Jake Gyllenhaal ’98 speaks on Brokeback Mountain at Cinema Sundays


Natasha Speiss

Gyllenhaal virtually answers questions from Cinema Studies teacher Ted Walch.

Natasha Speiss

Actor and producer Jake Gyllenhaal ’98 shared his experience working on the film “Brokeback Mountain” during the final installment of the year’s Cinema Sundays program May 16. Questions for Gyllenhaal were posed and moderated by Visual Arts, ISIR and Performing Arts Teacher Ted Walch.

“Brokeback Mountain” is a romantic drama directed by Ang Lee, adapted from a short story written by Annie Proulx, about the relationship between American cowboys Ennis Del Mar and Jake Twist (Gyllenhaal) over 20 years. It grossed $178 million worldwide with a $14 million budget and is often credited as helping to advance queer cinema. Gyllenhaal was nominated for an Academy Award in the “Best Supporting Actor” category for his performance in the film in 2006. 

The one-hour event was open to all school parents, alums, parents of alums, community members and current students. Over 130 people attended the discussion.

Guests were able to RSVP for the event

Gyllenhaal said that filming “Brokeback Mountain” was a very intimate experience and he was surprised by the amount of support the film received after its initial release in 2005.

“Everything that happened after we finished filming this small movie has been really hard to process, frankly, and really extraordinary,” Gyllenhaal said. “It always blows my mind thinking about us, me making coffee for everyone in the morning before we began shooting and then being at the Academy Awards and someone coming up to me saying, ‘You know, I came out to my parents and I never thought I could until I saw this film.’”

Gyllenhaal said he didn’t consider the possible risks to his career in taking the role of Twist largely due to how he grew up in an inclusive environment.

“I was raised, taught and shown the world by people of all different sexualities,” Gyllenhaal said. “I never saw [Brokeback Mountain] as ‘that gay cowboy movie,’ I always just saw it as a love story.”

Walch reflects on Gyllenhaal’s award-nominated acting

Walch said he enjoyed Gyllenhaal’s performance in the film and that everything about the film defied expectations.

“[Brokeback Mountain] addresses attitudes towards love that some people can’t understand yet and it has worn the test of time beautifully,” Walch said. “What’s even more important is that many of our perspectives have changed, which is in large part due to the film.”

Gyllenhaal said he is drawn to characters who are shaded with a side of pain when auditioning for roles.

“In a lot of ways for me, [the role of Twist] has nothing to do with sexuality,” Gyllenhaal said. “It has to do with how we speak our truth, who we really are and if we can be who we really are.”

Olivia Chuba ’12, who wrote her dissertation on Brokeback Mountain’s costume design, said she admired how the film used the ‘American cinema cowboy’ to reflect what ideals of masculinity are.

“If you’re anything like my dad, who said ‘What costumes?’ when I was writing my dissertation, it might be hard to notice at first,” Chuba said. “The clothes are so detailed and so obviously Western and when they place them in the genre, it tells people ‘This is a Western movie and now we’re going to shake it up and make it different, but you’re going to believe it’s realistic because we’re giving you these cues that this is something that you’re used to seeing.’”

Maddy Redmond ’23 said she found Gyllenhaal’s commentary extremely interesting and was grateful for the chance to hear him speak about his work.

“I thought that the event was amazing, and [Gyllenhaal’s] answers gave great insight into one of my favorite movies,” Redmond said. “It’s awesome that Harvard-Westlake gives us the opportunity to do things like this on a regular basis.”