Earlier this week Film Independent and The New York Times Film Club hosted a screening of the HBO Original Movie The Normal Heart starring Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina and Julia Roberts. The film was directed by Ryan Murphy, best known for shows like Glee and American Horror Story, and written by Larry Kramer based on his play of the same name. The film is the story of gay activist Ned (Ruffalo) and the horrifying toll that the HIV/AIDS virus takes on those closest to him. After the film, director Murphy and star Bomer participated in a Q&A discussing both Murphy and Bomer’s long held affection for the play, working with playwright Larry Kramer to turn it into a movie and why all involved still felt like it was a story that needed to be told.
When discussing his latest project, directing the film adaptation of Larry Kramer’s now on-Broadway play “The Normal Heart,” Ryan Murphy can’t hide his passion. While speaking to the audience at the Film Independent screening earlier this week Murphy said, “It’s something I’d go to every year and a half just to read again. ‘The Normal Heart’ and ‘Gone with the Wind,’ I don’t know why. It was a regular thing, I was just very obsessed with it. It was something I was going through as a young, gay man… It was a very moving, vital thing that touched me in some way, that I related to in some way and I never forgot it and I went back to it time and time and time again in my life.” Murphy continued, “It was the love that made me wake up in 2009 and literally say to my producing partner [Dante Di Loreto], ‘Why has this not been made into a movie?’”
While Murphy was convinced that he was the right person to bring the play to the screen, playwright Larry Kramer needed a little nudging. The Emmy winning Murphy recalled, “I just talked to him [Kramer] about why it had moved me and why I was so passionate about it and why I thought it was so modern because he felt, at the time, that a lot of people had forgotten about it, that it was sort of a period piece and I never forgot about it and I never thought it was a period piece… He had spent thirty years trying to make the movie with no result so he… asked a lot of pointed questions about how I would do the sexuality if I would sort of, you know, romanticize it. He wanted to make sure that I was going to go for it in terms of being bold with it and making bold choices.” As a fan of Nip/Tuck and American Horror Story, I find it funny that anyone would question if Ryan Murphy would make bold choices but Murphy explained, “I really had nothing in my work at the time that supported what I wanted to do with it but he was funny… He was very bold with his questions but I knew what he was saying. He was saying, ‘Are you brave enough to show what it was like?’ and I don’t think he meant that in terms of the Felix/ Ned stuff, I think the overall vibe of it is what he was going for.”
Murphy’s pitch to Kramer also included a genre that one might not think of when it comes to a piece like this. Murphy revealed, “I told him in that first meeting I thought it was a horror movie in many ways. That I wanted to be very graphic about the medical aspect of it which I was always very fascinated with and I thought it was important to show the true pain and horror of that that I think many, many, many young people today don’t know that and I wanted to show people that. That it was really so horrific and I wanted to be true to that and he was very moved by that.”
Co-star Matt Bomer, who plays Felix, Mark Ruffalo’s character Ned’s lover in the film, also had a history with “The Normal Heart.” According to Bomer, “I read it when I was 14. We had a very progressive drama teacher at my high school who would buy all the plays that were going on On and Off-Broadway and it just completely changed my world view in so many ways. It educated me and challenged points of view that I had and I was struck by the social injustice that was going on that no one around me in Spring, Texas was talking about or doing anything about.” Bomer continued, “His work just stuck with me and I know it saved my life as I grew and got in touch with my sexuality… it saved me in that way but more importantly it saved me in knowing that there was someone out there who was a voice of authenticity and saying who you are is OK and there’s someone who will fight for you no matter what your circumstances.”
It’s clear to see that both behind the scenes and on camera just how personal this project was to so many involved in the production. As Bomer stated, one of the things he learned on the film was “having the understanding of how a generation of people had to say goodbye to each other and the fact that amidst the most horrific circumstances imaginable there is profound, unconditional love that regardless of the physical circumstances, triumphed over a society that did everything it could to shame them into a corner; they found love amidst the most difficult circumstances.”
The Normal Heart starring Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina and Julia Roberts, written by Larry Kramer and directed by Ryan Murphy premieres on HBO this Sunday, May 25.
Photo used courtesy of WireImage