It’s no secret Ryan Murphy assembled a wide pool of recognizable names for HBO’s movie adaptation of “The Normal Heart.” Possibly the most surprising among those names? Jason Blum, the producer known for his Blumhouse empire of low-budget horror hits including “Paranormal Activity” and “The Purge.”
Blum, who worked with Murphy on a remake of “The Town That Dreaded Sundown,” is an exec producer on “Normal Heart,” the pic that had its premiere May 12 at New York’s Ziegfeld Theater before it bows on HBO May 25. The movie is already gaining buzz as a shoulda-been contender for film-world awards.
“We thought about doing it theatrically,” said Blum on his way in to the screening. “But many, many more people will see the movie on HBO, and HBO gave us so much more freedom and resources than a distributor would have. “
A number of the film’s cast members had a history with Larry Kramer’s 1985 play. Both Denis O’Hare (“American Horror Story,” “True Blood”) and Joe Mantello had starred in stage productions as protagonist Ned Weeks, portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in the film. Mantello led the cast of the 2011 Broadway revival that also starred Jim Parsons — who takes on the same role in the pic he played onstage.
Whereas the Broadway revival was a minimalist staging, Parsons had props and sets to get him into the 1980s New York setting of the story.
“I did make one huge mistake,” he recalled. “They needed some people to smoke for one scene, because smoking was a lot more prevalent back then, and I said, ‘What the hell, I’ll do it.’ It’s not a very long scene, but it’s a movie, so we shot that scene for hours. My own mouth tasted so bad to me!”
All of the collaborators couldn’t say enough about Kramer, who finally got to see his play on screen after 30 years (and is now at work on a sequel for HBO). It was particularly gratifying for Ruffalo, whose role is the story’s obvious stand-in for Kramer.
“The last time I saw Larry he was very very ill,” he said. “So it was very moving for me to see him standing here tonight, looking so divine.”
(Pictured: Matt Bomer, Ryan Murphy, Julia Roberts, Larry Kramer and Mark Ruffalo at “The Normal Heart” premiere at the Ziegfield)