Heath Ledger Refused Oscars Speech Over Brokeback Mountain Jokes

by : Cameron Frew on :
Heath Ledger Refused Oscars Speech Over Brokeback Mountain JokesFocus Features/PA Images

Heath Ledger stepped away from presenting the 2006 Academy Awards’ opening monologue due to proposed jokes about Brokeback Mountain

Next to The Dark Knight‘s Joker, Ang Lee’s 2005 masterpiece gave Ledger one of his finest roles, landing him his first ever Oscar nomination.


Its legacy has far outlived Crash, the highly-controversial Best Picture winner, which many posited as a signifier of the Academy’s prejudice. Now, the late actor’s passion for the film has been testified further.

Brokeback MountainFocus Features

Ahead of the 78th Academy Awards – in which Brokeback Mountain won three out of the eight categories it was nominated in – organisers planned for Ledger and his co-star Jake Gyllenhaal to open the ceremony.

The Oscars’ opening monologues widely vary in tone and scale, from the host-less years recently, to Billy Crystal and Jimmy Kimmel’s more acerbic chat, to Hugh Jackman’s fully-fledged musical number in 2009.


Humour is the one constant – however, in a recent interview with Another Man, Gyllenhaal explained that Ledger refused to take part due to the Academy insisting on joking about the film.

The Donnie Darko actor explained: 


I mean, I remember they wanted to do an opening for the Academy Awards that year that was sort of joking about it. 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.’

That’s the thing I loved about Heath. He would never joke. Someone wanted to make a joke about the story or whatever, he was like: ‘No. This is about love. Like, that’s it, man. Like, no.’

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At this moment, interviewer Chris Heath commented on how that was a smart move by Ledger in retrospect. Gyllenhaal replied: ‘Absolutely.’ Interestingly, prior to the film’s eventual production, Ledger and Gyllenhaal weren’t being considered for the lead roles.

Brokeback Mountain Jake Gyllenhaal Heath LedgerFocus Features

Before Lee got his hands on the project, Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho) was looking at the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt (who wouldn’t work together on a feature film until last year in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood).


‘I was working on it, and I felt like we needed a really strong cast, like a famous cast. That wasn’t working out. I asked the usual suspects: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ryan Phillippe. They all said no,’ Van Sant told IndieWire.

Ledger passed away in January 2008 following an accidental drug overdose. Months later, he was finally awarded his first and only Oscar for his iconic performance in The Dark Knight.

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Film and TV, Academy Awards, Jake Gyllenhaal, Oscars


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