EW Staff
June 25, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

AGE 25
MUSTWORTHINESS If early rumors are true, ”Brokeback Mountain” — based on an Annie Proulx short story and adapted by Larry McMurtry — could bust one of Hollywood’s long-standing barriers. A-list hunks Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal appear as a Wyoming ranch hand and a Texas cowboy whose friendship develops into an explicit, decades-long love affair. ”Everyone is really excited and nervous,” reports Ledger from the film’s Calgary set. ”We’re all hoping that it’ll break some taboos. But I don’t want people getting overexcited about how new the story line is. To me, we’re telling a beautiful love story before anything else.”
THE COWBOY WAY Ledger worried that the film’s subject matter could lead to a second-rate cheesefest. ”[Director] Ang Lee came to me with the story, and the first time I heard about it, I thought it sounded really retarded,” he laughs. ”I mean…a gay cowboy movie? Once I read the script, the story revealed itself to be anything but. It’s mature and strong.”
SHELF LIFE The story — which first appeared in The New Yorker in 1997 — languished in development hell for years despite interest from the likes of Gus Van Sant, Josh Hartnett, and Colin Farrell. Lee finally agreed to take it on, quickly attracting a supporting cast that includes Randy Quaid, Michelle Williams, and Anne Hathaway. ”Naomi [Watts, his ex-girlfriend] definitely helped me muster up the strength and courage to say that this was the right thing to do,” says Ledger.
NEXT ”Brokeback” opens in 2005.

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