After three decades of futility, The Normal Heart figures to be at the center of the Primetime Emmy Awards. It received 16 nominations, including one for its director Ryan Murphy, and for the performances of Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Joe Mantello (who starred in the original play), Jim Parsons, and Alfred Molina. And one for Larry Kramer, who turned a roman a clef version of his fight against indifference to the AIDS crisis into the play on which the movie is based. Between The Normal Heart and his series American Horror Story and Glee, Murphy’s productions racked up 34 Emmy noms, more than some networks. Here, he discusses the groundbreaking movie, the long battle to get it to the screen and how Barbra Streisand helped keep The Normal Heart beating all those years.
DEADLINE: For me and anyone else in their 50s who lived in a city like New York, The Normal Heart brought back that Twilight Zone nightmare period when we watched friends die and were powerless to help, amidst rampant political apathy because most of those stricken were gay. Larry Kramer’s refusal to go quietly made him a true screen hero, though he was equally vocal that his heartbreaking play took three decades to get made. How long did this movie burn in you?
MURPHY: I was in college when the play came out and had seen productions of it through the years, and I always deeply admired it. I grew up in that era where things were very scary. I lost 10 friends to AIDS and so it was always an important piece of art in my life. I followed the project’s trajectory starting in 1987, and was always very sad that it was not made into a movie. I always felt that the current generation, so many young people, didn’t know what happened, was unaware of the nightmare we lived through back then.
DEADLINE: How did that translate to action?
MURPHY: It was pretty simple. I woke up one day in 2009 and thought, why has this movie not been made? My producing partner Dante Di Loreto knew Larry and called him. The rights were lapsing and Larry agreed to meet with me. He didn’t know who I was, or any of my previous work. I think he was taken by my passion.