Culture has come a long way since 2005, when Brokeback Mountain took the world by storm with its heartbreaking love story between two cowboys, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. (For one thing, a movie with a gay protagonist has now actually won the Best Picture Oscar.) The film was an easy target for jokes as “the gay cowboy movie,” but Gyllenhaal says his costar was quick to shut those jokes down.
In a clip previewing his appearance on this week’s Sunday Today, Gyllenhaal recalls how Ledger, who died of an accidental drug overdose in 2008, “would never joke” about the film. “Someone wanted to make a joke about the story or whatever he was like, ‘No. This about love.’ Like, that’s it, man,” the actor said.
Gyllenhaal also spoke about the film’s impact on audiences and his own career. “When we did Brokeback Mountain, I was like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’ This is a level of focus and attention that hits a certain nerve and you’re like, ‘This is bigger than me,’ ” he said. “This little movie we made that meant so much to us has now become not ours anymore. It’s the world’s.”
“It opened tons of doors, it was amazing,” he added. “It’s defined my career in different ways.”
Gyllenhaal spoke to former PEOPLE and EW editorial director Jess Cagle about Ledger’s death in 2016. “Personally, it affected me in ways I can’t necessarily put in words or even would want to talk about publicly,” he said at the time. “I think it [gave me] the experience of, ‘This is fleeting.’ And none of the attention or synthesized love that comes from the success of a film really matters at all. What matters is the relationships you make when you make a film, and the people you learn from when you’re preparing for a film. That changed a lot for me.”
You can watch the full Today clip above.