Brokeback Mountain

SOUND BITES

Which director would you like to work with that you haven’t before? “I really don’t like answering these, because there’s so many. I guess I’d like to work with Terry Gilliam again, because when I worked with him (on ‘The Brothers Grimm’) he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.”

How do actors balance commerce vs. art? “We don’t. Our agents do.”

Up next: “I’m now retired to a daily routine of cooking and cleaning and keeping my two girls happy.”

The rugged, stoic man of the West is an image deeply etched into the fabric of American culture and history. But when Australian Heath Ledger prepared to play Ennis Del Mar in director Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain,” he drew upon memory.

“Growing up in Perth, you’re around those types,” he explains. “The school I went to was full of ranch hands and farm boys. There’s a certain mentality that is universal, like a surfer in France or a surfer in Australia. They all speak the same language. They all see the world through the same eyes.

“With ranch hands, there’s a similar posture, a similar gaze in their eyes. So I kind of understood that.”

Ledger gives a deeply affecting performance as a ranch hand with an almost impenetrable exterior who falls in love with cowboy Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Finding the ranch hand was relatively easy, but finding Ennis took a considerable amount of exploration.

“One of the reasons I took the role was because he was so complex,” says 26-year-old Ledger. “The complexities are so deeply embedded inside him, and rarely spoken. That was my task, to tell this character’s story from within, through stillness, through his little actions as opposed to many words. That was exciting to me and that was the challenge.”

Naturally a love story involving two men in such a high-profile studio film will create curiosity over how the actors approached the material and the project. “I can’t say I didn’t think about it,” Ledger says of his love scenes with Gyllenhaal. “It worried me a little. It’s obviously necessary to create that level of intimacy to convey the tragedy of the story.

“At the end of the day, Jake and I were actors who had our heads screwed on. After the first take, it was over. You’re kissing another human being. Get over it. Tell the story. What’s the next shot? Doing love scenes with girls are just as awkward, with the cameras and lights and people around.”

Ledger, who met girlfriend Michelle Williams on the project (they now have a daughter, Matilda), says it took a while before he could evaluate the finished product. “The first time I saw the film in New York, we came out and were fairly retired to the fact that’s it’s hard to transport ourselves out of the project,” he recalls. “We were confused and beaten by the experience.

“It wasn’t until Venice (where it won top kudo the Golden Lion) when I sat there and watched it with a full audience, and the audience bled into my experience and I suddenly became an audience member and watched the picture and the audience’s reaction. It definitely gave us all a sense of pride.”

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