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Heath Ledger Took A Simple Approach To The Love Scenes In Brokeback Mountain

/Film 11/2/2022 Matt Rainis
Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain © Focus Features Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain

When "Brokeback Mountain" came out in 2005, there had been very few explicitly queer films released by major studios in the United States. The story of two cowboys who develop an emotional and sexual relationship before returning home to continue living their false lives as straight men was a bit of a trailblazer, proving that queer stories could be both told and sold to a mainstream American audience.

Part of what lent the film its immediate legitimacy was its cast, which featured some heavy-hitting stars like Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and Heath Ledger. With such popular actors involved, even some of the more homophobic members of the early aughts audience were willing to shell out for movie tickets to see what this gay cowboy movie was all about.

While the film would finally allow a lot of queer audience members to finally see a tender and intimate representation of themselves in a major motion picture, it also received an unsurprising deluge of homophobic jokes and insults. Much of these comments stemmed from the film's sex scenes, which, while rather tame when viewed today, were some of the more graphic gay love scenes that many audience members had been exposed to at that point.

These love scenes also provided a challenge to Gyllenhaal and Ledger, who both had little experience performing in scenes of this nature. But for Ledger, according to a 2005 E! Online interview, a simple approach of remembering his real-life experiences of love proved very effective.

There Is No Real Preparing

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain © Focus Features Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain

Ledger was a talent on many levels, from his obvious acting ability to his lesser-known status as a go-kart prodigy. For him, providing a realistic and respectful portrayal of a queer relationship was very important, and he took the role very seriously, even helping Jake Gyllenhaal to realize the gravity of the subject matter they were dealing with.

When it came to the love scenes, Ledger just did what came naturally to him with little preparation, as he explained in the E! Online interview:

"I guess there is no real preparing. You know, unlike my character I am a huge fan of love, and I'm in love with love, and I've investigated love, and you know I'm very expressive, and so I know how to feel love. Whether it's love that's, like, trapped and unable to be expressed, I have a thorough understanding of it. And if it's kissing someone, that too. I know how to kiss someone, I know how to make love to someone, so I can – you just kind of do the same thing but it's with a different person, it's with a man. But you just – you kind of know how to kiss someone, so you just do it."

For Ledger, he didn't think of it as a "gay" love scene, as many actors of that time surely would have. He simply saw it as another love scene where he portrayed a complex, layered human being, one experiencing emotions he himself had gone through at one point. "Brokeback Mountain" may not stand out as a particularly radical piece of queer filmmaking by today's standards, but thanks to elements like the performance of Heath Ledger, the floodgates were opened for a whole generation of queer storytelling.

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