The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a regular feature at the top of greatest-ever movie lists. And for good reason! The flick is directed by the legendary Sergio Leone, for one thing. Ennio Morricone’s searing soundtrack then elevates it even further – and stars Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach are the icing on the cake. And yet many incidents behind the scenes may come as a surprise to even die-hard fans. But enough talking. When you have to shoot, you shoot. Right?
40. The bridge was originally blown up with no cameras rolling
Some scenes are difficult to capture twice — especially when an expensive prop is demolished in the process. So imagine that happening without so much as a single camera rolling! This is exactly what happened during the first take of the iconic bridge scene in this movie. Due to a mix-up, the original bridge was destroyed and a crewman sacked as a result. Happily, the Spanish army helped rebuild the bridge, the crewman was rehired and Leone captured the sequence he was looking for.
39. Language was a problem
The movie’s director was Italian. The main stars were American. The movie was mostly shot in Spain. Many of the extras were Italian and Spanish. The result was a whole host of language barriers that were mighty difficult to overcome. Director Leone could barely speak English, while stars Eastwood and Van Cleef had no Italian. But Eli Wallach was able to converse with his director through French, a common language the two shared.
38. Ennio Morricone didn’t want the trumpet
Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack is one of the most iconic aspects of the entire movie. But initially the composter didn’t want the trumpet for the film’s signature tune. That was director Leone’s idea. Fortunately, Morricone relented, and the rest, as they say, is movie history.
37. Who was the main star?
Most would identify Clint Eastwood as the main star of the film. The legendary actor is the eponymous Good and has certainly gone on to enjoy the most celebrated career of the film’s three main stars. Even so, it’s Wallach’s Ugly — a.k.a. Tuco — who has the most screen time. And it’s Wallach who many would say has the most memorable lines.
36. Wallach narrowly avoided serious injury on a horse
Wallach gave his all in his portrayal of Tuco. While filming the opening scene in which Eastwood shoots Tuco down from a noose, Wallach was very nearly seriously injured. His horse bolted at the sound of the gunshot and sprinted off for almost a mile. All along, Wallach was astride the horse with his hands tied. He had to cling on for dear life using only his knees as grip!
35. Eastwood’s poncho was designed to add bulk and may have been a bit smelly
Eastwood’s character in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, not to mention in sister films A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, is instantly recognizable due to one item of clothing: his iconic poncho. Eastwood first wore the poncho in A Fistful of Dollars when Leone decided he needed to add bulk to his star’s lanky frame. And it was never washed throughout the course of the three films.
34. Eastwood and Wallach got close
Stars Eastwood and Wallach became firm friends. Yet the pair got closer than they ever could have imagined when they ended up sleeping in the same bed upon Wallach’s arrival in Madrid. There were no hotel rooms available, so Eastwood invited his fellow actor to join him while staying at a friend’s house. But they had to share the same bed. Anne Jackson, Wallach’s wife, later quipped that her husband was proud of the fact he was the only man to have ever slept with Eastwood.
33. Fans restored the cemetery
The graveyard in the movie is the setting of one of the film’s most important scenes. The crew originally built Sad Hill Cemetery in Mirandilla Valley in Burgos, Spain, just for the film. Then they left it to fall into decline – but hardcore fans of the movie later formed the Asociación Cultural Sad Hill and restored it. Participants could even prepare their very own graves.
32. Those pistol grips were familiar
Blondie’s pistol grips in the movie are pretty memorable. The gun handle features a silver rattlesnake. And if you think you may have seen those grips before, you’re probably right. Eastwood rose to fame playing Rowdy Yates in the T.V. series Rawhide. And Yates secures that pistol with the rattlesnake grips from a gunslinger in one particular episode. He subsequently carries the gun for the rest of the series.
