HEATH LEDGER COMMITTED TO PLAY ENNIS DEL MAR FOR ANG LEE WITHOUT HAVING MET OR SPOKEN WITH THE DIRECTOR.
Diana Ossana: I'm obsessively detailed, and I liked seeing that in Ang as well. What made him so good for Brokeback Mountain was, if you look at his other movies - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and even The Ice Storm - take place over vast physical and emotional landscapes, but the stories are very intimate. They have a wide scope and a very narrow scope at the same time.
Larry McMurtry: As I said, I don't watch movies very much anymore, but Diana and I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon together - I think it was her fourth time watching it, she tends to do that when she loves a film - and Ang's visuals of the great landscape of China, as well as his touch with the intimate stories of the characters, gave me confidence that he could do justice to the nuance, the details, and the subtleties of our screenplay.
James Schamus: Creatively, Ang's biggest challenge was always holding in balance the big, sweeping, and epic side of the story with the intense and intimate emotional journey that is at the core of the film. Luckily, with these writers behind him, he had fellow artists who have also mastered that balancing act.
Michael Costigan: The sensitivity that Ang shows to relationships in his movies brought us actors who were very excited to work with him and go to places that they hadn't been before.
Anne Hathaway: Working with him is pretty much as good as it gets. You pray that you give him what he wants, and then you know that if he says he has the shot, then he has the shot - and it's probably going to be some of the best work you've ever done.
Randy Quaid: Like all great directors, Ang is an actor's friend and he attracts all the best people - the best makeup, the best costumers…So you just want to do your best in that kind of environment. Once he's cast the part, he lets the actor go and create. If there's something that he wants to see that is not being given by the actor, then he'll discuss it and we'll try it differently. He's very accommodating. As an actor, I can learn something from him.
Heath Ledger: We all spent time with Ang talking about and rehearsing our characters' stories. His attention to detail is microscopic; he doesn't miss a beat. He's a wonderful filmmaker who always seems to know exactly what he wants. He slips into possession of the story he's telling with ease.
Anne Hathaway: He won't let things not be truthful in his films. He understands the importance of subtlety. This was interesting for me because my background is largely from comedy, where you can get away with not necessarily having the most honest moments on film. In this story, dealing with these big emotions, if we went over the top with them then we would lose exactly what we were trying to do.
Jake Gyllenhaal: This is the first time I've ever played a character spanning a long period of time. Ang said, it's not only the makeup and the wardrobe but also the voice and the movement and the behavior - everything combined into one. He made me feel empowered.
Marit Allen: Ang Lee understands characters' emotions completely. Nothing escapes his notice, and he uses every piece of the frame to tell his story.
Michael Costigan: Ang felt that this was a story that he wanted to tell, about people who feel something so strongly but live in a time and place where they are not allowed to have those feelings - and, if they had them, could not articulate or express them. I think Ang also saw in it what you see in a lot of his films; people who are extensions of where they are from and where they live, and are products of their environment. To do what they want to do, to have what they want to have, they must break out of that environment or out of the elements in their lives that are convincing them that they shouldn't be doing those things or having those emotions.
James Schamus: Ang is both a revolutionary and a profound conservative - he is respectful of the past, of tradition, of people; while at the same time, his heroes and heroines, from Sense and Sensibility through Crouching Tiger, and now in Brokeback Mountain, are always those who somehow don't fit into society's categories and who always have to fight for their individual freedoms.
Ang Lee: To make a great romantic story, you need great obstacles. Ennis and Jack are in the American West, which has macho and traditional values. So, everything they feel, they have to keep private. It's precious, and something special that they cannot articulate. That's very dramatic for me.
Diana Ossana: When Ennis met Alma, there may have been a physical attraction, but also a sense that, "this is what I'm supposed to do - get married and have children." Ennis cares for Alma and loves her, but his love for her is not passion. It is nowhere near what he feels for Jack. Alma is a girl from a lower-middle-class family with normal expectations. The two men in the story really don't have a context for understanding and articulating their feelings for each other. I also don't think Alma has any context for grasping Ennis's and Jack's relationship.
Michelle Williams: Initially, Alma has exactly what she wanted - what she's been raised to want all of her life; a family and a home, a husband and children. When she sees her husband and Jack together, she probably doesn't even know exactly how to identify it at first, 'cause it's so out of the realm of her consciousness, of her world. She's too afraid to speak [of] it, so she holds onto it and it boils and brews inside of her.
