Brad Pitt, Leo DiCaprio & Matt Damon were offered roles in ‘Brokeback Mountain’


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This week, a lot of entertainment sites have been noting the 10th anniversary of Heath Ledger’s passing, and the 10th anniversary of Ledger’s debut as the Joker in The Dark Knight. It was an iconic performance, a career-defining performance, and it’s really sad to think about what he could have done career-wise and personally after The Dark Knight. Personally, however, my favorite Heath Ledger performances were always his more low-key dramatic roles, in films like Monster’s Ball and Brokeback Mountain. Heath received his first Oscar nomination for Brokeback, and that film fundamentally changed his career years before The Dark Knight. Heath and Jake Gyllenhaal are so iconic in those roles, it’s hard to imagine anyone else being cast. But the original director attached to the project, Gun Van Sant, just told IndieWire that he approached all of the big-name actors for it and they all turned him down.

Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” is perfect just the way it is, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy imagining what Gus Van Sant would have done with the project. The Oscar-winning auteur behind the New Queer Cinema classic “My Own Private Idaho” and the more-commercial “Good Will Hunting” has been offered many films throughout his career, including “Brokeback Mountain.” His latest film, “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” follows the life of eccentric Portland cartoonist John Callahan, played by his “To Die For” star Joaquin Phoenix.

It’s long been reported that both Van Sant and Pedro Almodóvar were initially approached to direct the groundbreaking”Brokeback,” but Van Sant recently told IndieWire why his vision ultimately wasn’t right — and which A-list actors turned down the film.

“Nobody wanted to do it,” Van Sant said. “I was working on it, and I felt like we needed a really strong cast, like a famous cast. That wasn’t working out. I asked the usual suspects: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ryan Phillippe. They all said no.”

“Yes, all those young gentlemen (at the time) turned down the project, for various reasons,” “Brokeback Mountain” producer and screenwriter Diana Ossana confirmed to IndieWire via email. Ossana produced the film with James Schamus for Focus Features, and adapted the script with Larry McMurtry from a short story by Annie Proulx.

[From IndieWire]

I understand the urge of “screw it, let’s just send this script to every famous white guy in town and see who says yes.” That’s the way a lot of films are cast, let’s be honest. But I’m so glad that those guys said no to the script. Brad Pitt would have been awful in either of those roles. Leo DiCaprio would have been a trainwreck. Matt Damon – as much as it pains me to admit this – might have been interesting in one of those roles. Ryan Phillippe would have been painfully bad. This is the kind of casting-Sliding-Doors which makes me believe that for many of the important films, the right people find the right roles.

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Photos courtesy of Getty, ‘Brokeback’ still.

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40 Responses to “Brad Pitt, Leo DiCaprio & Matt Damon were offered roles in ‘Brokeback Mountain’”

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  1. Jegede says:

    Dicaprio was actually great in Total Eclipse where he played the Rimbaurd.

    And I will ALWAYS believe his best performance was in The Basketball Diaries, where Jim Carroll had to hustle with men regularly for food & jobs.

    I would actually have been curious to see how Leo would have worked out in this role.

  2. LadyT says:

    “ Brokeback Mountain” is on my list of top five favorite movies ever. Beautiful love story, exceptional acting. I’ll always be bummed it didn’t win the Oscar.

    • MCV says:

      I don’t even remember the movie that won best movie that year at the oscars but Brokeback Mountain is iconic so at the end it doesn’t matter who won, BM has the recognition.

    • Chicken says:

      I still consider it basically a crime that Brokeback Mountain didn’t win the Oscar, and still think it’s an absolute joke that Crash did. Also, I can’t imagine anyone other than Heath and Jake Gyllenhaal in those roles, they were so great. Brokeback might be my favorite serious movie ever, and I cannot watch it without fully sobbing every time. When Ennis visits Jack’s parents and walks through Jack’s closet – ALL THE TEARS. Heath did so much so quietly in that role.

  3. MCV says:

    I can’t imagine the movie without Jake or Heath, they were so perfect in their roles.

  4. Mia4s says:

    These trips back in time are always interesting, and then to see where they are now. A list? Ryan Phillipie?! And now….singing: *one of these things is not like the others *.

  5. Esmom says:

    I may be one of the few who didn’t love Brokeback Mountain. I know it was groundbreaking but I felt like the tone was a bit over the top, it gave me a Lifetime movie vibe. That said, I can’t imagine any other actor in those roles, their performances were stellar.

  6. Bridget says:

    That was common knowledge even at the time that no other high profile actor would even touch the role. The “gay cowboy movie” was practically radioactive – and of course, we now know that it was career-making for Ledger, Gyllenhaal, and Williams.

  7. VirgiliaCoriolanus says:

    I think every name involved would have been interesting/are good actors–but I think Ledger and Gyllenhaal were so iconic that it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing them. It’s not a knock on any other actors, but still…..

  8. Aephra says:

    I always preferred Heath’s performance as Ennis to his work as the Joker. (But Sonny Grotowski is my favorite of all his roles.)

    Sometimes I wonder if the Academy awarded his Dark Knight Oscar partially in recognition of the Brokeback performance because it would have been too controversial to recognize a gay character in 2005.

  9. PBAN says:

    Actors turn down roles all the time. Not why it is a story. I don’t think either Leo or Brad have ever mentioned it.

  10. Alexis says:

    I actually think that Leo D would have done a great job in BM, but the others……no.

  11. Bella Bella says:

    I think Ryan Phillippe would have been pretty good in this movie. He’s got soft features but a strong body, and I guess unlike many here I actually think he’s a good actor. This would have been great material for him to work with if he’d been brave to take it on. Same with almost all of those guys, really. Brad Pitt was fantastic in that Billy the Kidd movie — the best I’ve ever seen him. I think he’s much better when he’s challenged with a real character versus a pretty boy person. Matt Damon can also do great work at supposed “everyman” characters with a twist. I bet all of those guys were kicking themselves for turning down that movie.

    On the other hand, DeCaprio gives me the heebeegeebees. I cannot see him as a cowboy. His head has grown exponentially with his ego and I just can’t unsee that.

  12. Bea says:

    Um, Ryan Phillipe wishes he were considered an equal to everyone else on that list.

  13. Mary says:

    Brad and Leo would be perfect

  14. Velvet Elvis says:

    I actually think that Brad Pitt would have been good to play either part. Some people claim he can’t really act but I think about how great he was in Interview With The Vampire as Louis, a serious and emotional character. And we know from Thelma and Louise that he can pull off a cowboy hat. Leo would have been great too.

  15. magnoliarose says:

    This should have been Damon and Affleck. Ok I am joking. I can’t imagine Affleck in either role. It would been so embarrassingly unintentionally funny that it would have destroyed his career. Boyfriend can’t act. SNL would still be doing spoofs and he would be a meme for life.

  16. toni says:

    DiCaprio became too scared after Titanic not appearing uber straight, hence all the barely legal model “girlfriends”.
    Pitt can’t act and DiCaprio’s talent peaking in the early 90′s.

    The only one who could chalange Heath in that role would have been River Phoenix if he had lived.

  17. virginfangirl says:

    Just saw BM for the first time last year. What a great movie. It left me thinking about it periodically for days & it would leave me with feelings of sadness all over again.

  18. OldGold says:

    So glad this film got the recognition it got and deserved. Ang Lee is amazing.