31. The movie’s soundtrack was a huge success
The movie’s soundtrack is iconic, to say the least, and it proved a huge success for Morricone. After entering the Billboard album chart, it remained there for over a year. It went gold — representing more than 500,000 copies sold — in the United States and went on to sell more than three million copies worldwide.
30. Van Cleef wasn’t happy with everything he had to do
In one scene, Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes slaps Rada Rassimov’s Maria. Van Cleef wasn’t impressed. “There are very few principles I have in life. One of them is I don’t kick dogs, and the other one is I don’t slap women in movies,” the actor said. A stunt double had to be used, with Van Cleef’s face intercut.
29. The movie’s original title changed more than once
Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of the movie is its title. People have heard of the movie even if they’ve never actually seen it. Yet Leone originally had “The Magnificent Rogues” in mind, or even “The Two Magnificent Tramps.” American executives suggested “River of Dollars” and even “The Man With No Name.” Luckily, all of those alternatives were rejected.
28. Only five actors spoke English in the movie, and all were dubbed
Due to the multicultural nature of the cast, only five actors in the entire production actually spoke English, including the movie’s three main stars. But it wasn’t a problem. As was the style with Italian movies at the time, the dialogue was added in post-production. So all the dialog you hear was in fact later dubbed in.
27. Eastwood cheated death while filming
Eastwood had a narrow escape during filming. As Blondie and Tuco take cover behind sandbags during an explosion in one scene, a rock strikes the bag right next to Eastwood’s head. That was a pure accident and would have resulted in serious injury — perhaps even death — if it had hit the actor. Thankfully it didn’t.
26. Eastwood had very specific demands
Although not an A-list star at the time of filming, Eastwood still had movie-star demands. He wouldn’t commit to the movie unless he received $250,000 and the bonus of a Ferrari. After an initial stand-off, Leone relented and Eastwood finally signed on the dotted line. Only then could filming begin.
25. Eastwood didn’t like cigars
Blondie is often seen puffing on cigars during the movie, yet this was not Eastwood’s idea. In fact, the actor hated smoking and was annoyed by Leone’s insistence to retake scenes in which a cigar was dangling from his mouth. “You’d better get it this time because I’m going to throw up,” Eastwood reportedly shouted at his director, according to Eli Wallach.
24. Charles Bronson was earmarked for a role
Director Sergio Leone had firmly set his sights on actor Charles Bronson for a role in the film. Bronson was established as a star of the genre through T.V. roles in The Travels of Jamie McPheeters and Have Gun – Will Travel. He had also appeared in movies such as Guns of Diablo and The Great Escape. However, Bronson was already busy filming another iconic movie — The Dirty Dozen — so couldn’t take up Leone’s offer.
23. The Good wasn’t all that good
Clint Eastwood’s character Blondie is the Good of the title. Yet during the course of the film, Blondie kills no fewer than 11 men. Eli Wallach’s the Ugly sees off six, while Lee Van Cleef’s the Bad only kills three. It seems the Good really wasn’t that good after all.
22. There are some historical inaccuracies
Almost inevitably for a period piece, there are a couple of historical faux pas in the movie. Most significantly, the film’s story features the use of dynamite. Yet this hadn’t even been developed at the time of the American Civil War — which serves as the backdrop for the movie. And then there was Van Cleef’s pipe. This has a visible feature that wouldn’t be invented for a few more years.
21. The set is now a theme park
Most of the movie’s town scenes are shot on the very same set. Created by designer Carlo Simi, the set was also used for the El Paso scenes in For a Few Dollars More. These days you can visit it as a Western-style amusement park called Mini Hollywood in Almeria, Spain. It would be a cool place to pretend to be Clint Eastwood, no doubt.
20. Wallach was chased by a dog through the cemetery, unscripted
Toward the end of the movie, Wallach runs through a vast cemetery. Yet the look of fear on the actor’s face may very well have been real, as a dog seemingly came out of nowhere to pursue him. That same dog can actually be viewed briefly at the very beginning of that same scene.
