'Brokeback Mountain' Writer Sets Record Straight on Joaquin Phoenix Casting

Oscar-winning screenwriter Diana Ossana says: "It was the role of Ennis that was the difficult one to cast. It was the role of Ennis that actors would commit to and then back away. To my knowledge, Joaquin never backed away.”
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The dust has yet to settle on a bit of back and forth over Brokeback Mountain casting.

Rambling Reporter was on the scene March 28 for a double feature at Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre when the Ang Lee-directed love story and Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia shared the historic marquee. During a Q&A with Oscar-winner Diana Ossana (who was front and center next to Philadelphia’s Ron Nyswaner), Ossana noted how difficult it was to find actors who would commit to the 2005 film known around town as a “gay cowboy” project.

Though she only mentioned directors such as Edward Norton and Joel Schumacher, it was widely reported at the time that Joaquin Phoenix and Matt Damon were once on board to star for filmmaker Gus Van Sant. When The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Phoenix a few days later, the actor wanted to set the record straight about his involvement in Brokeback, saying, “I would have done that movie in a second. I was desperate to do it,” he said. “I feel so honored that people would think that I was worthy enough to be in it, but it was never offered to me.”

Ossana, who won an Oscar with screenwriting partner Larry McMurtry, reached out to Rambling Reporter to set the record straight once and for all. “I never mentioned Joaquin as someone who turned down a role in Brokeback; in fact, I believe he wanted to play Jack early on, when Gus Van Sant was involved once Brokeback the script first went out into the world, and we would have been thrilled to have him,” she said via email. “Joaquin wasn't available when we were casting the film; I believe he had already committed to Walk the Line at that time. It was the role of Ennis that was the difficult one to cast. It was the role of Ennis that actors would commit to and then back away. To my knowledge, Joaquin never backed away.”