Diana Ossana: As Annie says in the story, "A slow erosion occurs." For Alma, it's a process. It becomes widening water between her and Ennis.
Jake Gyllenhaal: Between Jack and Lureen, I think there's real love - but it's real love without that sexual bond, which I think is somewhat [closer to] friendship. He probably makes a decision to go be with her because that's his mask, going with what society says is the right thing to do. All this time, there's this aching to be with Ennis and to have a life with him.
Anne Hathaway: When Lureen and Jack meet, they are young, and excited about being with each other. But as the story progresses, they have less and less in common. Lureen is in a marriage with Jack that is based on a certain kind of love, but not passion; it doesn't go as deep as the connection he has with Ennis. I was interested in exploring what that would do to a person, how that would turn them. When she's younger, Lureen is sassy; I decided that she leads with her belt buckle. Later, she becomes bitter. I think that, as she gets older, she knows that Jack is keeping something from her.
Jake Gyllenhaal: Oh, I think she knows; she probably has an idea of it - that something's going on.
Shane Madden: Same thing that I've gone through; I fell in love with somebody, cared for a guy and we hid it from everybody. Society told me not to do it. Met a girl. Started dating the girl. Fell in love with her. Wasn't happy because I wasn't me.
Jake Gyllenhaal: The question of identity, whether it's sexual or whatever, is what makes this movie so powerful. My own struggle with who I am, and who I am to other people, and what masks I put on, is hopefully interlaced with this character.
Ang Lee: We all have secrets. But we are societal animals, and we need to live with other people and have to fit in. You could easily say that Ennis and Jack live in a lie, but they had to. I don't think they knew any other ways to survive as human beings. It's not like they had other choices.
Jake Gyllenhaal: Heath and I trusted each other enough to take risks. It was wonderful creating an intimacy with him. He made me feel comfortable; he made me want to be present, and that's the best thing you can ask for from someone you're acting with.
Heath Ledger: It was great working with Jake. He was a very brave and talented actor to work with.
James Schamus: The wonder of the boys' performances is how they relate and grow off each other as the film progresses. We see them age over the course of two decades, and watch the weight of their experience accumulate sometimes in the most quiet, intimate ways as their relationship changes.
Anne Hathaway: Heath and Jake are taking the weight of a lot of people on their shoulders; they're enacting a story that people should hear. They totally put themselves aside and became the characters.
Michelle Williams: My hat is off to both of them; Heath was totally supportive, selfless, and helpful [in our scenes together].
Randy Quaid: Brokeback Mountain is a courageous choice for both of these actors. They're at a critical phase of their careers, establishing themselves. It's a real credit to them, not only as actors but as people, to take on these roles.
Heath Ledger: I had fear going into it, but that was all the more reason to do it; it was exhilarating when I committed to [the movie].
Diana Ossana: This may sound like a common adjective, but they're truly wonderful. And they've really gone the extra mile.
Joy Ellison: Michelle Williams and I took a trip through Wyoming and Montana. We went to some biker bars, and I taped people all the way. This is [now] decades later [than the movie's periods], so accents are a little watered-down, but you can still get an essence. When an actor hears a tape of a rhythm from a native speaker, we can pick out sounds and work on them individually. Michelle was born in Montana and left at an early age, but she still has that background and so she has a good sense of the rhythms and quality of the speech. Like a lot of trained actors, she let go of her regionalisms to be more flexible in other things they're doing, so this was bringing her back.
Diana Ossana: Landscape - the place where they grow up - is what forms people; they can move away and live in other places, but they're always drawn back - at least emotionally - to the place where they're from.
Michelle Williams: I suppose Montana is in my bones, though when I told my mother that we were working on our accents 'cause we're [playing characters] from Wyoming, she said, "What are you talking about? We don't have accents." It was an interesting accent to work on and pin down, because it's not as typical as a Southern accent. You haven't heard it a lot in film. The danger was to overdo it. I met Joy in Billings, Montana and we drove down to Riverton, Wyoming. I soaked up the atmosphere and looked at people and places. It was so wonderful to be on a project where they allowed you to do that. I've never come across that [before]; "Yeah, sure, take a rental car, follow whatever path you want for a couple of days, get what you can, and come back to us." It was great.
Diana Ossana: Michelle's a powerful presence, and she's very moving as Alma. I have been impressed with her ever since Dawson's Creek; I thought she brought a weight to that show that it otherwise didn't have. Because of what Michelle brought to Brokeback Mountain, I think we get a true appreciation for Alma and her dilemma and loss.