19. Wallach drank acid on set
Poor Eli Wallach ended up with nasty blisters inside his mouth after drinking acid during filming. The acid was on hand to be used to help the bags filled with gold rip open more easily. Yet some bright spark had the idea to store it in a lemonade bottle. Wallach unwittingly took a slug and got a nasty shock. Fortunately, some milk limited the damage.
18. Where’s the dialog?
Famously, there is no dialog for a significant part of the opening of the movie. But did you know that not one line is uttered in the first 10 and a half minutes of the film? No wonder the flick’s suspense and use of music are so powerful if they can hold our attention for that long.
17. Eastwood wasn’t happy with the script
Eastwood was supposed to be the star of the movie, but that honor may well be held by Wallach. In playing Tuco, Wallach not only gets more screen time than Eastwood’s Blondie, but he’s also hands down the funniest character on screen. Unsurprisingly, Eastwood thought he would get upstaged. And maybe he was.
16. Wallach almost lost his head
Eli Wallach almost bit the dust during the scene in which Tuco cuts his handcuffs off with the wheels of a speeding train. Director Leone insisted the actor perform the stunt himself – but Wallach was very nearly decapitated by an overhanging step-rail. And that’s the very same take that you see in the movie.
15. Wallach was convinced to star after watching two minutes of Leone movies
Wallach was initially reticent before taking on the role of Tuco. The prospect of a Spaghetti Western — a Western directed by an Italian — didn’t really appeal to the actor. But watching a mere two minutes apiece of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More had him convinced. And it’s a good thing it did because Wallach’s performance really is a star turn.
14. One of the most popular lines was ad-libbed
One of the most oft-quoted lines from the movie was just an off-the-cuff quip from Wallach. “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk!” So says Tuco after shooting a character who has the drop on him but pauses to brag about his skills with a gun. But it wasn’t scripted, and it had all the cast and crew in stitches. Wallach hadn’t even meant it as a joke.
13. The movie was never really planned
Despite its popularity, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was never a long-held idea in Leone’s mind. As legend has it, he came up with the concept rather randomly during a meeting with U.S. movie executives. In trying to sell A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More for American distribution, Leone pitched the idea of his next movie on the fly. It’s safe to say the money men liked what they heard!
12. The Spanish army played a pivotal role
Director Sergio Leone must have been grateful for the presence of the Spanish army by the time filming wrapped. Not only did around 1,500 troops appear as extras in the movie, but they also assisted in creating the sets. That includes building the bridge that is blown up in the film. A captain in the army was even given the honor of pressing the detonator.
11. The cemetery is the focus of another movie
The graveyard featured in the famous face-off toward the end of the movie is known as Sad Hill Cemetery. It was purpose-built for the film but later went to ruin. However, many years later it was lovingly restored by fans of the film, and events surrounding that restoration are covered in the 2017 documentary Sad Hill Unearthed.
10. Eastwood and Wallach’s respective heights caused problems
Clint Eastwood is a tall man: around 6’ 3” in height. Wallach – who passed away in 2014 – was around 5’ 7” tall. That difference caused director Leone some headaches. At times, the Italian struggled to get both leading actors into the same frame. Yet no one can doubt the screen chemistry between the two actors once Leone did.
9. Eastwood did not play nicely with Leone
It’s fair to say that Eastwood had reached the end of his tether with his director by the end of the shoot. Leone was famously a perfectionist, and this clearly got under Eastwood’s skin. The two never worked together again. Leone did approach the actor to feature in his 1968 hit, Once Upon a Time in the West. Eastwood declined.
8. One song in the movie has proved a hit with other artists
Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to the movie is iconic. Yet one of the film’s songs — “The Ecstasy of Gold” — has proved more enduring than others. It has been used in films and T.V. shows, while it has been covered or sampled by a multitude of artists. This includes Metallica, The Ramones, Yo-Yo Ma and even Jay Z.
