Heath Ledger Once Shut Down a Homophobic ‘Brokeback Mountain’ Oscars Joke

Laura Bradley
Kevin Winter/Getty

Brokeback Mountain occupies a strange space in film history. On one hand, Ang Lee’s 2005 film brought a complex queer love story to the mainstream, charmed critics, and proved itself a stellar Oscar performer. At the same time, an endless cycle of homophobic ridicule still largely succeeded in branding it “the gay cowboy movie.”

But one person who never wavered in his support of the film and its thematic importance was its late star Heath Ledger. The late actor, who died in 2008, fought back against humor that dismissed the film’s importance—even, it turns out, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences offered him and co-star Jake Gyllenhaal an Oscars opener.

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Gyllenhaal has previously described how Ledger refused to let people off the hook for homophobic Brokeback Mountain jokes. On NBC’s Today last year, he said, “I see people who have joked with me or criticized me about lines I say in that movie—and that’s the thing I loved about Heath. He would never joke. Someone wanted to make a joke about the story or whatever, he was like, ‘No. This is about love.’ Like, that’s it, man. Like, no.’”

In a Monday interview with Another Man magazine noted by Complex, Gyllenhaal recalled the Oscars offer. “I remember they wanted to do an opening for the Academy Awards that year that was sort of joking about it,” he said. “And Heath refused. I was sort of at the time, ‘Oh, okay... whatever.’ I’m always like: it’s all in good fun. And Heath said, ‘It’s not a joke to me—I don’t want to make any jokes about it.’”

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