Apparently, many A-list actors knew how to quit “Brokeback Mountain” ― by not even giving it a chance.
Oscar-winning director Gus Van Sant, whose movies include “Good Will Hunting” as well as more queer-focused films like “My Own Private Idaho” and “Milk,” told Indiewire on Wednesday that he was initially approached to direct the trailblazing 2005 LGBTQ love story “Brokeback Mountain” and offered a flurry of famous actors roles for one of the two male leads. But all of them turned the film down.
“Nobody wanted to do it,” Van Sant said. “I was working on it, and I felt like we needed a really strong cast, like a famous cast. That wasn’t working out. I asked the usual suspects: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ryan Phillippe. They all said no.”
Diana Ossana, who adapted the film from a short story by Annie Proulx with screenwriter Larry McMurtry, confirmed Van Sant’s recollection to Indiewire.
“Gus arrived at our door five days after we sent the script out into the world,” Ossana said. “He was eager and passionate about it.”
Ultimately, director Ang Lee got the “Brokeback Mountain” gig, and cast Heath Ledger (Ennis Del Mar) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Jack Twist) in the lead roles.
At the time, casting two heterosexual men to play gay romantic leads was considered groundbreaking, and both Ledger and Gyllenhaal garnered Oscar nods for their performances.
Since then, the practice of casting actors who do not identify or authentically represent the roles they are hired for has opened up a controversy about Hollywood inclusion.
Just last week, actress Scarlett Johansson dropped out of “Rub And Tug,” an upcoming film about a transgender massage parlor owner Dante “Tex” Gil, following backlash that she was taking the role from a transgender actor.
Johansson has been criticized in the past for taking the lead in “Ghost in the Shell,” a role many felt should have gone to an Asian actor, because it was based on a Japanese comic that portrays the character as an Asian woman.
Although Van Sant has demonstrated a certain amount of sensitivity when it comes to creating queer films, it doesn’t seem to have translated to his latest project.
Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” which came out in April, stars Joaquin Phoenix as John Callahan, a cartoonist who became paraplegic and used a wheelchair.
Kristen Lopez, a disabled film critic, recently reviewed “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” and pointed out that the film is also ableist, writing that it “plays like a formulaic drama about disability.”
In his interview with Indiewire, Van Sant tells how his inability to cast big names in “Brokeback Mountain” killed his enthusiasm for the project.
“What I could have done, and what I probably should have done, was cast more unknowns, not worried about who were the lead actors,” he said.
He apparently did not extend that insight to “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.”