oral history

Heath Ledger Hated That ‘I Wish I Knew How to Quit You’ Became a Meme

Brokeback Mountain. Photo: Focus Features

For the tenth anniversary of Brokeback Mountain’s release, Out has an oral history of the film. As expected, it’s full of loving remembrances of the late Heath Ledger, who, besides being one of the best actors of his generation, comes off like an absolute mensch. In his co-star Jake Gyllenhaal’s memory, Ledger hated the way the movie was turned into a meme — “the gay cowboy movie” — which he felt diminished its resonance. “He was extraordinarily serious about the political issues surrounding the movie when it came out,” Gyllenhaal says. “A lot of times people would want to have fun and joke about it, and he was vehement about being serious, to the point where he didn’t really want to hear about anything that was being made fun of.”

As the cast and crew recall, the intense emotions on set were aided by Ang Lee’s decision to house them all together in a remote campground. Gyllenhaal calls it an “old-school way” of making everyone a family: “It’s why we are all still close — not just bonded by the success of the film, but bonded by the experience. It was an intimate project in that way. We’d wake up and make breakfast for each other, and hang out. Heath and Michelle fell in love. It was a really special, special time.

It wasn’t just obvious to the actors. Screenwriter Diana Ossana can pinpoint the exact moment Ledger and Williams fell in love, in a scene where their characters go sledding together. “Michelle fell off the sled, and at the bottom of the hill she was crying,” she remembers. “She’d twisted her knee, and we had to call someone to take her to the hospital. Heath was not about to let her go alone, and as he was getting into the vehicle with her he was smoothing her hair back. I remember him looking at her, and she looking up at him with these wide eyes. She was almost startled by the attention he was giving her, but you could see it every day from thereon. For him it was truly love at first sight.

Other on-set accidents were more embarrassing. During her audition, a crucial piece of advice from her parents — “If you’re ever asked if you can do anything, say yes. You can learn anything in two weeks if you’re motivated enough” — had led Anne Hathaway to lie about knowing how to ride a horse. She took riding lessons before production started and, in her own words, became “really, really, really good.” But during one rehearsal, she was given a horse that only responded to verbal commands: “I went to a rehearsal in front of 300 extras, all of whom work in rodeos, and the horse wouldn’t do a damn thing I wanted it to. And at the end it threw me — in front of everyone.” And this time, she didn’t even get an Oscar for her trouble!

Heath Ledger Hated Brokeback Mountain Memes