HBO's Normal Heart: Why Julia Roberts Finally Said Yes, and Why Matt Bomer Dropped 40 Lbs.

HBO The Normal Heart CastOne has to be pretty diligent in getting the Pretty Woman to star in your movie.

Appearing at the Television Critics Association winter press tour on behalf of HBO’s adaptation of Larry Kramer’s Tony-winning play The Normal Heart, Julia Roberts shared that twice before she had been asked to take on the role of Dr. Emma Brookner, a physician who treats some of the earliest HIV-AIDS patients. And even when Ryan Murphy approached her to be a part of HBO’s take, which he directed, Roberts again declined.

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Explaining her hesitation, the actress cited an “inability to fully understand who this character was.” But as Murphy persisted, Roberts found herself watching a documentary on polio, from which Brookner suffered as a child. And a switched flipped.

“It unlocked the door to who this woman is to me and where her relentless, furious pursuit of correctness comes from,” Roberts explained. And in retrospect, “It was just such a beautiful experience to get to play her.”

“Interestingly enough, my relationship with Ryan has provided me with such an incredible education,” the star of myriad films also said. “This is another stone on that path.”

Also starring in HBO Films’ The Normal Heart — which details the spread of HIV/AIDS among a group of gay men in New York City circa the early 1980s — are Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right) as writer/activist Ned Weeks, Matt Bomer (White Collar) as Ned’s reporter lover Felix Turner, Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) as closeted investment banker Bruce Niles and The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons, reprising his role from the 2011 Broadway revival, as gay activist Tommy Boatwright.

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Appearing at the TCA panel with a nearly shaved head, Bomer needed to undergo quite the physical transformation for his role as Felix, shedding some 40 lbs. Said Roberts, “We all took a very small break [during production], and he came back half the person he was and twice the man!”

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22 Comments
  1. morganslady says:

    Thank you for recapping the TNH panel. Can’t wait to see the movie..

    • dale says:

      This is such a wonderful movie, not only because of the educational part to it but more about the indifference of people regarding the suffering of those we have lost due to this terrible illness. Yes, many strides have been made towards handling and possibly one day curing this disease, and the public has been told a wonderful story and I applaude the entire cast, crew and writers. Bravo!
      Dale Schwartz
      Boynton Beach, Florida

  2. Fernanda says:

    Looking, The Normal Heart (and Open if this show gets greenlight for a full season), can’t wait to see the next step in gay television shows on HBO

  3. Drew says:

    I don’t like the ever growing trend of actors dropping unhealthy amounts of weight for roles. They always get rewarded for it but it is not a good example for anyone, I don’t care what role it is.

    • Pix says:

      Hear, hear. It always disturbs me, how they do it, heedless of health consequences.

    • Dizzle says:

      I’m pretty sure in this case it’s because it’s supposed to come across as unhealthy. They aren’t going to be glorifying his new look.

      • Drew says:

        It is always supposed to look unhealthy. The problem is that while they don’t glorify the look, they glorify the practice of actors doing this by giving them praise and awards. This type of weight loss isn’t healthy when someone is anorexic and it isn’t healthy when they’re just actors. It can cause severe health issues (you can’t tell me that Christian Bale has a healthy heart at this point)

        They try to pretend that they do it in some healthy way with doctors watching, but most of these actors don’t have 40 extra pounds of fat just lying around. There is no healthy way of them dropping that much weight. And then they turn around and binge to put it back on.

        SAG and the studios should not tolerate this behavior (or steroids which are common). And we certainly shouldn’t praise the actors for doing what makeup and computers can do much more healthily.

    • nina says:

      It’s a good point and I always wondered if compromising one’s health is worth it. But honestly, it isn’t the first time that people have risked health for their job, careers, passions. Heck, there was a time I slept 4 hours a day for months, to meet a deadline! I looked like a zombie then! Matt lives overall a very healthy lifestyle. I think that is one reason he came out looking even healthier than before.

  4. Billie says:

    * “switch flipped” :)

  5. Yolanda says:

    I call it BS! Julia declined the role so many times is because it’s a TV movie. She still thinks it’s 90s. Wake up call, darling. 90s are over. You’re not hot young thing anymore, J.Law is. As for her own age group Sandra Bullock is a much much bigger star. Hell, there are at least ten actresses over forty that are bigger stars than Julia nowadays.

    • Dizzle says:

      Lyle Lovett is that you??

    • ee says:

      This post made me giggle. Thanks for your completely off base and borderline repulsive candor. Julia Roberts will always be number one in my book.

    • Eric7740 says:

      I’m sorry, but if there were no Julia Roberts, there would be no Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Lawrence. It’s because of Julia that these actresses are able to be paid what their paid per picture. All those actresses hold no candle to Julia Roberts (in my opinion). And please name to me the 10 (at least) actresses that are bigger than Julia??? Oh, and Meryl Streep doesn’t count, no one can come close to Meryl.

  6. b says:

    Julia is still a movie star. She’s gorgeous. She looks half her age, she can act, and has the best smile in Hollywood. She’s a legend. She has done a great job at picking roles since she won the Oscar for Best Actress. She’s a star like Marilyn and Elizabeth they don’t make them like they use to. She is private and picky and she’s amazing.

  7. ddutchie88 says:

    I don’t have any particular feelings about Julia Roberts, but this sounds like an awesome series! Count me in. Only a bit nervous about Murphy’s involvement, since he’s known for running great shows in to the ground.

  8. Ellie13 says:

    I screamed as I saw Matt. I’m gonna miss his hair. :(

  9. Quentin says:

    I was lucky enough to see the revival of “The Normal Heart” with Parsons on Broadway. Excellent. Ellen Barkin played the role which Roberts will be playing in the film. She too was excellent (at least the Tony voters thought so).

    I can only hope that the TV version will have half the emotional impact of the stage show. I never heard so many people openly sobbing during a show as I did there. I sat for several minutes after the show was over just trying to comprehend what I witnessed. I hadn’t had that reaction since seeing Raul Esparza in “Company.”

    I know there is a lot of attention being paid to the cast, but the script is the biggest star here.

    • nina says:

      Right on! While I’m ecstatic about the cast and particularly happy that Matt Bomer will get to showcase what a talent he is, that play is a killer. I couldn’t stop crying while reading and was a total wreck towards the end. I think Matt was right when he said it’s more a civil rights issue. It left me speechless and I hope the tv movie captures that magic.

  10. mike says:

    The film is destined for greatness, just as the play was. Kramer ingeniously scripted a work that captures the horror and panic over AIDS in the 80s. HBO excells at producing fine, adult, controversial dramas. This film will be among HBO’s best.

  11. HBO Did it again. Smart Adult Drama. And This one with a Very Important Story to tell. HBO has always impressed me with SMART Intelligent subject content.

    Don’t get me started on The show Vice. HBO=BRAVE!!! In my opinion!
    I really don’t watch anything else regularly.

    Bringing Larry Kramers Screen Play to this format was smart. Many young people need to know. The 80’s was a scary time. Nobody knew. This was a game changer.
    Larry Kramer, Ryan Murphy, Brad Pitt’s Plan B, The Cast, Crew and HBO Brought their A-Game.
    I cried a lot, really hit me in the heart. A True Human Story of the time , about Life and Death, Love and Friendship, Human Rights, and that above all servers to remind us all that Gay or Straight, Black or White, Rich or Poor, We Are ONE!!! #WeAre1