• Golden Globe Awards

Out of the Archives, 2005: Jake Gyllenhaal on “Brokeback Mountain”

Jake Gyllenhaal, twice nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actor, talked to the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press in 2005 about Brokeback Mountain directed by Ang Lee from the 1997 short story by Annie Proulx.
The son of screenwriter/director parents Stephen Gyllenhaal and Naomi Foner, the younger brother of actress/director/screenwriter Maggie Gyllenhaal, Golden Globe winner and five-time nominee, Jake grew up in a show business family engaged in politics, so he was aware of the cultural implications of portraying a cowboy opposite Heath Ledger in this landmark same-sex love story.
Gyllenhaal was not interested in acting in Brokeback Mountain at first but changed his mind after reading the screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana: “When I first got the material and I heard that it was a gay cowboy movie, I wanted to have nothing to do with it, but when I finally read the script, I realized what it was really about, then my goal was to fight to play whatever part I could get in the movie. I felt like it could go either way, and Ang Lee never alluded to either of us playing one part in particular.  I thought that Heath seemed a little more outgoing and had played more roles like that, and I had played more roles that were introverted. So I was actually stunned to be asked to play Jack, but it was also much more honest casting, from someone like Ang Lee who wanted to look deeper into who we both were. Even my mom said to me, before she saw the movie, ‘I’m surprised that you’re playing this role,’ but then after she saw it, she said it worked perfectly.”
The actor understood that being a real man does not mean being tough and insensitive: “That idea of what masculine is to me can be very stereotyped and it’s totally a relative thing. In my opinion the deepest, most interesting part of masculinity is someone who is sensitive and able to express their feelings. To me that takes more courage than somebody who is repressed. So I consider my part more masculine.”
He was annoyed by the question so many people asked him about what it was like to kiss Heath Ledger, but he answered it for us: “It makes me angry that I have to field questions like that. It’s extraordinary that nobody asked me how I feel about Hurricane Katrina, as a citizen of the United States, but I totally understand why everybody is so fascinated by it, because I’m the guy who kissed the other guy. And Heath already pleaded the fifth, so I’m left having to answer the question. The one word I used to describe it is ‘exfoliating,’ and that’s pretty much it. It was more along the lines of doing a scene with women you’re not attracted to and making it work; I felt those same types of uncomfortableness and non-feeling.  The first love scene and the scene where we kiss after not seeing each other for four years were pretty easy, because they make the same kind of regressions that’s in the fighting scenes, so we always could lean back on those. The scene that was the hardest was when we are tender with each other after the first love scene, when he comes into the tent and I really take him in. It was uncomfortable, but it was a really special thing.”
The actor felt that there was a universality to the story that could apply to everyone: “To me the most interesting thing about the movie is that it’s about how, if we all had our own Brokeback Mountain, our space where society doesn’t come in and impose their ideas on us, where our insecurities aren’t at play, and if we were to take there the person that we love now, would we still love them?  Then it would mean that our love is true, and hopefully you can end up creating that in your own life, even within this society. That’s why I wanted to do the movie and I knew that, if Ang Lee hadn’t done it, no matter how extraordinary the script that Larry and Diana wrote was, it wouldn’t be the movie that it is, because he understood that idea.”
This love story took place in Wyoming between 1963 and 1983, which was a different time than 2005, in regard to acceptance of same-sex relationships, and Gyllenhaal hoped that it would get even better in the future: “What’s interesting is that people keep asking me, ‘are you really beaten up and killed at the end or is it just a figment of Ennis’ imagination?’ And that says a lot about the time in which we are living, because it’s both. Seven or eight years ago, when this short story was written, the answer would be, ‘I was really beaten up,’ and hopefully eight years from now, the answer would be, ‘it’s just a figment of his imagination.’ But now we’re at a time where it’s both, it’s not just a fear it’s also a reality, and hopefully we’re progressing towards having it be just a fear and then eliminating it all together.”
Gyllenhaal did not worry about how Christian conservatives would be attacking the movie even before they saw it: “It’s great publicity. Everybody knows that the country is divided, it couldn’t be more clear, and now we have colors for it (blue states and red states). So I know that some people will be gung-ho for the movie going into it and other people will have immediate judgment against it, and both groups will not have even seen the film yet at all. We all expect that, and, in a way, we revel in it, because I think that, as an artist, you have to stay ahead of the time. And this is a film that is ahead of its time, so it will be met with resistance and acceptance. My dad often said that the job of an artist is to disturb the comfortable and to comfort the disturbed, and that ultimately is what this movie does. You’re not doing anything successful as an artist or a filmmaker, if you’re not doing a little bit of that. So to each their own, I have no judgment; the people who are against it will have their opinion of it, and I understand where they’re coming from. I also understand the people who are totally for this film and want to support it with all they have. There’s no other place to live for me, and everybody involved in this movie feels the same way.”