It was revealed during a recent screening of Brokeback Mountain that it was initially hard to find a director and actors to commit to the movie. Screenwriter Diana Ossana stated that actors would agree to the parts and then bail after about 6 months. Two names that she brought up that were attached for a while were Matt Damon and Joaquin Phoenix who would've starred under the direction of Gus Van Sant. Obviously, this version of Brokeback Mountain didn't come into fruition. Instead, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal took on the parts while Ang Lee directed.
Diana Ossana said that a lot of people in the entertainment industry had a hard time with her Brokeback Mountain screenplay because it wasn't a traditional love story. Though the movie wasn't traditional, it was a critical and box office success, and gave Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger a huge boost to their careers. That being said, it was still tough to find people to be in the film originally, and it took Diana Ossana over 8 years to get the cast and crew together.
"One of the biggest challenges for filmmakers was getting executives to understand that this was not a universal love story. This is a movie about two men who fall in love. It's very specific. It's about Ennis and Jack and it's about their flaws and their mistakes and their struggles and their humanity."
Brokeback Mountain was known in the industry as the "gay cowboy movie" before anyone picked up on it. Diana Ossana says that "nobody would commit," and for one brief moment, it looked like it was going forward with director Gus Van Sant and stars Matt Damon and Joaquin Phoenix. Ossana also notes that Mark Wahlberg considered the part and that the Brokeback Mountain screenplay was sent to several directors, including Joel Schumacher and Edward Norton. She had this to say.
"We sent it to Edward Norton (to direct) and Joel Schumacher and dozens of people and they all came back saying they loved it, but no one would commit. They didn't give us any real excuse why they wouldn't. I guess they saw it as too difficult."
While Diana Ossana was having a hard time casting Brokeback Mountain, she always wanted to get Heath Ledger to play the Ennis role. However, she states that the studio didn't find him "macho" enough. Ossana notes that when another unnamed actor dropped out of the project, she brought up Ledger's name again and got the greenlight to pursue him. As it turns out, Ledger's then-girlfriend, Naomi Watts, convinced him to take on the role. Ossana explains.
"Heath read it on the way home to Australia... and he said Naomi read it and she was jumping up and down on the bed telling him you've got to do this role for all kinds of reasons - for your career and for the world. He told me on the set, you know, it's the most beautiful script I've ever read in my life, and I would've rowed a boat halfway around the world to meet with Ang to be in this movie. It was a battle to get him, but boy was it worth it."
Diana Ossana says that getting Brokeback Mountain off of the ground was so hard that she can write a book about it. She says there's plenty of other actors who were attached at one point, but all fell off for reasons that weren't clear. In the end, everything worked out perfectly and Brokeback Mountain is hailed as one of the best movies of all time, so Ossana's hard work was not in vain. The movie won 71 awards and an additional 52 nominations, but did not win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. You can check out the rest of what Diana Ossana had to say about getting Brokeback Mountain made at The Hollywood Reporter.