7. Wallach couldn’t use a holster
Eli Wallach’s character famously uses a lanyard instead of a holster to carry his gun in the movie. But that was never originally scripted. Things only turned out that way because Wallach couldn’t holster it without looking at what he was doing, somewhat eroding the authenticity of a supposed gunslinger. The lanyard was a compromise.
6. Leone originally didn’t want Van Cleef for the movie
The three stars of the movie are bona fide legends of the screen. Yet Lee Van Cleef, who plays Angel Eyes, was not director Leone’s first choice for the role. The Italian wanted Charles Bronson instead. One reason Leone wasn’t keen on Van Cleef for the part was because the actor had featured in Leone’s For a Few Dollars More as a good guy. So it was quite the turnaround in characterization for a Van Cleef/Leone role.
5. The American trailer has the characters confused
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is ostensibly an Italian movie, so much so that the original name of the film is Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo. Translated, that means The Good, the Ugly and the Bad. So when Italian trailers were made for the film, that is the order in which the characters were introduced. When the trailer was simply dubbed into English for the American trailer, though, the order of the character introductions was mixed up. So Wallach is the Bad in the trailer – which is, of course, wrong. And that’s bad.
4. The movie is actually a prequel to the two other Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the third film made as part of Sergio Leone’s Western series, known in America as The Man With No Name or the Dollars trilogy. This film was made and released last — in 1966 — but takes place first chronologically as it is set during the American Civil War. A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965) both take place after that conflict. Yet Leone never actually intended for the three films to be connected. That was a marketing ploy by U.S. distributors United Artists.
3. A sequel was mooted – but ultimately canned
Although The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is an unofficial prequel to A Fistful of Dollars, Leone intended it as a stand-alone movie. But due to the popularity of the film, a sequel was discussed. Steps were made in preparation, too, and Clint Eastwood even suggested he would narrate the movie. According to Eli Wallach, this movie would have seen Tuco chase Blondie’s grandson to secure the first film’s gold. Ultimately, though, director Leone decided he didn’t want his characters used again.
2. The movie made Eastwood a star
As strange as it may seem now, Clint Eastwood was far from a star in the U.S. when he made The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Although known for his role in the T.V. series Rawhide, Eastwood was struggling to breakthrough on the big screen. His role in the movie, along with A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, catapulted him to fame. Yet those two films hit big abroad before they ever did in the States. In fact, it was only because of their popularity in Europe that the three films were released in America in the same year: 1967. That was the 12-month period that made Eastwood a Hollywood icon.
1. Critics panned the movie
Upon its release, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly received lukewarm reviews. And that’s being kind. “It must be the most expensive, pious and repellent movie in the history of its peculiar genre,” wrote Renata Adler of The New York Times. Yet over time the movie, along with its two sister movies, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, have become established classics. It’s funny how the passage of time can change opinions.
Another Western that captured the public’s imaginations is Brokeback Mountain. This is a movie about a romance between two men – released at a time when mainstream Hollywood was only just ready to explore same-sex relationships. Yet the picture was a critical and commercial success, earning $178 million at the worldwide box office and three Oscars. There are a few things about its creation, however, that may even surprise fans of the two lead actors.
20. Focus Features weren’t sure about Ledger
In a 2015 interview with the radio station SiriusXM Progress, the Brokeback Mountain screenwriters discussed the process of finding someone to play the character of Ennis. It was, Diana Ossana said, “the most difficult role to cast.” And despite another actor committing to the part, the filmmakers had their hearts set on Heath Ledger – against the wishes of the studio.
Ossana said, “The studio didn’t feel he was macho enough. I thought that was a rather odd comment. But we just sort of stuck with it.” When the first actor backed out of the project — Ossana wouldn’t say under what circumstances — she was able to call up Ledger’s agent and get him involved again.
