Ang Lee: Breaking Down 'Brokeback Mountain' Director Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain is winning acclaim as a dramatic success, and buzz for a love scene between stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Lee tells Alex Chadwick about the making of the modern Western tale.
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Ang Lee: Breaking Down 'Brokeback Mountain'

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Ang Lee: Breaking Down 'Brokeback Mountain'

Ang Lee: Breaking Down 'Brokeback Mountain'

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Online alert: There is more online at about this next piece on DAY TO DAY. Indeed, online is where you'll find an extended discussion of what we may call the juicy parts. Here we go.

Despite all the PR money spent on "King Kong," maybe the most talked-about movie right now is "Brokeback Mountain" because in it two hunky young movie stars, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, play Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, two cowboys who fall in love and stay in love with each other, even though both marry and have families.

(Soundbite of "Brokeback Mountain")

Ms. MICHELLE WILLIAMS: (As Alma Del Mar) I looked in that case first chance I got and there was my note still tied there. That rod hadn't touched water in its life.

Mr. HEATH LEDGER (Actor): (As Ennis Del Mar): That don't mean nothing, Alma.

Ms. WILLIAMS: (As Alma Del Mar) Don't try and fool me no more, Ennis. I know what that means: Jack Twist.

Mr. LEDGER: (As Ennis Del Mar): Mm-hmm.

Ms. WILLIAMS: (As Alma Del Mar) Jack Nasty. You didn't go up there to fish.

CHADWICK: The film was directed by Ang Lee, who also made "The Ice Storm" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and the comic book movie "The Hulk." "Brokeback" is called a gay movie in most reviews and discussions, but a week ago the director told me he still isn't sure what to call it.

Mr. ANG LEE (Film Director): To be honest with you, I'm positive myself. People describe it as a gay cowboy or a gay Western, which is not so incorrect. It's not like they're not cowboys or they're not gay, but culturally it has a funny connotation. So I started calling it a love story. But it's--usually in movie drama, love story, you have very soft approach. And this is a very masculine.

CHADWICK: Let me ask you about a moment in the film. The characters have been apart for several years. They reunite. How do you get the coming together of these two heterosexual actors, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, in this moment of passion?

Mr. LEE: Well, they have read the book and the script. I block the scene; they know what to deliver. I just expect them to come with passions. I told them jokingly that you can never kiss a woman that hard, so go ahead, give me the most Western-hero kiss. I was joking. And, yeah, they know what's the deal and they delivered...


Mr. LEE: ...quite bravely, I think. And that was the first kissing scene we did in the movie. That was the second week of shooting. We closed the set. It was on the street and we--you know, we closed it for a couple blocks and we cleared everything. And then we just go ahead. Actually, we spent more time dealing with the hats because they would fall. They would bump into each other, the hats...

CHADWICK: And their hats would...

Mr. LEE: ...those damn hats.

CHADWICK: You can't have their cowboy...

Mr. LEE: They're not made for kissing scenes.

CHADWICK: ...hats fall off, no.

Mr. LEE: Yeah. So those clumsy continuities--so we actually spent more time on dealing with the hats. And I think one take they bump into each other in the nose because it is so hard and passionate. So it was more technically. I do talk to them through what might go through their minds so the emotion can be externalized, so that the feeling of oppression can be seen. It has to take steps. One person kiss the other, how the other takes it, and look at him, and come back with something, and they both want to be macho. That's a little different from heterosexual kissing, I think. So we did go through that. We never rehearsed the scene.

CHADWICK: You didn't?

Mr. LEE: Just all in a day--no. Just all in a day we did blocking and roll the camera, keep it fresh. And that they're good actors. I just expect them to do it. If they don't believe it, nobody will. So I told them that much, and we'll see what happens.

CHADWICK: What are you shooting on? What is your cinematographer shooting on? Because the blue in that sky when you first open up in daytime...

Mr. LEE: Oh.

CHADWICK: ...I look at that and I don't know if that's really the way the sky looks in Wyoming. I've been in Wyoming. It doesn't always look that way, but it sort of looks like what I imagine the sky looks like in Wyoming. You know the distinction?

Mr. LEE: The writer is saying that the sky's so blue that like you can drink it like porridge. (Chuckles) Yeah, I think I was affected by the writing. There are a few shots I put a little filtration, like gradual--only the very tip, the top tip of the sky. Most of it is the big sky. That's what they call it in Montana, Wyoming and certainly where we shot in the southern Alberta of Canada.

(Soundbite of "Brokeback Mountain")

Mr. JAKE GYLLENHAAL: (As Jack Twist) What if you and me had a little ranch somewhere, a little cow-and-calf operation? It'd be a sweet life. I mean, hell, Lureen's an old man, you better give me a down payment to get lost, and then he more or less already said it.

Mr. LEDGER: (As Ennis Del Mar) No, I told you it ain't gonna be that way. The bottom line is we're around each other and this thing grabs hold of us again in the wrong place and the wrong time and we're dead.

CHADWICK: Well, this film, it's already been nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards. People are certainly saying it's going to get Oscar nominations, and you're likely to get one for best director.

Mr. LEE: When I start out making the movie, I thought it would be limited release. I didn't imagine the success. It's just a pretty, to me, overwhelmingly, surprisingly warm reception. And I felt the movie will be brought out to more theaters than I had imagined, so the phenomenon is--feel big than I would imagine--sometimes get me concerned. I don't know what kind of questions I have to answer.

CHADWICK: Well, here's one. How do you measure the success of a film like this? What is it to be successful with this film? Is it to start...

Mr. LEE: As a filmmaker...

CHADWICK: ...a national debate about the question?

Mr. LEE: Yes, that's the part I wasn't really eager to anticipate. In my personal life, I have statements to make. I have my inclination, my attitude toward certain social issues and all that, but I wasn't going to do that with the movie. That was not my intention when I started out making the movie. I just try to make a movie that works. I reach out to touch people's heart and make connection with them. And sometimes it becomes an issue of debating, which is not something I'm comfortable with using this particular material.

CHADWICK: Ang Lee, director of "Brokeback Mountain," thank you for speaking with us on DAY TO DAY.

Mr. LEE: Thank you.

CHADWICK: And again, there's more at our Web site, Ang Lee explains how he directed the kiss and what happened with actress Michelle Williams, who plays Heath Ledger's wife in the movie and in real life is his lover.

NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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