In preparation for “The Normal Heart’s” May 25th HBO premiere, director Ryan Murphy and members of the cast sat down with HuffPost Live to share stories about their experiences working on the film. The movie, an adaptation of the Tony Award-winning play by Larry Kramer, follows a group of characters during the HIV/AIDS crisis that devastated New York in the early 80s.
READ MORE: Watch: Mark Ruffalo, Taylor Kitsch and Matt Bomer Fight for Love in the First Full Trailer for HBO’s ‘The Normal Heart’
Here are 10 highlights we put together of the talk with Murphy along with Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, and Taylor Kitsch.
On why HBO was “the best resort and not the last resort”:
HBO has always been a haven for queer cinema and television (“Angels in America,” “True Blood,” “Looking”), and it seems like things are no different with “The Normal Heart.” “Well, everybody asks me that question,” Murphy said about choosing to work with the network. “My reaction to that is that we finished this script and were getting ready to take it out and HBO jumped at it.” Murphy also revealed how the team at HBO had read the play and were extremely passionate about the project. In addition to HBO’s overwhelming interest, Murphy also explained the benefits of showing this type of film on television. “I’m thrilled that people can watch this in the privacy of their own homes,” he said. Murphy hopes that despite the emotional material behind the film, the easy accessibility will open “The Normal Heart” to a young audience.
On how to get Julia Roberts angry:
In “The Normal Heart,” Roberts plays a “ferocious” doctor, Emma Brookner, who is appalled and frustrated by the lack of attention being given to her patients. The Huffington Post asked how she tapped into the rage that was necessary to play the character. “I don’t think it was her frustration over the lack of awareness,” Roberts said. It was the awareness coupled with the indifference that fueled Brookner’s drive and Roberts’ performance. Plus, Robert joked, “Ryan only hired me because he loves seeing me mad.”
On the Murphy-Roberts love affair:
Although “The Normal Heart” only marks their second collaboration after the 2010 film “Eat, Pray Love,” the Murphy-Roberts love affair seems to be in full-bloom. “Nobody plays advocacy better than Julia,” Murphy said of his star. He was referring to her Oscar-winning role in “Erin Brockovich.” Murphy also mentioned that while filming “The Normal Heart” he would sometimes have Roberts continue on a scene, even if he had enough footage, just so he could watch her do her thing.
On playing the role both on stage and screen:
Of the large and impressive cast, Jim Parsons, best known for his Emmy-award winning work on the CBS comedy “The Big Bang Theory,” is the only actor who appeared on the stage version of the play. In both versions he plays hospital administrator Tommy Boatwright. “I saw the impact on a live audience,” Parsons said. But the actor was also impressed and honored by the impact “The Normal Heart” would make on television. “It’s hard to wrap the head around how many people are going to get to see this story,” he added.
On activist and playwright Larry Kramer:
At the start of the talk, Murphy made one thing clear: “I don’t think I would have the rights I would have today without Larry Kramer. It’s not a period piece. The issues he wrote about are more modern now and topical.” Kramer, who is HIV-positive, fights for the lives and rights of members of the LGBT community and is a key-figure in bringing about awareness for HIV/AIDS.
On Matt Bomer losing weight and first getting cast:
With such a great ensemble, it’s interesting to take a look at how Matt Bomer, who plays the partner of the titular character in “The Normal Heart,” was cast. Bomer first appeared on “White Collar” and was a standout in 2012’s “Magic Mike.” But it was his dedication to the role — both physically and mentally — that led Murphy to choose him for the part of Felix. The actor lost around 40 pounds to play Felix and was, according to Murphy, “the only one who came medically prepared” when auditioning.
On being on set when DOMA was found unconstitutional:
“The Normal Heart” happened to be right in the middle of production when the Defense of Marriage Act was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013. “It was the day with the largest extra count,” Murphy revealed, many of whom were gay and lesbian. The best part; however, for the cast and crew was the fact that playwright and screenwriter Larry Kramer was around that day. “And,” Murphy added, “he got to say on a microphone ‘we did it’ to a crowd.” Roberts also chimed in and said, “If you saw it in a movie you wouldn’t believe it.”
On openly-gay Michael Sam getting drafted to the NFL:
Actor Taylor Kitsch, who remained rather quiet during the interview (other than when he mentioned that he gives nicknames to everyone, calling Ruffalo “Ruff” and Roberts “Jules”), bluntly said, “I’m more excited for when it won’t be a story.” Although most of the cast seemed to agree, Murphy said that he was pleasantly surprised at how the overwhelming support and joy that came from people was able to overshadow the hate.
On the expected impact the film will have:
The whole cast was keen on emphasizing that the film, above anything else, is a love story. Ruffalo, who plays the lead character, said, “I think it’s important that it was their belief in something and their love for each other that conquered even the most oppressive and at times seemingly hopeless fight.” Ruffalo also shared that rather than feel the justifiable outrage at what happened during the crisis, he was more interested at the love aspect of the film. After all, the film is called “The Normal Heart.”
On her “Star Wars” dress:
The final topic to be addressed in the HuffPost Live chat was a divergence from the film, but an important one. Roberts was sporting an eye-catching Death Star dress that had to be mentioned. “I have three children and two of them are [“Star Wars”] fans. My boys think I’m a superhero when I do something like that for them.” Not exactly pertinent to the film, but something new we learned nonetheless.
“The Normal Heart” will premiere May 25th at 9pm on HBO.