Mark Ruffalo Reveals His Initial Concerns Over Taking on a Gay Role in ‘The Normal Heart’

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In an interview with co-star Julia Roberts for Interview magazine, Mark Ruffalo revealed he was initially hesitant about his participation in HBO’s upcoming film The Normal Heart – believing that the role of Ned Weeks was too politically important for a straight actor to play.

Said Ruffalo:

“I'd heard about [director Ryan Murphy] and I was a little nervous about saying no without at least speaking to him, giving him the respect that he deserves. We met, and my thinking at the time was, ‘Aren't we at the place in our culture, in our development, where a gay man should be playing this part?’ That was kind of a concern for me. Politically speaking, it felt like that was the right thing for this play and for this movie at this time.”And Ryan said, very clearly, ‘That's the antithesis of what this movie is about. It doesn't matter what your sexual preference is. It matters what actor I think should play this part.’”

He added:

“[Ryan Murphy] was kind of ahead of me in his development. Here's this gay man in Hollywood, who could easily have had a political agenda, basically saying no. It also signalled what this movie was going to be. When it lived as a play, it was very political. It was a polemic. It was designed to agitate and to be very confrontational. But where Ryan was taking it, beyond the politics, really ignited me. I said yes!”

The Normal Heart premieres tomorrow on HBO and stars Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Taylor Kitsch, and Jim Parsons. The film, an adaption of a play by Larry Kramer, chronicles the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York City as seen through the eyes of an activist. 

You can check out three new clips and a featurette of the film here


  1. says

    Well……yes and …….also no. I think “the best actor for the role” should get it. That said, there’s something about straight-playing-gay that resonates more with straight audiences than gay and/or Queer ones.

    you know, how “the secret of the Crying Game” was only a “secret” to Straights – and how “we” knew the “secret’ from frame one?

    I’m not saying “straight folks shouldn’t play gay roles”, per se….I will say that family knows family, and while many straight men and women have given towering and impassioned performances as LGBT Characters, that have moved me in many ways – there’s something authentic about seeing Us Playing Us that hits me, as a gay man watching the film, in a much stronger way.

    Because i’m not as aware of The Acting. And don’t get me started on how “straight playing gay” affects how many a gay man views himself – it’s sad how many gay men favour “gay portrayals by straight men” and view “gay portrayals by actually-gay men” as the “negative, harmful, stereotypical” ones.

    I’m excited to see this film, and I’m not saying “straight men should never play gay” – but at a point where there are so few gay roles being written, and so few openly-gay actors considered “bankable” to headline a major production – it just still has a little sting to it. I do anticipate great work from Ruffalo. And my friend who was at the premiere last week said he’d never witnessed and audience just implode with emotion like at the screening.

    see it with someone you love dearly, and hold on.

  2. Gary Bebout says

    So, it appears that Murphy’s image conscious logic, put Ruffalo into the role, because he knew it would attract a wider audience. Ryan has somehow been put in charge of today’s gay brand. As I don’t recall seeing any footballs being thrown around on gay beaches in 1981, we must focus on Kramer’s original work. It is vital that every gay person see this movie. It did happen, and this might be the closest you can get to the real thing. The real thing was not cast, and not produced. For the sake of so many I knew who are gone, let’s pay respect to their memories.

  3. Pt says

    Yes, please God tell me that Murphy and Ruffalo know the difference between the word orientation and preference. It’s insane that they would use the word preference. If Murphy used it, Ruffalo should have known enough to correct it in the conveyance here. It’s so insulting to gay people from a religious background because that word along with the word ‘lifestyle’ are used daily as a weapon again us by church and family to imply gayness is simply a rebellious choice. Sad that neither of these two seem to understand that.

  4. says

    I just don’t think straight men should be give tons of praise for playing a gay role as if it’s some really big challenge as an actor. There are gay actors playing straight who don’t get nearly the same amount of praise, which is why for me I’m more of the mind that gay men should play gay roles, that way they can actually be praised for their work and not because it’s a gay role. I have issues with Ryan Murphy as director anyway. Glee was supposed to be this big progressive show but many of it’s story lines have been very problematic as well as having a prominent gay couple who very rarely showed any real affection while the straight couples were practically getting it on every other episode. You would expect a show directed and created by a gay man would do it’s gay characters some real justice but nope, just tropes and stereotypes. Don’t even get me started on the racial stereotypes Glee has glorified over and over again.

