Ang Lee's gay cowboy film Brokeback Mountain is sweeping up awards across the world and is tipped to triumph at the Oscars. At this year's BAFTAs it won best film and best director for Ang Lee, best adapted screenplay and Jake Gyllenhaal won best supporting actor.
The film stars two of the sexiest actors around Jake and Heath Ledger and has explicit gay sex scenes betwen the two men - a ranch-hand and a rodeo cowboy - who unexpectedly forge a lifelong connection, one whose complications, joys and tragedies provide a testament to the endurance and power of love.

When prominent straight actors play gay characters, Hollywood often lauds them for their courage. When straight actors play gay cowboys, that's a whole other frontier.

OutUK correspondent Ron Dicker caught up with Jake just as the awards started pouring in at the Toronto Film Festival.


Courtesy AllPosters.com
Gyllenhaal, 24, is best known for the blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow and for playing Jennifer Aniston's WalMart paramour in The Good Girl. He has puppy-dog blue eyes, women seem to like him -- including on/off girlfriend Kirsten Dunst-- and he likes women.

"In every creative thing, I have an initial instinctual response," Gyllenhaal says in a hotel room during the Toronto festival. "When I read this and knowing Ang Lee was going to make it, I thought I had to do it. Then I thought about it some more, but I had no fear about it."

As it unfolded in the E. Annie Proulx short story on which the movie is based, Gyllenhaal and Ledger meet macho outside a rancher's office in 1960s Wyoming, wearing Marlboro attitude and denim. They get summer jobs as sheep herders and their silent attraction for each other smoulders in the fresh mountain air.

One chilly night, Gyllenhaal's Jack drapes his arm over the sleeping bag of Ledger's Ennis, and the two begin wrestling like panthers. Former rodeo rider Ennis takes Jack from behind, sealing a love that spans a lifetime.

Sure, the pivotal sex scene was awkward. But don't bother asking Gyllenhaal to recount details.

"Heath says he can't remember and in a way I can't remember either," he says.

"I think we showed up and knew what we had to do. The scene is almost lifted from the short story and literally to the word with how we did it. Whatever fear we had, the comfort of knowing that it was explored for us already, that the path had been basically forced for us and we had to walk it."

Rarely does an openly gay actor play a straight romantic lead. It is a de-facto no-no in the mainstream. Asked to provide his take on one of Hollywood's nagging double standards, Gyllenhaal says, "That is probably not for me to answer. It goes on in other things, too ... Your private life should be your own. I think it's the job of any actor to stay beneath your face, your work and your personality. That way people will believe you in every character you play."

Although it is Ledger who is being talked up for awards after the film won Venice's Golden Lion top prize, Gyllenhaal provides the story's more obvious emotional centre. Both men pursue conventional lives by marrying and having children. The softer Gyllenhaal has one toe of his boot peeking out of the closet. He seeks paid male companionship south of the border and has other dalliances. The tension of desire stays coiled in Ledger's jaw throughout the movie, whose December 9th USA and December 30th UK release makes it prime Oscar bait.

The pair's passion evolves into a "Same Time, Next Year" rendezvous in the woods. It's a furlough from society's expectations on the pretence of a fishing trip.

"I don't believe necessarily that these two characters are gay," Gyllenhaal says. "They have a homosexual relationship but I don't know if they're gay."

Reminded that Jack constantly seeks relationships with men, the actor backs off.

"I think that's true in the story but that's not how I thought about it," he continues. "I think he's just somebody who's dying for that same connection, like when we look for somebody who looks likes the person we just broke up with when they've broken our heart. He's looking for someone who feels the same, like when Ennis turns his wife around and has sex like he would with Jack."

Gyllenhaal stares out at the smog draping Toronto in a dying summer heat wave. "You could argue that my character is openly gay. I feel like he's having a more literal response to the love affair."

Asked if perhaps everyone is bisexual on some level, Gyllenhaal responds, "I don't think so. I think that relationships are relative and sexuality is relative. Everybody has different interests and perversions. Everybody's different. I think what this movie does is deconstruct any idea of sameness. What's similar in all of us is that we're different."

Brokeback Mountain is currently on release

 

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