Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee's 2005 masterpiece and most certainly the film that should have bagged Best Picture at the 78th Academy Awards, was—in retrospect—met with some decidedly public homophobia upon its release and eventual entry into the pantheon of cinema classics.
Asked about the climate back then, Gyllenhaal agreed, then pointed to Heath Ledger's decision to skip out on a would-be opening segment to that year’s Oscars in protest.
"I mean, I remember they wanted to do an opening for the Academy Awards that year that was sort of joking about it," he said. "And Heath refused. I was sort of at the time, 'Oh, okay... whatever.' I'm always like: it's all in good fun. And Heath said, 'It's not a joke to me—I don't want to make any jokes about it.'"
Speaking further on the film's legacy, Gyllenhaal echoed his previous comments on the weight of the project, noting its eventual larger-than-life status in his filmography.
"There are things you’re chosen for—a quality, an essence—and Ang did that. And it's still a mystery to me," he said.
Ledger, of course, would ultimately win an Academy Award—albeit posthumously—for his performance as Joker in Christopher Nolan's classic of a different sort The Dark Knight. Years later, Joaquin Phoenix won an Oscar for his own take on the Batman character. Phoenix was repeatedly praiseful of Ledger's work during the Joker promo campaign.