Kate Mara Recalls Heath Ledger Taking Her 'Under His Wing' on the Set of Brokeback Mountain

Kate Mara is looking back on her experience on the set of Brokeback Mountain with fondness — thanks, in part, to the kindness of the late Heath Ledger.

The actress had a virtual chat with Andy Cohen for Thursday's episode of Watch What Happens Live, where she talked about her new Hulu miniseries A Teacher and how Ledger, who died at the age of 28 in 2008, had her back on the set of Brokeback Mountain, one of her first films.

After Cohen recalled how Mara, 37, played Ledger's character Ennis Del Mar's daughter in the film, she told the host, "I was 19, but he was only a few years older than me. It was pretty crazy."

"But he was the sweetest thing. That whole experience was really amazing," she continued. "And even though he was only a couple years older, he really took me under his wing, 'cause I hadn't worked that much."

"It was really special," Mara said.

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She also remembers playing her character, Alma Del Mar Jr., as a younger teen at director Ang Lee's request — and she credits Ledger for making it believable.

"I was like, 'This is never gonna work. We're only, I don't know, five years apart,' or something. But Heath was so amazing and he made it work," Mara said.

By 2005, the year of Brokeback Mountain's release, Mara was fairly new on the film scene. Ledger had already made a name for himself in movies like 10 Things I Hate About YouThe Patriot, and A Knight's Tale.

Brokeback Mountain explores the unexpected love story between two sheepherders (Ledger's Ennis Del Mar and Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist) in the American West across two decades. Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway also star, as their respective wives. Ledger was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award for the role.

After Ledger's death, Lee, now 66, said in a statement to PEOPLE that losing him was "heartbreaking" and added, "Working with Heath was one of the purest joys of my life."

"He brought to the role of Ennis more than any of us could have imagined – a thirst for life, for love and for truth, and a vulnerability that made everyone who knew him love him," the director said.

After completing the film in 2005, Lee spoke to PEOPLE about working with his leading man. "He understood the cowboy way, just in the way he posed, and his body language and how it developed over the course of the film," he said at the time.

He also believed that Ledger really grasped and empathized with his character's darker elements. "He understood the shyness and vulnerability and isolation of the character," said Lee. "He really got that. And he did it while carrying the Western aura."

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