  5. TampaZeke says

    So The Normal Heart was directed by a man who uses the term “sexual preference” in 2014? I wonder how he feels about letting “colored” people play “colored” parts?

  6. emjayay says

    It was not a recorded conversation but Rufalo’s version of it. Not exactly worth making a mountain over this molehill. The important thing is the outcome of the work.

  7. TonyJazz says

    I don’t really care what Larry Kramer wants (regarding casting). The public person of Larry that I saw so often was someone that I wouldn’t like personally—-and being difficult and nasty isn’t the only way to get something done.

    But, honestly, he did create a terrific piece of work….

  8. Richard says

    Ruffalo was chosen, not because of or in spite of his sexual orientation, but because he’s a NAME. This is Hollywood. That said, a talented gay actor can play a gay role with more nuance and depth of understanding that a talented straight actor. And with a gay actor we don’t have to worry about all those stereotypical mannerisms creeping into the performance.

  9. Profe Sancho Panza says

    If there’s anything wrong with Mark Ruffalo’s casting, it’s not that he’s straight – it’s that he’s too good-looking to play Larry Kramer’s needy, insecure alter ego. (The same was true for Brad Davis and Raul Esparza onstage.)

    Lucky Larry Kramer, who got to write a sex scene (not in the play) in which he’s played by Mark Ruffalo having sex with Matt Bomer! Being a screenwriter does have its perks for one’s fantasy life.

  10. GEB says

    I always had River Phoenix in mind to play me, for my “Go Go Boy” screenplay, but he died of an overdose. I’m sure they could find someone to do it justice today. It’s pretty tough role.

  11. says

    I’ll watch this movie because it’s Larry Kramer’s magnum opus, and because of Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitch, the guy from Big Bang theory, and Julia Roberts, who is in top form in this historical narrative.

  12. Thomasina says

    Look, if you’re going to get an actor to play someone as angry as Larry Kramer, who’s better for it than The Hulk? You wouldn’t like either of them when they’re angry, but they get the job done.

  13. Thomasina says

    Look, if you’re going to get an actor to play someone as angry as Larry Kramer, who’s better for it than The Hulk? You wouldn’t like either of them when they’re angry, but they get the job done.

  14. Ruthie Fernandez says

    I saw the movie and I think it was Great. Mark could have fooled me he played Need’s persona to the tee. All the actors were wonderful. I’ve watched it four times and recorded it. I was around the time when this horrible virus appeared and I can tell you I was very scared. I knew it was going to target anyone not just the gay community. This movie portrayed exactly what was going on. I congratulate all for wonderful acting. Thank you for bringing awareness to this deadly disease.

  15. Deb says

    I found this movie to be painfully accurate. I had a gay friend, who in 1981 volunteered at an AIDS Crisis Center and Clinic in New York City. At the time hardly anyone had even heard of it, it was just coming out. He called me frequently, both enraged by the government’s indifference and sweeping it under the rug…and in tears over the pain and loneliness he witnessed everyday from it’s victims. All I could do was listen and be a shoulder from him to lean on. He, as many gay people did, feared everyday that went by with the government refusing to do anything…and gays being publicly blamed….that eventually it would affect everyone. It did. It touched all of or straight. I lost a dear friend to this in the late 80s. I witnessed when visiting my mother in the hospital the loneliness it brought for many in the end. Sick patients left alone in a dark hospital room where their families never visited out of fear they may catch it. It was heartbreaking. I applaud all of the actors for doing such a wonderful job in bringing dignity to each role. It was so well was like I was back in 81 again…reliving the heartbreak and fears of Jeffrey, Dee and other gay friends. While being straight and trying to get others to understand this wasn’t just a gay man’s disease and the facts about how it was passed along. Excellent job everyone.

  16. James says

    My only problem with Ruffalo in the role is that he was just too damned good looking to play Larry. I didn’t believe his Fire Island wallflower routine for a moment. Part of Ned’s appeal (and credibility) is that he’s an outsider even in the gay world, and his odd mix of self-consciousness and defiance over being a schlub in a world of surface beauty. Ruffalo has surface beauty to spare.

  17. Lauren says

    I as many straight women have watched this movie numerous times. I remember what people were saying about this terrible disease back when it first began and I myself refused to have a blood transfusion because I was afraid of contracting the disease. I found the movie poignant and sad and eye opening for anyone who watched it. I have nothing political to say about this film. The acting was excellent the message it conveyed invaluable and anyone who doesn’t shed a tear has to have a heart of stone.

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