American film director and screenwriter Gus Van Sant recently spoke with interviewers at IndieWire, and spilled some juicy information about the film Brokeback Mountain. That movie stole the hearts of millions, snagging eight Academy Award nominations in 2006. Brokeback Mountain, for those who may not have watched the film, is a gay love story that takes place between a rancher and a ranch hand in Wyoming. Gus Van Sant did not direct Brokeback Mountain; he was approached and did begin working on the film, but ultimately it was director Ang Lee who took over. According to Van Sant, he was not the only big name in Hollywood that turned away from the film.
Van Sant recalled during his interview the fact that he couldn’t find anyone who wanted to play the two starring roles. The director felt that the film needed a very strong cast, and he approached Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Ryan Phillippe because he didn’t just want a strong cast, he wanted a famous one. All of the actors turned him down. As fans of the film known, late actor Heath Ledger starred in the film alongside Jake Gyllenhaal. Those two would go on to earn widespread acclaim and accolades for portraying the characters in the film.
Producers of Brokeback Mountain, Diana Ossana and James Schamus, confirmed Van Sant’s statement in their own email with IndieWire. According to Ossana, Ledger’s role was the hardest to fill out of the two leading slots. She says that “Casting Ennis in particular was the ultimate hurdle.”
Van Sant also weighed in on his take-backs from what happened during his early and brief time working on the project. He says that due to the lack of enthusiasm surrounding the movie’s casting progress, he believes he could have cast unknowns rather than worrying over getting someone famous on the set for lead acting.
“I was not ready. I’m not sure why. There was just sort of a hiccup on my part. There was something off with myself, I guess, whatever was going on.”
Brokeback Mountain was not the only film Van Sant backed away from. The more recent 11-award-winning film Call Me By Your Name, which was nominated for a total of 35 awards, was also a no-go for Van Sant, going on to be directed by Luca Guadagnino. He told journalists that he did not believe the film would have turned out the way it did had he taken the job.
“I think in that case in particular…I don’t think it would have panned out the way it did if I had directed it. I think it was great. I like the film. I think the sentimentality and the ending of the film was something that probably wasn’t in the book in the same way. It maybe was in the book, but I think that he got something really great that I think is very…I’m not sure I would have ended up in the same place, so it probably wouldn’t have done as well.”