Gus Van Sant, who was approached to direct the 2005 film before Ang Lee took the helm, said in an interview with IndieWire that DiCaprio, Pitt and other Hollywood stars turned down the movie before Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were ultimately cast.
"Nobody wanted to do it," Van Sant recalled. "I was working on it, and felt like we needed a really strong cast, like a famous cast. That wasn't working out."
Brokeback Mountain producer and screenwriter Diana Ossana confirmed as much in an e-mail to IndieWire.
"Yes, all those young gentlemen (at the time) turned down the project, for various reasons," she said.
Ledger and Gyllenhaal were nominated for Oscars for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for their roles as Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, respectively, while Lee won Best Director. Gyllenhaal paid tribute in January to Ledger, who died at age 28 in 2008.
"I think Heath meant a lot to a lot of people, the people who were fans and the people who saw his work and were moved by his work and the people who knew him as a person," the actor said. "He was just an incredible force and is still missed."
DiCaprio and Pitt will star together in Quentin Tarantino's forthcoming movie about the Manson murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Variety reported Sony Pictures moved the release date to July 26, 2019 this week after initially scheduling the release for Aug. 9, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the murders.