Ryan Murphy on Directing Jim Parsons In ‘The Normal Heart’

Jim Parsons’ work in the 2011 revival of Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” on Broadway was so strong that Kramer himself insisted Parsons reprise the role in Ryan Murphy’s 2014 HBO film. Murphy spoke to Variety’s Geoff Berkshire about working with Parsons on the project that earned both of them Emmy nominations:

“I had owned the film rights since 2009 to ‘The Normal Heart.’ Then the play came out, which was sort of a happy accident — it was supposed to be a reading that then became a stage production. I went to see the play when I was working on early pre-production. I was so moved and blown away by Jim. I was very struck by him. I had never seen him on stage, or in anything other than his television work.

“I wrote Larry Kramer an email saying, ‘I really want to cast Jim as Tommy.’ And he wrote back saying, ‘That’s funny, because Jim is the only person I will approve for the role.’

“Once I knew I had Jim (for the film), I asked to meet with him. He’s what you expect, what you want him to be. He’s such a gentleman, so creative.

“Once we had his deal done I talked to Larry and he wrote other scenes and amazing things for him. That was really cool, to have an actor cast and love him so much to then expand the part. The eulogy scene was not in the play. It was written by Larry for screen and written specifically for Jim, to give him a really big aria.

“It was a whole day of filming and Jim was letter perfect on take one. I knew he was going to get very emotional very quickly because how can you not? Jim is a very emotional actor. I think I did his close-up first, which is usually the last thing you do. I’m glad that I did because I think 75% of the scene is the close-up and that was his first take.

“The thing about Jim and the reason why that scene works is that Jim as a person, an artist and an actor has a really rare gift. He has a real purity and simplicity. The more I work and the older I get in life, I find the hardest thing to do is to do simple really well.

“I think it’s because he’s able to access his emotions very readily. There’s never a false note with Jim. Even on takes I would never use, he was always fully formed and fully truthful. He’s a master of that.”

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