The Must List

Heath Ledger

Star of a taboo-busting film about gay cowboys -- Heath Ledger -- The Must List 2004

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.

Originally posted Jun 25, 2004 Published in issue #771-772 Jun 25, 2004 Order article reprints