This is a great time to be an out gay actor.
The first teaser trailer for the TV movie adaptation of “The Normal Heart” has been released, and it’s stacked with out gay talent including Jonathan Groff, Jim Parsons, and Matt Bomer, and director Ryan Murphy.
Television was missing a gay drama for years after “Queer as Folk” and “Noah’s Arc” went off the air, and HBO’s filled that space with “Looking,” which stars Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez, Raul Castillo, and Murray Bartlett. Alvarez and Castillo are straight, but we seem to have moved past an environment that demands straight leads for success.
Hollywood is still a place where gay actors are nudged, directly or indirectly, to remain closeted, or at least remain ambiguous about their lives. It stumbles over queer issues: “Dallas Buyers Club” was criticized for casting Jared Leto as Rayon instead of a trans actress.
But it appears Murphy took care with the adaptation of activist and writer Larry Kramer’s script. “The Normal Heart” is based on Kramer’s Tony-award winning autobiographical play. Kramer, the founder of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), was a vehement critic of the Reagan administration when it refused at first to publicly acknowledge the AIDS crisis of the early 1980s. He’s never lost his bite: Kramer, who chronicled his relationship with longtime partner David Webster in the 1978 novel “Faggots,” finally married Webster last year. He had previously characterized marriages that only had state, but not federal recognition as “feel-good marriages.”
Mark Ruffalo, plays Ned Weeks, the character based on Kramer. Before production started, Ruffalo, who is not gay, told the Advocate that he thought the role should go to a gay actor:
It just should be. It’s time. At what point did they finally let an African American play an African American? There comes a time in our culture when Marlon Brando shouldn’t be playing a Japanese guy. But the other way of thinking is that we should all be able to play whatever, and that’s sort of how Ryan approached me. More than anything, I wanted to know what Larry thought. Larry speaks his mind and doesn’t suffer fools kindly, God bless him, so I made it a point to make sure I was OKed by him. I’ve gotten to meet and talk to him, and he’s totally given me his blessing, which makes me feel better about moving forward.
“The Normal Heart” will debut May 25 at 9 PM eastern on HBO. HBO is reportedly mulling a sequel with the same cast.