With the holidays behind us, networks are looking to begin promotion for their Spring line ups. One of the major stops for this journey is the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour. Held in Pasadena California, the 12-day event provides TV critics and bloggers with the low down on new and returning shows.
One of the highly-anticipated new shows is the HBO movie The Normal Heart and yesterday (January 9) director Glee’s Ryan Murphy and his all-star cast spoke about the upcoming film.
Murphy directs the Larry Kramer written film that is based on Kramer’s 1985 play of the same name. The drama deals with the onset of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the early 1980s. It looks at US sexual politics and how while many refused to accept the epidemic gay activists and many in the medical community fought to bring the truth to light. While there have been significant steps forward in the attitude towards those with HIV/AIDS and treatment for the virus, the action of the film ends in 1984. The cast includes Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons and Taylor Kitch.
Since the beginning, the movie has been a labour of love for Murphy. He obtained the rights in 2010 and has worked closely with Kramer on the development of the script. “[The film script] is similar to the play and very different,” Murphy said. “I worked with Larry on the script for three years. We broke it out to 40- to 45 percent new material, and it’s pretty broken out from the play.”
Murphy also revealed how he wanted to pay homage to Kramer, a tireless activist and how he was treated during this period. This is done through the lead character Ned Weeks (Ruffalo) who was inspired by Kramer. Weeks can see what his happening to his community and strives to find answers to what is going on from the medical fraternity as well as the government.
Murphy describes the story as “an epidemic as seen through a love story” as illustrated through the relationships between Ned and Felix (Bomer), a reporter who becomes Ned’s lover, and between Ned and Emma (Roberts), a doctor who treats some of the early HIV/AIDS victims.
Parsons reprises his role of gay activist Tommy Boatwright from the 2011 Broadway revival and Kitch plays the closeted investment banker turned AIDS activist, Bruce Niles.
Murphy’s passion for the project has seeped into the cast with many recounting their experiences of making the film. Ruffalo described his thirst for knowledge from Kramer about his experiences of the period. He recounted how he wanted to be true to the spirit of Kramer’s character. “I spent quite a bit of time with him and came to really love him. I tried to go directly into him as much as I could and honor him and his complexity, his journey, his passion and his commitment to this movement, which is what I deem completely heroic,” he said.
Roberts, who initially turned the role down, spoke of how once she really learnt where her polio-stricken character was coming from, she needed to join the production. “It unlocked the door to who this woman is to me and where her ferocious, relentless pursuit of correctness comes from,” Roberts said. “It was such a beautiful experience to get to play her and get to pay tribute to a person who never let anything stand between her and the right thing to do for someone else.”
Given the subject matter and the fact that two of his lead actors are openly gay (Bomer and Parson), Murphy was asked whether he had actively seeked openly gay actors for the film. A question that Murphy categorically denied, simply stating that “we never went after anyone based on sexuality”. Instead they went after the best actor.
Adding to the conversation, Parsons and Bomer spoke of how they don’t consider themselves “gay actors” but just “actors”. Showing just how much things have changed, Parsons told of his anxiety regarding “when the conversation would happen”. However, once it was “out there”, he found that “it was no big deal — and that was a relief.”
The Normal Heart will screen on HBO this May.