Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee’s touching tribute to Heath Ledger will move you

Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee’s touching tribute to Heath Ledger will move you
Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal 58th Annual Directors Guild of America DGA Awards, The Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel & Spa, Los Angeles, January 28, 2006 Photo: Shutterstock

Heath Ledger may have won his posthumous Academy Award for his tour de force performance as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, but LGBTQ+ fans probably remember him best for playing lovelorn, closeted cowboy Ennis in Brokeback Mountain.

Coming up on the 15th anniversary of his untimely death, readers voted to include Ledger in Empire magazine’s list of the 50 greatest actors. In the magazine’s current issue, director Ang Lee remembers working with the late actor on Brokeback Mountain.

“Heath’s aura powers the whole story,” Lee says of Ledger’s performance in the Oscar-winning 2005 film. “He often surprised me with what he brought to his work.”

Lee recalls the nuance Ledger brought to the role of the repressed, taciturn Ennis. He remembers a particular scene between Ledger and Linda Cardellini, in which the latter angrily takes Ledger’s character to task. “But she doesn’t get a word from him,” Lee says. “Throughout the whole scene, Heath does nothing: he just eats the apple pie. But watching the dailies, the crew were all crying too, saying, “Just leave the guy alone!” I both understood, and cherished, Heath’s quietness, the subtlety of the moment, and how he carried himself in that scene. We are all very lucky we were able to make movies with an actor of that calibre.”

Interestingly, Lee also describes what sounds like a slightly difficult working relationship between Ledger and co-star Jake Gyllenhaal, who played Ennis’s long-term lover, Jack Twist.

“Sometimes there was friction – not quarreling, but a clash of styles,” Lee recalls. “Sometimes I would mediate that, but they were both good in different ways. They would always make the effort to find a way through.”

Ultimately, Lee says he cherished watching Ledger and Gyllenhaal develop the relationship between their characters.

Ledger, Lee says, “was a brilliant young actor. God only knows what he would have achieved later in life. He had so much talent – I’m sure he would have been a great director.”

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