Instead of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, can you imagine Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt? Apparently, it could have happened, if the actors accepted the roles. The western romantic drama was discovered by screenwriter Diana Ossana after the short story was written by Annie Proulx, and before Ang Lee joined the team to direct, Gus Van Sant was the first one to be approached to direct 'Brokeback Mountain'
Gus Van Sant recalled in an interview that he had many problems when trying to cast the actors who would play Jack and Ennis, leading him to drop the project. “Nobody wanted to do it,” Van Sant said to IndieWire. “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.”
In case you need to refresh your memory, Gus Van Sant is the one who directed My Own Private Idaho, Psycho, and Good Will Hunting, so we can really say that the man knew what he was doing when selecting his cast. And do not take us wrong, the movie is perfect as it is, but can you imagine Leo and Pitt instead of Ledger and Gyllenhaal? However, after the director said this, Ossana confirmed it via email to IndiieWire. “Yes, all those young gentlemen (at the time) turned down the project, for various reasons,” Of the two leading men, Ledger’s role was the more difficult to fill, according to Ossana. “Casting Ennis, in particular, was the ultimate hurdle,” she said.
After all the struggles, Van Sant accepts that he should have approached the cast the other way around “What I could have done, and what I probably should have done, was cast more unknowns, not worried about who were the lead actors.” He continued, “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.” And even then, it was revealed by The Hollywood reporter back in the day that production almost started with Matt Damon and Joaquin Phoenix but Damon recoiled. Gus, I did a gay movie (The Talented Mr. Ripley), then a cowboy movie (All the Pretty Horses). I can't follow it up with a gay-cowboy movie!"
Despite all the problems the production had, it was highly acclaimed. At the 78th Academy Awards, Brokeback Mountain was nominated for Best Picture and won three awards for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Original Score. The film garnered seven nominations at the 63rd Golden Globe Awards and won four awards. At the 59th British Academy Film Awards, Brokeback Mountain was nominated for nine awards, winning Best Film, Best Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Gyllenhaal).