‘Brokeback’ More Than Just ‘The Gay Cowboy Film,’ Cast Says

People joke, but they'll be blown away when they see it, Jake Gyllenhaal says.

It’s an impossibly complex film about two souls who connect and are afraid of their connection. It’s a return to form by one of Hollywood’s most respected filmmakers, and a statement of intent by several young Hollywood actors hoping to move beyond what has thus far defined them. It’s the kind of movie that can make people cry, can make people care, and might just change the world a little bit. Yet people can’t help but describe “Brokeback Mountain” as the gay cowboy movie.

“I had a journalist stand up in the middle of a press conference the other day,” offered star Jake Gyllenhaal, conceding the point. “[He said,] ‘You know, I want to apologize, because for weeks I’ve been calling this movie “the gay cowboy movie” in all of my columns. I saw it last night and I’ll never call it that again.’ People will joke … but ultimately, when they walk out of it, a lot of people are kind of blown away by what it’s really about.”

The film, which tells the decades-long story of rodeo rider Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) and wrangler Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) as they discover themselves atop a mountain and then return to an unwelcoming world, is garnering awards-season buzz for the complicated performances of its two leads. Yet Ledger and Gyllenhaal have spent much of the past several months dodging the same old questions about their love scenes.

“I, as the actor playing him, took the time to investigate [Enis] and discover what exactly his battles were,” Ledger said recently of his research. “Like, what was preventing him to express and to love, and one of the conclusions I came to was that he was battling himself. He was battling his genetic structure, if you will, all the traditions and fears that were passed down to him from his father and his father and so on. That was so deeply embedded in him and installed in him, and so then I wanted to physicalize it in his walk and into his speech.”

The cast of “Brokeback Mountain” explains that it’s more than a “gay cowboy movie,” only in Overdrive.

“[I'm] just proud; really, really just proud,” Ledger’s co-star and real-life fiancee, Michelle Williams, beamed proudly. “The man that’s on that screen is nothing like the man that I know. It really takes my breath away, and I know him pretty well.”

Director Ang Lee, for one, said that the preconceived notions of two heterosexual leads playing lovers resulted in a tremendous buildup that couldn’t help but get to them. “Psychologically, it does,” the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” helmer admitted. “We cleared the set — it was a kissing scene by a staircase. And then we rolled the camera and it was a raw kind of take: handheld and very passionate. And once the camera rolls, you just focus on doing well and seven, eight takes [later] it was done.”

In the two years since “Hulk” failed to excite audiences or critics, Lee has made no secret of his fear that the comic-book film had tarnished his name. Now, those who have seen “Brokeback” are trumpeting his triumphant return, yet few of his American fans are aware of the trailblazing 1993 production that made it all possible.

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Lee said the international support and lasting popularity of “The Wedding Banquet,” his Mandarin-language film about a gay marriage of convenience, gave him confidence when he came across the critically acclaimed “Brokeback” short story. Still, he admitted, “I thought very few people would see it.”

Now it appears that open-minded audiences may indeed turn out for “Brokeback Mountain” and, quite possibly, they may even talk some of their closed-minded friends into giving it a chance as well.

“I’m hopeful, confident and realistic,” said Anne Hathaway who, like Williams, sheds her teenage image while portraying one of the cowboys’ long-suffering wives. “What I expect to happen is it’ll play very well in a lot of blue states and do OK in some red states.”

After audiences across every state finally see the film, perhaps they’ll stop summing it up as “the gay cowboy movie.” And perhaps they’ll be able to come up with better descriptions for the work of Ledger, Gyllenhaal and Lee than the flattering but dismissive “courageous.” Ultimately, however, the “Brokeback” talents don’t care what people are saying about the movie — as long as they’re talking.

“I just hope that they watch it and that they don’t just blindly judge it and say, ‘Oh no, that’s the gay cowboy story,’ ” Hathaway said. “Every single person that has called it ‘the gay cowboy story’ in front of me, after seeing the film, comes to me and says, ‘I apologize. It is one of the most beautiful love stories I have ever seen, and I’m sorry if I ever said anything that was dismissive of it.’ ”

“The universal story of it all affects so many different people,” Gyllenhaal insisted, summing things up. “It doesn’t really matter. To me, what’s important is that it’s a beautiful story.”

Check out everything we’ve got on “Brokeback Mountain.”

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