Heath Ledger: Michelle's ability to dive deep within her soul never ceased to amaze me. She's a brilliant actress.
Ang Lee: It's a very sad situation, and Michelle is very genuine about [portraying] it; she should rip your heart [out]. I like making dramas about conflict, through which you examine humanity - the complexities in human relationships - and see where we're at. Dramatically, this was like a gold mine to me. I went down to Texas to visit Larry, who's like the authoritative father figure in that world. I had the privilege to be toured by him to all of [the real-life] The Last Picture Show places. We went to the ranch where he grew up. I took photos, and he talked to me about the West. He's very generous about sharing his experiences - and his books, for art department research. He also gave a list of places to visit in Wyoming. So I went all over Wyoming, [where] Annie Proulx [also] spent some time with me. Doing the research, and being there in Wyoming, really helped a city person like myself.
Marit Allen: Ang wanted to reflect the reality of the story, the places, the people and their economic situations. Ang, [cinematographer] Rodrigo Prieto and myself all studied Richard Avedon's book Photographs of the American West. He took photographs in the 1960s, and revisited [the subjects] twenty years later. There was a photograph in the Avedon book that we took as the template for Alma. Michelle Williams understood it, and embraced it immediately.
Ang Lee: Rodrigo is a great DP. He's very quick. I love his work from Alejandro González Iñárritu's movies; also from Alejandro's crew, I took [composer] Gustavo [Santaolalla]. The movie is poignant and stark, so we needed sparse music here and there, and his fits perfectly. Each time we could not afford a song, he would write us one.
Michael Costigan: Judy Becker connected with the story and wanted to depict it in a way that felt true.
Judy Becker: Right from the start, Ang made it clear that he wanted Brokeback Mountain to be in a realistic setting, in order for the audience to believe in the characters. But you have to imagine a way to create reality on film in a way that's different from real life. In general, I try to let the sets be a naturalistic background to the actors. That's one of the ways in which you have to try to transform what reality is into something that becomes the reality of the movie. It's annoying to me when I see a "period movie," and there's a Life Magazine with John Kennedy on the cover - "Here we are, it's 1962." When I started working on this film and hired my crew, I told them that I wanted to find subtle ways to show the year or the period that we're in. When I met with Ang the first time, we talked about making the color palette slightly de-saturated and somewhat subdued for most of the movie. Brokeback Mountain represents a freedom that Ennis and Jack don't feel in their towns.
Diana Ossana: Brokeback Mountain is Ennis and Jack's magical place. It's where they fell in love. They never go back there, which may be unconscious on their parts; it's their idyll, and they don't want to spoil it. It's like Jack says, "All we got's Brokeback Mountain."
Ang Lee: The dramatic core is finding Brokeback Mountain. It is elusive and romantic. It is something that you keep wanting to go back to - but probably never will. For Ennis and Jack, it was their taste of love.
Judy Becker: Ang and I, and Rodrigo, talked about how the towns would be a strong contrast to the mountains - colorless and cluttered. We didn't have the resources to build a huge amount of the sets. The biggest challenge was finding the right locations. During prep, when we found an apartment and a diner that I could transform into the places that I had envisioned in my head and discussed with Ang, that was a great feeling.I did an enormous amount of research, both into the periods and the locales. The 1967 supermarket sequence, for example, was a very specific process; researching what products were available, what the labels looked like, what the advertising looked like, what the supermarket looked like. I looked at imagery of small towns. One thing that struck me, which Ang and I discussed early on, was that although the movie takes place mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, the towns still looked like they could be in earlier decades. We went to Wyoming and Texas to do some research and, even now, so much detail and architecture is left over from pre-World War II. Change happened very, very slowly in small towns in the West.
Jake Gyllenhaal: There's a metaphor of the whole West, how the West was changing at the time from the Old West to the New West. Ang likes to say that Jack represents the New West, and Ennis represents the Old West. They're two people, two landscapes.
Judy Becker: We found documentary references for the [1960s] campsites. Those haven't changed very much; they look pretty much the same today as they did 40 years ago. Then, with the later [1970s/1980s] campsites, we wanted to show the social and economic changes for the characters. Jack becomes fairly wealthy during the course of the movie; we wanted to show that he enjoys spending the money, almost trying to impress Ennis with it.
