'The Normal Heart' is 'a civil rights movie,' says director Ryan Murphy
The adaptation is helmed by Ryan Murphy ("Glee," "American Horror Story"), who tells the 2014 TCA press tour that this has been a project near to his heart for a long time.
"It was a passion project of mine, it was a play I had loved even when I was in college," says Murphy, who feels a very personal connection to the men that the play and film are about.
"I really came of age in this period. I lost a lot of friends to AIDS," says Murphy. "I can remember one of my best friends at the time died in the mid-90s. He was fired, his parents ostracized him and he was so stigmatized by it that even on his death bed, he would not admit that that's what he was dying from."
"I just really tried to be true to those boys who lost so much, that I feel I owe so much to," Murphy continues. "I feel like this movie really is a civil rights movie. I feel like what [the characters] did really paved the way for the life I have today. I feel very indebted to them."
However, the creator and actors don't want the misconception that this is only a film about the ravaging effects of AIDS. At its core, the film is about love.
"It's a love story and it's how people deal with fear and the unknown," says star Taylor Kitsch, who plays a closeted man who becomes a prominent AIDS activist.
Co-star Jim Parsons, who also plays a well-known gay activist, echoes those sentiments, saying that "the humanity that overreaches all of it is what really hurts your heart at the end."
Parsons adds that the movie is a bit of a cautionary tale as well. "It feels like something horrible that happened that has happened before in different ways and feels like, humans being humans, may happen again," says Parsons. "That's why a story like this is so important to tell, in the hope that it may be course-corrective."
"It's important to me to participate in ... the things that make me feel like I'm a better person," adds actress Julia Roberts, who plays Dr. Emma Brookner, a polio survivor who treated some of the earliest AIDS victims.
"I just think it's a very painful chapter in our lives," says Murphy. "At the end of the movie, we talk about President Reagan and his legacy, and Ed Koch and his legacy, and nobody was really doing anything and as a result, history shows you something that could have been much less tragic that bloomed into a worldwide epidemic."
"The Normal Heart" premieres May 2014 on HBO.