AceShowbiz - Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio both declined starring roles in Oscar-winning drama Brokeback Mountain, according to original director Gus Van Sant.
The moviemaker was initially attached to adapt author Annie Proulx's short story of the same name into a feature film, but he struggled to convince a number of top actors to take on the cowboy love story.
"Nobody wanted to do it," Van Sant recalled to IndieWire. "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."
Reports at the time suggested Van Sant had wanted his Good Will Hunting star Damon to feature opposite Joaquin Phoenix as Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, the roles which eventually went to Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, respectively, in director Ang Lee's acclaimed 2005 release.
Producer Diana Ossana, who helped to adapt the script, confirmed the revelations in an email statement to the outlet, writing, "Yes, all those young gentlemen (at the time) turned down the project, for various reasons."
Reflecting on his approach to casting the film over a decade ago, Van Sant admits he shouldn't have focused so heavily on landing big names.
"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 said.
"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."
Brokeback Mountain went on to lead all nominees at the 2006 Academy Awards with eight nods, including acting mentions for Ledger, Gyllenhaal, and Michelle Williams. It ended up picking up three honours, including Best Director for Lee, but missed out on Best Picture to Crash.
Meanwhile, Van Sant also told IndieWire he came close to taking charge of another acclaimed gay romance, 2017's Call Me By Your Name, which was directed by Luca Guadagnino and starred Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer.
He explains a producer pal initially offered the project to him, and although the 65-year-old was interested, he doubts it would have been as well-received as Guadagnino's version, because he found a "sentimentality" in the ending of the story that Van Sant didn't.
"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," he shared. "I think it was great. I like the film... I'm not sure I would have ended up in the same place, so it probably wouldn't have done as well."
Call Me By Your Name, based on the 2007 novel of the same name by Andre Aciman, landed four Oscar nominations earlier this year, and earned James Ivory the Best Adapted Screenplay prize.