In 2005, the world was considerably less ready than it is today to embrace a love story about two men. That didn't stop Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal from giving some of the best performances of their careers as Ennis and Jack in "Brokeback Mountain." As Jake recalls to Willie Geist in a preview clip from the next edition of "Sunday Today," however, those performances didn't preclude people from joking or making disparaging remarks about the movie, either.
What's stuck with Jake all these years later is how his late costar handled them.
"I see people who have joked with me or criticized me about lines I say in that movie — and that's the thing I loved about Heath. He would never joke," Jake says in the clip, according to JustJared.
"Someone wanted to make a joke about the story or whatever he was like, 'No. This about love.' Like, that's it, man. Like, no."
Heath died just three years after the release of the Oscar-winning Ang Lee film, having overdosed on prescription medication at age 28. Looking back today, Jake, now 38, still marvels not only at Heath's performance in "Brokeback Mountain," but also at the film's larger scale effect on cinematic culture.
"When we did 'Brokeback Mountain,' I was like, 'Whoa, what's going on?' This is a level of focus and attention that hits a certain nerve and you're like, 'This is bigger than me,'" he explains. "This little movie we made that meant so much to us has now become not ours anymore. It's the world's. It opened tons of doors, it was amazing. It's defined my career in different ways."
Jake, who appeared on "Sunday Today" to promote his new, two-man show on Broadway with Tom Sturridge, "Sea Wall/A Life," has talked about his friendship and working relationship with Heath in the past, as has his sister, Heath's "The Dark Knight" costar, Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Like her brother, Maggie found working with Heath to be somewhat of a mind-blowing experience. Speaking to Andy Cohen last year on "Watch What Happens Live," she said she, too, realized Heath's acting was on a different level than others she's worked with.
"To be amazing like the way Heath was in a movie that's got explosions and, like, huge stunt scenes and big sets is like a whole other thing, and I don't know if anyone's ever, ever done that as well as he did in 'The Dark Knight,'" she explained, according to Us Weekly.
"It felt like that on set too," she added. "You were like, 'Whoa. Oh, OK. You're on a whole other level.'"
Jake still maintains a connection to Heath more than a decade after the actor's death as the godfather of Heath and Michelle Williams' 13-year-old daughter, Matilda. He also thinks about the fact Heath didn't live long enough to witness his impact on their industry.
"I miss him as a human being and I miss working with him and what an unfortunate thing it is that we won't be able to see the beauty of his expression," Jake told Terry Gross on NPR's "Fresh Air" in 2015.
"He was incredibly special and that doesn't even come close to encapsulating who he is, who he was."