19. The film was banned in China
When Brokeback Mountain first came out, the film proved controversial in some parts of the world. In China, for instance, the censors refused to put the movie in cinemas – even though homosexuality is legal in the country. So anyone wanting to see the picture had to make do with bootleg DVDs.
Despite this, the official newspapers of China celebrated director Ang Lee’s Oscar win, with China Daily writing, “Ang Lee is the pride of Chinese people all over the world, and he is the glory of Chinese cinematic talent.” Still, Brokeback Mountain wasn’t the last film with gay content to be pulled by the country’s censors.
18. A film critic had to apologize for his review
No film is universally acclaimed on its release, and Brokeback Mountain was no exception. Gene Shalit, the film critic on Today, was one reviewer who gave the movie a poor write-up. But the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) was angry about his description of the character of Jack – as Shalit had labeled him a “sexual predator.”
Shalit felt compelled to issue a statement that said, “I did not intend to use a word that many in the gay community consider incendiary… I certainly had no intention of casting aspersions on anyone in the gay community or on the community itself. I regret any emotional hurt that may have resulted from my review of Brokeback Mountain.” GLAAD accepted the apology.
17. Jake Gyllenhaal was scared about the love scenes
In a 2005 interview with the website liveabout.com, Jake Gyllenhaal talked about some nervousness he’d experienced on set. He said, “When it came to doing love scenes and stuff like that, the best metaphor I can give is that it felt like [me and Heath Ledger] were both like, ‘Are you ready? Yeah. Let’s go,’ and we dove off the boat into the deep end.”
Gyllenhaal went on, “It’s like when you’re terrified of the water, you see a little kid thrown in the water and they’re trying to get back to the boat as fast as they can. That’s what it was like. But at the same time when we were there, we really went for it.” Gyllenhaal also admitted he couldn’t remember a lot of those scenes.
16. Ledger found the kissing scenes “surreal”
Much was made of the love scenes between Ledger and Gyllenhaal’s characters. In 2010 Gyllenhaal remembered it all. Speaking at the New Yorker Festival, he said, “We just basically went up and slammed our mouths together. We were the instruments for something that was much bigger than both of us.” But what did Ledger think?
Well, before his untimely death, Ledger gave an interview to The Guardian. In January 2006 he said, “It was certainly a surreal moment the first time I had to kiss Jake. But once that was done, I quickly realized that it didn’t make me want to run out and do it again. And you think, ‘Okay, what’s the next shot?’ Those scenes were just a small part of the package.”
15. Anne Hathaway told a lie to get cast
Anne Hathaway really wanted to be in Brokeback Mountain, and she really wanted to play Lureen. So she told a little fib to keep herself in the running. What was it? Well, when Ang Lee asked her if she could ride a horse, the actress answered that she was very good at it. But in fact, she’d never ridden in her life before.
Hathaway did quickly start to teach herself how to ride before filming started – but it wasn’t quite enough. She remembered to Out magazine in 2015, “I went to a rehearsal in front of 300 extras, all of whom work in rodeos, and the horse wouldn’t do a damn thing I wanted it to. And at the end, it threw me — in front of everyone.”
14. Randy Quaid sued the filmmakers
Randy Quaid, who played the sheep farmer Ennis and Jack work for, ended up suing the Brokeback Mountain producers in 2006. His complaint was that the filmmakers had sold the film to him as a low-budget endeavor to convince him to take a smaller salary when they actually stood to make millions of dollars.
However, Quaid dropped the lawsuit shortly afterward. Later in 2006, a Focus Features spokesperson released this statement: “Focus Features never negotiated, offered or agreed to any settlement agreement with Mr. Quaid or his attorneys, but we are happy to put this behind us, and do wish [him] all the best.”
13. Ian McKellen wasn’t happy with Jake Gyllenhaal
Ian McKellen doesn’t appear in Brokeback Mountain, but because he is an openly gay actor he was asked about the film in 2006. And he appeared to take issue with something Gyllenhaal had said in the press. McKellen declared, as reported by World Entertainment News Network, “I got very upset when one of the actors said it was the most terrifying job he’d ever had because it involved him kissing another man.”
