Lee Daniels Reveals He Was the Original ‘Brokeback Mountain’ Director Before Ang Lee

The musical chairs of hot directors once attached to direct the classic pastoral gay romance “Brokeback Mountain,” which ultimately went to Ang Lee, is the stuff of legend. Gus Van Sant was once set to helm the adaptation of Annie Proulx’s story, with Matt Damon and Joaquin Phoenix eyed to star in the roles that went to Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Joel Schumacher was at another point linked to direct the 2005 Academy Award-winning film, and co-screenwriter Larry McMurtry even offered the project to Pedro Almodóvar, who said he was tempted to make a more “animalistic” version of the love story.

But as revealed in a new interview with Insider, Oscar-nominated “Precious,” “The Butler,” and “The Paperboy” director Lee Daniels said he was originally attached to direct the film, but getting it off the ground proved to be complicated.

“I was going to be directing ‘Brokeback Mountain,’” the “Empire” creator said. “A long, long time ago. It was going to be my second movie after ‘Monster’s Ball.’” (Daniels produced 2001’s “Monster’s Ball,” which made Halle Barry the first Black woman to win the Best Actress Academy Award.) “Brokeback Mountain” therefore would’ve been Daniels’ first directing credit, but he went on to debut behind the camera with “Shadowboxer” in 2005.

“It was a very expensive piece to keep and I simply couldn’t get the movie made,” Daniels said of his take on “Brokeback Mountain.” “Nobody wanted to see the movie, nobody wanted to make the movie.”

Daniels also said it took him 15 years to finally see Lee’s now-iconic version. “I couldn’t watch the film when it came out. I saw the movie in my head, the script was powerful. I saw the entire film in my head because it was so powerful. So when Ang came out with it, I didn’t want to see it. Because I just didn’t think that he would do it justice. When [Jack and Ennis] first had sex in the tent, I saw that scene how I would direct it, so I just couldn’t imagine any other filmmaker doing it justice. Especially a straight filmmaker taking it on.”

Daniels, however, eventually made peace with his split from the project, and revealed he’s a fan of the movie, which won Lee the Best Director Oscar. “I saw it, like, 15 years later and Ang Lee did a really great job,” Daniels said. “As a matter of fact, he did it in a way that was palatable for many heterosexuals around the world. I would have probably been more in your face with it, and he did it in a different perspective, so kudos to him. And I told him that.”

Daniels is currently in post-production on “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” starring Andra Day as the fallen jazz singer. The film is now up for sale in the ongoing virtual Cannes market.

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