In 2007, unbeknownst to the world, we were spared a potentially uncomfortable and awkward Oscars moment. It’s typically customary for the prior year’s Oscar winners and nominees to present awards during the current year’s ceremony, and, as Jake Gyllenhaal recounts in a new interview with Another Man magazine, both he and his Brokeback Mountain co-star Heath Ledger were invited to do just that in 2007—a year after Ledger and Gyllenhaal were nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor (respectively) for their performances in Ang Lee’s acclaimed drama. While Gyllenhaal says that he was open to participating in the 2007 ceremony, Ledger ultimately declined because he felt uncomfortable with how the Oscars might make fun of Brokeback Mountain:
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.’
Set in 1963, the film stars Ledger as a ranch hand who joins Gyllenhaal’s cowboy on a remote sheep herding job in the mountains of Wyoming. During their time together, the men—both of whom wind up married to women—fall in love with one another and embark on life-altering affair that spans 20 years. “That’s the thing I loved about Heath,” says Gyllenhaal. “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.’” Ledger, who passed away in 2008, is often remembered fondly by his friends and former co-stars, like Gyllenhaal and his sister, Maggie, who appeared opposite the late actor in The Dark Knight. In 2009, Ledger received a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the Joker in the film.