It's now 10 years since the release of Ang Lee's gay cowboy film Brokeback Mountain. The film grossed $178 million at the box office on its release in 2005, and still ranks as the most finacially successful LGBT-themed film ever made. Ang Lee always maintained he was nervous about the public's reaction to the then-headline grabbing plot, but that he was pleasantly surprised by its eventual critical and commerical success.

He recently said of the film, "I thought it would be an arthouse film with a very small audience. I was nervous about the subject matter hitting the shopping mall, and I was surprised at its success. I think it has something to do with the fact that it's a poignant love story."

The film won many awards including 3 Oscars for Best Director, Original Score and Adapted Screenplay and 4 BAFTAs for best film, best director and best adapted screenplay with Jake Gyllenhaal winning best supporting actor.

Brokeback Mountain starred two of the sexiest actors around at the time, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, and had explicit gay sex scenes between 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.

Tragically Heath Ledger died three years after the movie was made, in January 2008 from an accidental intoxication from prescription drugs, just as his career was really taking off. His co-star Jake Gyllenhaal spoke with OutUK correspondent Ron Dicker during those times of the movie awards whilst they were at the Toronto Film Festival.

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 at the time the movie was made 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 Heath Ledger's jaw throughout the movie.

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 10 years old this week and is still available on DVD from Amazon.

Matt Rauscher's review of Brokeback Mountain


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