Though it may stick in some people’s minds as simply “that gay cowboy movie,” it’s important to remember that at its core, “Brokeback” was a love story. So, naturally, Gyllenhaal and Ledger formed a friendship from working so closely together, and it’s a relationship that Gyllenhaal admits still affects his life today, seven years after Ledger died at age 29.
“I miss him as a human being and I miss working with him, and what an unfortunate thing it is that we won’t be able to see the beauty of his expression,” the “Southpaw” actor said in an interview with NPR.
Asked if Ledger was the first friend he was close with who died, Gyllenhaal said, “Yeah… He was incredibly special and that doesn’t even come close to encapsulating who he is, who he was.”
Along with remembering his late costar so fondly, Gyllenhaal revealed how Ledger’s death has affected his own life and relationships.
“I'm trying to be present where I am,” he said. “I’m trying to have relationships that are as real as they possibly can be on a movie set, be close to people because I know that it's precious. And I know, not only can this career end in a very short period of time and this or that can happen, but also that life is precious. I think losing Heath and being a part of a family that was something like the movie, that movie we all made together, makes you see that, makes you appreciate that and hopefully moves you away from the things that really don't matter to the things that do.”
Gyllenhaal also reminisced about the attention he and Ledger received for their Oscar-nominated roles in “Brokeback.” The film was fairly progressive for its time because it was considered unusual and shocking for two of Hollywood’s dreamiest leading men — both straight — to portray gay characters.
“It was fascinating, particularly because I don't think we knew what a success the movie would be, what it would become and it was an intimate and really scary thing for me and Heath, in particular, to dive into,” Gyllenhaal said. “It was uncomfortable for both of us in some of the scenes, and yet we both deeply believed in what the movie was saying.”
Still, Gyllenhaal says he’s thankful for the experience of making “Brokeback” because it opened people’s eyes to what it means to be in love.
“At the time it was pretty unreal,” he said. “The emotional response you get from that movie from people who see that movie, I think it was one of the first movies where people would go, ‘Oh, I can see it as love.’”