A long list of “prominent young actors” almost starred in Brokeback Mountain.
The film, which depicted a complex gay love story set in the American West in the ’60s, became a critical and commercial success when it was released in 2005, and went on to win three Oscars including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
While the finished product famously starred Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as the two cowboy lovers, as well as Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams as their wives, screenwriter Diana Ossana revealed the cast could have looked very different.
Speaking at a Q&A for screenings of Brokeback Mountain and Philadelphia in Santa Monica, Diana explained that the project was known as a “gay cowboy” movie and that for a very long time “nobody would commit” to starring in it.
“We sent it to Edward Norton [to direct] and Joel Schumacher and dozens of people and they all came back saying they loved it but no one would commit,” she recalled, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“They didn’t give us any real excuse why they wouldn’t. I guess they saw it as too difficult.”
Diana told the audience that Matt Damon, Joaquin Phoenix, and Mark Wahlberg were all considered for the two leading roles, while filmmaker Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk) was very nearly on board as director.
She also explained that one of the biggest challenges was getting executives to understand that the film was not a “universal love story”, but a story of two men falling in love during a time and place where this wasn’t accepted.
“This is a movie about two men who fall in love. It’s very specific,” she continued. “It’s about Ennis and Jack and it’s about their flaws and their mistakes and their struggles and their humanity.”
And while she didn’t reveal any more names that dropped out of the film, she did tease: “Maybe I’ll write a book about it someday, about who committed and backed out.”