turned down brokeback mountain
turned down brokeback mountain

So Many Hollywood Stars Turned Down ‘Brokeback Mountain’

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Gus Van Sant is promoting his new movie, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, but it’s his revelations about some gay films he didn’t direct that are garnering attention. Van Sant told IndieWire he was approached to helm both Brokeback Mountain and Call Me By Your Name.

He praised Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino, saying if he had made that film it wouldn’t have done as well. “I don’t think it would have panned out the way it did if I had directed it,” said Van Sant. “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. … I’m not sure I would have ended up in the same place.”

The out filmmaker, who was at one point attached to direct Brokeback Mountain, also revealed numerous well-known male stars turned down the roles of Ennis and Jack. “Nobody wanted to do it. I was working on it, and I felt like we needed a really strong cast, like a famous cast. That wasn’t working out. I asked the usual suspects: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ryan Phillippe. They all said no.”

Diana Ossana, who produced Brokeback Mountain with James Schamus, confirmed Van Sant’s statement. “Yes, all those young gentlemen [at the time] turned down the project, for various reasons,” she told Indiewire. Ossana also adapted the script with Larry McMurtry from a short story by Annie Proulx.

Brokeback Mountain
Photo of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ via Focus Features

Looking back, Van Sant says he regrets going for name actors in the first place. “What I could have done, and what I probably should have done, was cast more unknowns, not worried about who were the lead actors.”

Van Sant, who helped River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves go queer in My Own Private Idaho 14 years earlier, says he “wasn’t ready” to cast lesser known performers in Brokeback. “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.”

Ossana added that several notable directors also turned down the film: “Nobody would commit. We sent it to Edward Norton, Joel Schumacher and dozens of people to direct, and they all came back saying they loved it but no one would commit. They didn’t give us any real excuse why they wouldn’t. I guess they saw it as too difficult.”

Ultimately directed by Ang Lee, Brokeback earned critical praise for stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal and Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score.

What do you think of the many stars who were almost cast in Brokeback Mountain?