Heath Ledger, uncertain about the role when he was first offered it, was encouraged by his then girlfriend, Naomi Watts, to take it, immediately after they both read the script. After reading the script, Ledger said he would have flown to Taiwan to meet with Ang Lee in order to be hired for the role.
Writer Annie Proulx sent both Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger an original, autographed copy of her story. When she signed the copy to Jake she wrote "To Jake..." but when she signed the copy she had intended to give to Heath she signed it "To Ennis". After writing out her personal message she realized what she had done and decided to leave it be. In a private screening at Arclight in Hollywood, CA, she reflected that Heath Ledger really was Ennis. She left the signed copy that way because she had felt the actor embodied Ennis in every way she had imagined him.
Michelle Williams requested that her two male leads kiss in front of her to help her get to the right emotional place for her character, Alma. As she was involved with Ledger in real life, too, she felt that such a thing would help with her portrayal. She had to goad both men as their first few attempts were far too half-hearted for her liking.
When Ang Lee won the Academy Award for Best Director, the People's Republic of China's news media made no mention of the fact that he was Taiwanese. He was described as being Chinese or Chinese-American. The news coverage also blocked out Ang's shout-out "Thank you, Taiwan" in his acceptance speech.
One of Daniel Day-Lewis' favorite films. He cites the reason for this as being Heath Ledger's performance. After Ledger's death Day-Lewis dedicated his SAG award for There Will Be Blood (2007) to Ledger's memory mentioning in particular the final scene in Ennis' trailer being "as moving as anything I have ever seen".
Director Ang Lee gave Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal copies of the book, "Farm Boys: Lives of Gay Men from the Rural Midwest", by Will Fellows, a book that had been mentioned by both Annie Proulx and Diana Ossana as an excellent reference source, to help them understand their characters. Noting what he learned from his reading, Gyllenhaal said, "I don't think that these two characters even know what gay is."
Heath Ledger declined to go to the one month cowboy camp that had been organized as he had grown up on farms in Western Australia. Jake Gyllenhaal was required to attend, however, as he needed "roughing up".
Afraid that Anne Hathaway's previous films The Princess Diaries (2001) and Ella Enchanted (2004) would work against her during auditions, the casting director introduced Anne to director Ang Lee as a New York Broadway actress. Ang Lee hadn't seen any of Anne's nor Michelle Williams's previous works before he auditioned and subsequently cast them in Brokeback.
The shirts worn by the 2 actors that feature prominently in the film were sold on eBay in February 2006 for $101,100. The buyer, film historian and collector Tom Gregory, called them "the ruby slippers of our time". (Ref: The Wizard of Oz (1939).) In 2009, Gregory lent the shirts to The Gene Autry National Center of the American West, a Los Angeles museum that seeks "to explore the experiences and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West." Their exhibition of the shirts is part of their larger attempt to examine representations of the Western LGBT experience in history and fiction.
There was an audible gasp at the Academy Awards when presenter Jack Nicholson read out Crash (2004) as 2005's Best Film over this film, much fancied. Nicholson himself admitted to being shocked as he too had voted for Ang Lee's film.
Ang Lee struggled continually with the sheep during the shoot. Apparently sheep don't drink from running water, only ponds and dams. Ang tried all day to get the sheep to drink from a stream, but they wouldn't oblige. He had to give up on the shot. Also, American sheep carry a bacteria/virus that Canadian sheep don't possess. The film's scene where two herds of sheep become mixed up had some nightmarish real-life parallels, as the Canadian government had expressly warned them of dire consequences if they caused any disease to spread to the local animals from the south-of-the-border variety.
According to an interview in Premiere Magazine, Mark Wahlberg stated that at one point, he and Joaquin Phoenix were considered for the two lead roles. Although Wahlberg considered it due to his brother-like relationship with Phoenix, the script was ultimately too sexually graphic for him.
Heath Ledger has a nude scene in which he jumps into a lake. Ang Lee intended to edit any actual frontal nudity out of the film, but a paparazzo took photos of Ledger with a digital camera. The photos appeared on the Internet and in some press publications. The scene is included in the European version of the film. It features Ledger and a stunt double for Jake Gyllenhaal jumping into a lake from a rock.
In her book "The Sense and Sensibility (1995) Screenplay & Diaries: Bringing Jane Austen's Novel to Film", Emma Thompson writes that after a particularly difficult day filming a sequence that involved a flock of sheep, Ang Lee swore that he would never again use the animals on a movie set. This movie, however, is about two young men who meet while sheep herding.
Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller pulled the film from his Jordan Commons entertainment complex in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, despite heavily advertising the film. He reneged on his obligations to show it two hours before the first scheduled showing when he learned of the homosexual content, claiming that the film represented a danger to family values. Focus Features threatened to sue and announced that they would no longer do business with Miller.
The Guardian's November 2007 obituary for Costume Designer Marit Allen reported that she brought a book of Richard Avedon's 1950s/60s photos of the American West with her to her first meeting about designing the clothes for this film, and she used that book to help decode what the obit called the men's "subtle dress codes". Interestingly, without having spoken to one another, several of the principal crew used the book as a reference. During production prep, the screenwriters had also suggested the book as a visual reference, and it was, in fact, used by the production design and makeup crews as well.
The artwork of Vilhelm Hammershøi (Danish Painter, 1864-1916) served as visual inspiration for the whitewashed interior of Jack's parents home in Lightning Flat, according to cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto.
