, a deep respect for their love and their relationship,” Gyllenhaal told Vanity Fair. ““There were many jokes being made about the movie, or poking fun at, things like that. And [Ledger’s] consummate devotion to how serious and important the relationship between these two characters was — it showed me how devoted he was as an actor and how devoted we both were to the story and the movie.”

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.