Ang Lee ended up ultimately directing Brokeback Mountain, but originally Gus Van Sant had his eyes on the project. He had a rolodex of bigger Hollywood names he planned to collaborate with, but unfortunately, these names had other plans.
The characters Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, portrayed by Gyllenhaal and Ledger (in that order), are two men who fall in love with each other while herding sheep. Gus Van Sant did not leave the script due to his failure to cast bigger names, but he does admit he should have worried less about that.
“What I could have done, and what I probably should have done, was cast more unknowns, not worried about who were the lead actors. I was not ready. I’m not sure why. There was just sort of a hiccup on my part. There was something off with myself, I guess, whatever was going on.”
Considering the film won three out of eight Oscar noms, Gus Van Sant is probably kicking himself. Could you imagine the groundbreaking film with someone like Leo or Brad?