The veteran actor went on, “Imagine how rude that is. Suppose I’d said the most appalling thing I ever had to do was kiss Helen Mirren!” In fact, McKellen seemed fairly ambivalent about Brokeback Mountain in general. Asked about it at another point in 2006, he said the film probably wouldn’t do much to help gay actors.
12. The writers wanted Heath Ledger after seeing Monster’s Ball
Heath Ledger was an up-and-coming young star around the time Brokeback Mountain was being written. In fact, in 2015 screenwriter Diana Ossana told Out magazine that it had been her daughter who’d suggested Ledger for the role. So she and her co-screenwriter Larry McMurtry sat down to watch Monster’s Ball, a movie in which he starred.
Ossana remembered, “I had Larry watch Monster’s Ball, and he watched it until Heath’s character killed himself, and he stood up and said, ‘I can’t watch any more of this, it’s too brutal — but that young man is Ennis.’” So the writers sent the script off to Ledger’s agent, and luckily the actor loved it from the moment he read it.
11. Ang Lee was “half asleep” making the movie
Ang Lee, the director of Brokeback Mountain, won an Academy Award in 2006 for helming the movie. However, he’s humble about his success, to say the least. In 2019 he told The Star newspaper he was “practically half-asleep” while making the picture. He said, “I just secured the actors and got them to perform. The shots are boring, really basic.”
Lee went on, “I just make pretty shots. It’s the easiest thing. Shoot some pretty shots, I can do that all day. It’s, like, really easy. I had limited time, and the actors were great, Texas was good. It was a gay drama, and I didn’t think many people would see it.” He was, of course, wrong on that front.
10. The movie poster was based on a famous one
If you’re selling a romantic movie, the poster needs to be instantly recognizable as something, well, romantic. So the poster-makers of Brokeback Mountain decided that to convey their film’s themes, they should look back over movie posters of the past. They therefore started searching around for the most acclaimed romantic movies and their corresponding posters.
In 2005 Focus Features co-president James Schamus told Newsweek magazine, “If you look at our poster, you can see traces of our inspiration: Titanic.” Indeed, the films’ posters – with their designs of two lovers looking away from each other to hint at unhappy endings – do bear some similarities.
9. Ledger was really good with the horses
One thing Gyllenhaal always remembered about Brokeback Mountain was how good Ledger was with the animals. He remembered in a 2015 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, “Heath, you know, would walk up to a horse and could, like, silence the horse. Just literally, he’d be like, ‘Shh. Shh.’ And then he’d get on the horse.”
An old interview from Ledger himself attests to this. In 2005 he told straight.com, “I grew up in Australia, where you are around farm folk, and I think there is something universal about someone who spends all day on horseback. Even when they get off, they walk like they are still on the horse. I adore horses and horseback riding.”
8. Gyllenhaal assumed he would play a different character
Gyllenhaal got plenty of good reviews for his performance as Jack Twist. For instance, when the movie was released, The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper said, “Gyllenhaal may be full of charm and easy affability, but you miss none of the longing he harbors or the frustration which slowly begins to coarsen him.” Yet Gyllenhaal didn’t expect to play that role initially.
Gyllenhall assumed he would play Ennis. He said to liveabout.com in 2005, “I thought, ‘Oh, Ang will probably want me to play the Ennis part,’ because I’ve played much more isolated characters before, and that’s a very obvious, very actorly way of thinking about it. Because, actually, Heath and I as people are really more of the characters that we play.”
7. Heath Ledger almost broke his hand
One scene in Brokeback Mountain sees Ledger’s character punching a wall in desperation… but it wasn’t scripted. In 2015 Anne Hathaway told Out magazine, “The plan was for him to put his face against the wall — that’s what the shot was supposed to be — and he just wound up punching the brick.”
