Film director Gus Van Sant revealed in an interview with IndieWire that both Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio passed on "Brokeback Mountain," the gay love story that snagged eight Academy Award nominations in 2006 — the most of any film that year.
Van Sant, who was approached to direct the film that was ultimately helmed by Ang Lee, recalled the lack of interest from actors in portraying the roles that earned Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger widespread acclaim and accolades.
"Nobody wanted to do it," Van Sant said. "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."
Diana Ossana, who produced the film with James Schamus for Focus Features, confirmed Van Sant's casting revelations in an email sent to IndieWire.
"Yes, all those young gentlemen (at the time) turned down the project, for various reasons," she wrote. Ossana also adapted the script with Larry McMurtry from a short story by Annie Proulx.
Of the two leading men, Ledger's role was the more difficult to fill, according to Ossana. "Casting Ennis in particular was the ultimate hurdle," she said.
Looking back on the lack of enthusiasm surrounding the film's casting process at the time, Van Sant said, "What I could have done, and what I probably should have done, was cast more unknowns, not worried about who were the lead actors."
He continued, "I was not ready. I'm not sure why. There was just sort of a hiccup on my part. There was something off with myself, I guess, whatever was going on."
The "My Own Private Idaho" director also shared that one of his producer friends offered him "Call Me By Your Name," which later went to Luca Guadagnino. "I think in that case in particular...I don't think it would have panned out the way it did if I had directed it. I think it was great," he said. "I like the film. I think the sentimentality and the ending of the film was something that probably wasn't in the book in the same way. It maybe was in the book, but I think that he got something really great that I think is very... I'm not sure I would have ended up in the same place, so it probably wouldn't have done as well."
Van Sant's latest film, "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot," is in theaters now.