In March 2006 Randy Quaid filed a lawsuit against Focus Features alleging that the company had misled him into thinking that the film was a low budget, art-house film with no prospect of making money. He saw this as a ruse to get him to lower his salary. At the time of the lawsuit, the film had earned more than $160 million. Quaid dropped the lawsuit in May, seemingly after Focus agreed to pay him a bonus. Focus, however, denied that any such payment ever took place, and Focus spokeswoman Adrienne Bowles was quoted as saying, "the circumstances of him dropping the suit are as mysterious as the circumstances under which he filed his claim."
According to an interview that Heath Ledger gave to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Steven Rea, there was a sequence that was filmed for the movie in which Jack and Ennis help some hippies get their car out of a river. According to Ledger, the scene took three days to shoot and was disliked almost immediately by everyone involved. The scene was written by James Schamus as an attempt to show Jack and Ennis in a heroic situation, but it does not appear in Annie Proulx's original short story, the published screenplay, or the final cut of the movie.
Heath Ledger was only four years older than Kate Mara, who played his daughter Alma Jr. as an adult. (For most of the movie, Alma Jr. was played by younger baby and child actresses; Mara only played her as an older teen when the Ledger character is supposed to be in his 40s).
The original short story by Annie Proulx was published in the 13 October 1997 issue of The New Yorker, without the italicized prologue which was included in the later version published in "Close Range", her collection of short stories. Diana Ossana, co-screenwriter and a producer on the film, read it, then asked her colleague Larry McMurtry to read the story. He refused, stating he doesn't read short fiction, because he can't write it. She persisted, however, and he ultimately agreed. McMurtry handled the marital dramas and the Western elements, while Ossana concentrated on the male relationship, McMurtry feeling that he was not up to the task of conveying that realistically. Some reports have it that director Ang Lee barred screenwriter McMurtry from the set of the movie. A spokeswoman for Focus Features, which is producing it, commented: "Larry McMurtry rarely goes on sets because he has very severe allergies." McMurtry was also in the midst of writing a novel when filming began and ended; no one barred him from the set. Ossana was on set during the entire filming.
There were 75 visual effects shots created for the film by the Canadian house Buzz Image Group. Of these, 15 were of CGI sheep. The film called for about 2,500 sheep, but only 700 were on-set, necessitating the additional woolly creations. Also created for the film were sky replacements, set additions, erasures and the hail in the hailstorm.
Ang Lee was interviewed for a November 2010 New York Times article about writer/producer James Schamus. Lee remembered that after watching one of the first cuts of Brokeback Mountain (2005), Schamus ran into Lee in the theater bathroom; Schamus told Lee that the movie was running too long, and said, "that was great, but it was three hankies and two bladders. My goal is four hankies and one bladder."
Brooklynn Proulx, the child actress who played Jenny at age 4, is not related to E. Annie Proulx, the author of the original short story on which this movie was based, even though they share a relatively uncommon last name.
The football game on television that causes some family friction during Jack's Thanksgiving dinner is actually a 1970s Canadian Football League game between the Montreal Alouettes and Edmonton Eskimos.
By 2010, this film was on many critics' and publications' "Best of the Decade" lists, including Peter Travers, Entertainment Weekly, The London Times, The A.V. Club, Time Out New York, and The London Telegraph.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In a November 2010 interview on the National Public Radio program "Fresh Air," Anne Hathaway told interviewer Terry Gross that she actually has no idea whether or not her character, Lureen, tells the truth in the phone conversation in which Lureen tells Ennis how Jack died. Hathaway said that she shot two takes of the scene: one in which Lureen "knew what was going on with Jake's character Jack and that he'd been cheating on me with men and that I knew about the gay bashing," and one in which Lureen "had no idea... you know, it was a terrible accident with a car tire." Hathaway told Gross that instead of using all of either take, there were shots from both takes edited into the final movie, so she doesn't know what the director's or the editor's intentions for her character or for the truth about Jack's death really were. She also said that she has never asked director Ang Lee what he thinks the truth is because "Ang knows the truth in his head, and it's not important to me. I actually think I get to be a part of the film as an audience member because I don't know, because I think the ambiguity is what is the strength of that scene and what's heartbreaking about it."
When Ennis finds Jack's and his shirts hanging together in Jack's childhood closet, Jack has arranged them so that Jack's blue shirt is visible first and Ennis' light plaid shirt is tucked inside it. In the final scene in the film, after Ennis has taken both shirts home to hang them in his own closet, they are reversed, so that Jack's shirt is inside Ennis'. According to co-screenwriter Diana Ossana, switching the order of the shirts was Heath Ledger's idea.
Ang Lee recounted in several interviews that when Michelle Williams needed to film the scene in which her character is devastated to discover that her husband is involved with another man, she urged Heath Ledger (her off-screen, as well as on-screen, love interest) and Jake Gyllenhaal to intensify their kissing.
When Lureen is speaking to Ennis on the phone after Jack's death, she says that she was never sure if Brokeback Mountain was a real location: "knowing Jack, it was probably some pretend place, where bluebirds sing and there's a whiskey spring...." The bluebirds and whiskey parts of this line are paraphrases from the American folk song "Big Rock Candy Mountain," which describes a mystical paradise from the point of view of a homeless, itinerant hobo.