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Heath Ledger: Breathing the Rarefied Air of ‘Brokeback Mountain’

Hollywood.com: Did you read Annie Proulx’s book before doing the movie?
Heath Ledger: I read the book after I read the screenplay. I was equally blown away. The screenplay was really beautiful. Ang Lee did a really good job in interpreting the story for the screenplay.

HW: Despite being from Down Under, you’ve done an exceptional job playing a variation on the classic American cowboy.
HL: I was never really a fan of American Westerns. I never played cowboy or things like that as a kid. I guess it takes an outsider to see what it’s like for a cowboy, or a character that is outside of himself.

HW: Were you comfortable with the ranch hand side of Ennis—all of the outdoorsy stuff you shot in Calgary?
HL: I liked it, but it gets cold. Being a ranch hand you have to love what is out there, you have to love doing it. The country is beautiful. Once we arrived, with the breathtaking mountains and that beautiful stream, I found myself swept away with it. It’s so beautiful out there—and, at times, it can feel very isolated. You really felt you’d left the whole world behind.

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HW: You show such a restraint in so many of the scenes–using silence and yet still communicating so much of Ennis’ inner conflict.
HL:
Thanks. Sometimes you feel more of a restraint, and sometimes you feel that being quiet is best. Sometimes words just complicate things. I thought those moments were important, and I trusted the story and trusted the knowledge of my character, and I hoped that my thoughts would convey what I would say. It’s hard for me to comment on whether or not that worked.

HW: How hard was it for you to discover exactly who Ennis Del Mar was?
HL: His battle is more of a battle within, with his traditions. Deeply imbedded inside him is a battle he has with the world and society. And, once I figured that out, I understood his voice. That is why I wanted his first encounter with Jack to be like a struggle. He’s fighting with Jack, fighting with himself, and doesn’t know what to do until passion takes over. I think the chemistry was on the page, in the words. We just had to portray it. Jake and I didn’t talk much about it.

HW: Randy Quaid’s character represents Ennis’ worst fears of judgment, the kind of institutionalized homophobia that pervaded the era.
HL:
He’s the mainstream thought of that time. I really feel sorry for him. I would like to sit him down and talk about it. It’s not something I understand. I grew up in a great household that wasn’t restricted. We didn’t think like that.

HW: Are you pleased about all the early awards buzz the film has generated?
HL: I’m happy that I’m in a film that people like. I think it’s nice, I try to keep a distance from all the hype.

HW: Is this the hardest part you’ve ever played?
HL:
Yes, this is probably the most challenging role I ever had to do, or achieved.

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