“It’s very modern to me,” Ryan Murphy said of his HBO production of the 1980’s-set The Normal Heart, based on Tony-winning Larry Kramer’s play about the onset of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City. The play ends in ’84 before there was an HIV test; Murphy’s film is about 45% new material written by Kramer, he said. “Gay marriage is in the news, and people are fighting to be loved for who they are and to be accepted for who they are. That’s still very modern and applicable for the way we’re living today.” Murphy said he had to take out a second mortgage on his house to pay for the rights to the play — then acknowledged he was kidding, but that the rights were pricey.
“I tried to be true to those boys I feel I owe so much to,” he said of the adaptation. “I’m married and have a child. It feels like it’s a civil rights movie. That fight paved the way for the life I have today. It’s a very painful chapter in our lives. At the end of the movie we talk about President Reagan and his legacy, and Ed Koch and his legacy” — without whom, Murphy said, the HIV-AIDS crisis “could have been much less tragic.”
One year ago at Winter TV Press Tour 2013, HBO announced it had greenlit The Normal Heart, an original movie adaptation of Kramer’s play, starring Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo, and co-starring Matt Bomer. Kramer wrote the film, directed and exec produced by Murphy with Jason Blum, Dede Gardner and Dante Di Loreto.
Roberts plays Emma Brookner, the polio-stricken physician who treated several of the earliest victims of the disease. Ruffalo plays Ned Weeks, who witnessed first-hand the disease; Bomer plays Felix Turner, a reporter who becomes Ned’s lover.
Roberts said she originally declined Murphy’s offer to play her role until she watched a documentary about polio and learned “what that experience was like for the country and the world” which, she said, “unlocked the door for who this woman is for me.” Roberts took issue with a TV critic’s description of the role as “unglamorous,” snapping “It’s funny, when a girl looks like a person you’re ‘unglamorous’.”
“For TV — yes,” the critic shot back.