Thanks to HBO and Ryan Murphy, The Normal Heart is finally coming to the screen.
Anyone who's ever heard of Larry Kramer's landmark play about the AIDS crisis probably knows what a long haul that journey has been. A film adaptation has been "in the works" pretty much since the day the play premiered on Broadway in 1985, but nothing ever came of those efforts.
Adapted for HBO by Kramer and directed and produced by Glee's Murphy, Heart tells the story of the start of the crisis in New York in the early '80s. Airing in May, the film stars Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Alfred Molina, Jim Parsons and Julia Roberts.
The success of the 2011 revival, which co-starred Parsons, may have helped get HBO behind the project – but the driving force was Murphy. "I really actively pursued the play from Larry, and I bought the play in 2010. It was a passion project of mine...I feel honored that Larry trusted me with it."
The movie, Murphy says, is similar to the play but also very different. He estimates that about 40 percent of the screenplay is new material, some of it used to expand the story and to move it past its stage boundaries to new locations.
Though it's his passion project, Murphy isn't the only one with a strong connection to the play. For Bomer, who recently came out as gay, The Normal Heart provided an introduction to AIDs. "I read it in the closet of my drama room when I was 14-years-old, and the irony of that is not lost on me. I grew up in the Bible Belt, and there was no talk of this."
Parsons also recently came out, an event that passed without much fuss. "I guess I was only really ever anxious about the moment the conversation would happen. Is this still a deal? It's a deal, it's a deal...But it was no big deal."
The movie's biggest star, Roberts, plays Dr. Emma Brookner, a wheelchair-bound New York doctor who is one of the first physicians to raise the alarm. Murphy asked her to play the part, and wouldn't take no for an answer.
"I've been asked twice before to play this part, and both times turned it down, not only because of a conflict of time but because of my inability to understand who this character was…I ended up watching a documentary on polio, which I'm too young to remember, and it unlocked the door for who this woman was for me."
It was, she says, another example of Murphy getting was he wants.
"I just think it was a very painful legacy in our lives," says Murphy. "Nobody was really doing anything. History tells us that something that could have been much less tragic ballooned into a worldwide epidemic. And some of the things they're fighting against are things we're still battling."
"This movie is about love, about people fighting for love and wanting to be treated equally. And that's very modern, and still happening today."