EXCLUSIVE: It took Larry Kramer 30 years to see his Tony-winning play The Normal Heart make it to the screen. The path may be far shorter for a Normal Heart follow-up. I’ve learned that HBO has commissioned a script by Kramer for a potential sequel to the HBO Films’ The Normal Heart, which is set to premiere in May. I hear The Normal Heart director Ryan Murphy, who spearheaded the effort to make the play into a movie, would be back at the helm, with the film’s stars Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts and Jim Parsons expected to return, along with the entire producing team: exec producers Murphy, Kramer, Jason Blum, Dede Gardner and Dante Di Loreto.
The original movie (and the play) focused on the onset of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City from 1981-84, ending before there was an HIV test. The sequel would chronicle the events from 1987 through the 1990s, with Ruffalo, whose Ned Weeks (modeled after Kramer) witnessed the disease first-hand in The Normal Heart, becoming an activist trying to help people who have been affected — also similar to Kramer’s real-life trajectory. Roberts plays Emma Brookner, the polio-stricken physician who treated several of the earliest victims of the disease; Parsons portrays gay activist Tommy Boatwright, a role he also played in the play’s 2011 Broadway revival.
At the TCA panel for Normal Heart yesterday, Murphy spoke of his passion for the project after falling in love with the play while he was still in college. He sought out Kramer in 2010 and presented his vision for the adaptation, landing the rights to the play, which underwent significant changes, with 40%-45% new material in the movie. But its message remained intact and, 30 years later, it is still as relevant as it was in the 1980s, Murphy said. “The thing that I was very drawn to with the material was it ends in 1984, but it feels very modern to me right now with gay marriage in the news and people sort of fighting to be loved for who they are and to be accepted for who they are,” he said. “I feel like it’s still very modern and very applicable to the way we’re living today, and I think that history has proven Larry Kramer to be right.”