Hathaway went on, “Everyone was freaking out because it was a real wall. It wasn’t a movie brick wall. It was a f**kin’ brick wall. And he did it, and they got it, and they said his hand was mangled. He might have actually broken it.” Incidentally, Ledger had such an intense time on set that he immediately went on to film a comedy, Casanova, once Brokeback Mountain was done.
6. Diana Ossana wasn’t able to watch the film for a while
As the world knows, Heath Ledger died of an accidental sleeping pill overdose in 2008. Though it may have been a blow to the industry of moviemaking, it was of course a much bigger one to those who knew him. That includes Diana Ossana, who told HuffPost in 2015 that she was left “stunned” by the news.
Ossana told HuffPost, “To be honest with you, I haven’t been able to watch the movie since he died. I’ve watched it probably 150 times before that. But since he passed away I haven’t been able to watch the film. And I’m destined to watch it again. I’m hoping that I can get through it.”
5. A wildlife biologist was hired for the sheep
One unexpected problem on the Brokeback Mountain set was the sheep. There were lots of them – and getting them from place to place proved difficult. The wildlife authorities wouldn’t allow the filmmakers to take their sheep into the mountains, either, for fear that the animals would either be killed by predators or spread disease.
The animal authorities eventually decided that the moviemakers could film with the sheep on the mountain – if they followed some strict rules. The conditions? They had to stick to one isolated mountain, they had to count and check the sheep every day, and they had to have a wildlife biologist to oversee everything. The movie crew agreed.
4. Many actors turned the movie down
Before Ang Lee became the director of Brokeback Mountain, Gus Van Sant was tipped to helm the project. He planned to get A-list actors on board, too. But, he told the website IndieWire in 2018, there were few takers. Van Sant said, “I asked the usual suspects: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ryan Phillippe. They all said no.”
IndieWire emailed Diana Ossana for confirmation, and she told them, “Yes, all those young gentlemen (at the time) turned down the project, for various reasons.” The lack of willing actors discouraged Van Sant. He told IndieWire, “What I could have done, and what I probably should have done, was cast more unknowns, not worried about who were the lead actors.”
3. Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams fell in love on the set
Ledger and Michelle Williams played husband and wife in the movie, and while filming they fell in love. In her 2015 interview with Out, Diana Ossana remembered that at one point Williams had to go to the hospital for a twisted knee. She said, “Heath was not about to let her go alone, and as he was getting into the vehicle with her he was smoothing her hair back.”
Ossana went on, “I remember him looking at her, and she looking up at him with these wide eyes. She was almost startled by the attention he was giving her, but you could see it every day from thereon. For him, it was truly love at first sight. He was so taken with her.” Ledger and Williams went on to have a daughter together, but they split up in 2007.
2. Ledger refused to make jokes about the movie
Heath Ledger wasn’t up for jokes about Brokeback Mountain’s gay love story. In a 2019 interview with Today, Jake Gyllenhaal explained, “He would never joke. Someone wanted to make a joke about the story or whatever, he was like, ‘No. This is about love.’ Like, that’s it, man. Like, no.”
Ledger even refused to present the 2007 Oscars because he thought homophobic jokes might be involved. In 2020 Gyllenhaal revealed to Another Man magazine, “I remember they wanted to do an opening for the Academy Awards that year that was sort of joking about it. And Heath refused.”
1. The movie inspired some to come out
Brokeback Mountain was a big moment for many people. In 2018, for instance, the Focus Features website posted an interview with writer and journalist Dave Cullen, who said, “Watching Brokeback Mountain, I was thinking, ‘This is us too. This is me.’ I was just as deprived because I was just as scared as Jack and Ennis.”
And members of the Brokeback Mountain production team were also inspired. In her 2015 interview with HuffPost, Ossana revealed that two crew members came up to her just a week after filming started and let her know that they, too, were gay. For them, it was a very powerful movie to be part of.