Joy Ellison: People often think Wyoming and Texas accents are the same, but they're really quite different. But "get" becomes "git" in both. The Wyoming one has more of a rhythm, and it's much more subtle; you put phrases together and sometimes make a bit of a strange pause where you normally might not. You never say "-ing"; you say "walkin'" and "talkin'" and "thinkin'" and "drinkin'." The Texas one has stronger sounds and stronger uses of the vowels. This movie had a beautiful script, written very accurately, I might add.
Randy Quaid: Over the years, I've done a lot of Westerns and been around my share of ranches and farms.
Diana Ossana: Larry and I had Randy in a miniseries some years back, Streets of Laredo. Here, he's perfect as Joe Aguirre; he brings a realistic presence for that time and place and an undercurrent of threat.
Randy Quaid: Aguirre is a cards-close-to-the-vest type; he looks at Ennis and Jack as expendable.
I'm from Texas, so I had [to do] a Wyoming accent for this. They do tend to phrase their sentences in a more terse, shortened manner of speaking than Texans do.
Michael Costigan: Marit Allen has worked with Ang [before], and had a great time finding what these people would have been wearing and how they would look in Wyoming and Texas then.
Diana Ossana: When Marit showed me photographs of Heath and Jake in wardrobe, they looked so real, so much like the characters we had envisioned, that I had to go outside and compose myself. I was that moved.
Marit Allen: I always work with the actors; we find things together. We used earth tones almost entirely for Ennis. Heath was deeply involved with his character. He worked with his clothes, using everything he wears to convey Ennis' repression - the jackets, done up; the cowboy hats, to hide behind. Between him and Jake, the hats became an integral part of what they were doing.
Ang Lee: Cowboys are so shy; they don't know what to do with their hands. They don't talk that much; you can't dig anything out of them. In the first scene, when Ennis and Jack arrive looking for a job, there's no dialogue. We staged how they positioned themselves, and used the space - how comfortable they are with each other in the distance.
Joy Ellison: Their mouths would be [closed more], which worked well for the characters and the whole feeling, because the bigger picture is an idea of people who can't communicate. They are in a period of time where, there may be a sexual revolution going on in the country but in that particular part of the country, it's a much more conservative, bottled-up, and uncommunicative society. It would be very difficult for people to be open and communicative about these things. Ang was particularly careful about all of it.
Ang Lee: That bottled-up feeling - Larry had written me about the nonverbal culture in the West. I'd done [a movie about] a verbal culture with Sense and Sensibility. In some ways, this was harder, because, if they are not verbalizing their feelings and being level in their communication, then how do you express their feelings in cinema? You have the Western elements; the landscape, the sky, the animals - whom they're nurturing, actually.
Diana Ossana: Ennis and Jack are very poor country boys. Because of the difficulty of where they've grown up, it's always about survival for them; not just financially, but physically, with the snow and the wind and the rain and the harsh landscape. Brokeback Mountain is very removed from the rest of the world and from the rest of life. It's private up there, there's no intrusion, and they feel comfortable. When they come back down off of Brokeback and they're back in their small towns, everything closes in on them again. They complement each other, Ennis and Jack. Jack is more open to the possibilities of life than Ennis; he's adventurous, friendlier, and has a ready smile. Ennis is very closed off, and does not access his emotions easily, if at all. When he brings up to Jack about the incident he saw as a young boy, that's one of the few things we know about Ennis, other than that his parents were killed when he was teenager, and he's been pretty much alone all his life. His tragedy is how terrified he is of feeling. He has developed a hard shell; inside, he's very vulnerable and easily damaged.
Heath Ledger: I think Ennis punishes himself over an uncontrollable need - love. Fear was installed in him at an early age, and so the way he loved disgusted him. He's a walking contradiction.
Diana Ossana: Jack is the first person that Ennis truly connects with. It's emotional first, and then it becomes physical. It's the most intense thing that's ever happened to Ennis in his young life.
Jake Gyllenhaal: The way Ang described Jack, and the way it's been written, is, he's more open to his emotions - and to a relationship. Ennis is more withdrawn. Jack, to me, tries really hard to hold on to the one thing that he knows is real in his life - his love for Ennis. Somewhere in him he has enough courage to say, "Let's try this. Let's take this risk, but I need you to take it [with me]. I can't do it alone." There comes a time, I think, in every relationship, where you have to say, "Are you gonna make this sacrifice or not? And if you're not, then I'm gonna find somebody else who is maybe more willing."
Michael Costigan: Heath and Jake are extraordinary actors who really understood who Ennis and Jack were, what their emotions were about, and their wanting to find love - which is what the entire story is about.
ON FILMING BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
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