The Normal Heart is also coming out in 2014 on HBO.
I’m a huge fan of HBO, and obviously we’re really lucky to be there. The Normal Heart was an amazing experience on so many levels. I’d worked with [director] Ryan [Murphy] before, so that was exciting, to get back together with him. I’m such a fan of that piece and that play. It’s such a gift to get to be in that world for a while.
When did you first see or read the play?
The first time I saw it was off-Broadway at the Public Theater starring Raul Esparza. I hysterically cried. I remember the scene with the milk, where they come home with the groceries. I read it a couple years later and I cried again. It’s such a visceral piece of material, whether you’re seeing it or reading it. It’s very intense. When I was on Glee, Ryan [Murphy] said, “You should read the script, because I want to find a place for you in it.” So I read it again, and I was devastated. I hope that the movie does it justice.
When Ryan said he wanted to find a place for you, did you immediately know which part you wanted to play?
From when he said that, it was about three years until the movie actually came together. The character I ended up playing in the movie is the first guy that died of AIDS, one of the guys in Larry Kramer’s circle of friends. He said that when this person died that it was right at the end of summer, and it happened so quickly that his body was still tan. It took him immediately. It was this huge punch in the stomach. I came in for about a week in total for the movie.
I got to do all the fun scenes at the beginning when we are on Fire Island, and then I die very quickly. It was really intense. It was so exciting to be on set with those actors, all of whom I admire so much. Joe Mantello—I was such a huge fan of his work in the play. And Mark Ruffalo is one of my favorite actors of all time. [X]
A decade after he landed in New York City at the age of 18, Groff has notched starring runs in Spring Awakening and Hair, recurring roles on Glee and Boss, and the lead in this year’s C.O.G. And next year he’ll appear in Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of The Normal Heart for HBO.
“It’s such a visceral piece of material,” he says of Larry Kramer’s landmark play. “I hope the movie does it justice.”
For Groff’s new HBO series, Looking — a blend of the blunt emotional honesty of Girls and the moody intimacy of the gay film Weekend — the cast immersed themselves in San Francisco’s gay scene.
“Nothing could prepare us for Folsom Street Fair,” he says. “So much nudity and so much leather. The fact that we were shooting something was the most unremarkable thing there.”
Photographed at Milk Studios in Los Angeles on October 8, 2013
You recently wrapped the HBO adaptation of Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart.” I imagine there was a lot of crying on set.
Yes, I was convulsing and dying of AIDS, which was so intense. But funnily enough, there was a lot of laughing on-set because everything that we were doing was so bleak. The scenes were so dark and so sad that it was almost like we had to laugh a lot to sort of overcome that, to be able to deal with that, actually. It was almost like a survival tactic. [X]
Jonathan Groff, the Tony-nominated Spring Awakening actor who has gone on to TV and film success in “Glee,” “Boss” and “Taking Woodstock,” is poised to become one of HBO’s newest stars in 2014.
The gifted young actor, who has also impressed in New York productions of The Singing Forest, The Submission and the outdoor Public Theater staging of Hair, has landed roles in both the made-for-HBO film version of Larry Kramer’s landmark AIDS drama The Normal Heart and an untitled comedy series about four gay friends, also for the award-winning cable network.
Filming for HBO’s “The Normal Heart,” which features direction by Emmy winner Ryan Murphy (“Glee”) and a screenplay adapted by playwright Kramer, began last month in Fire Island. Groff plays Craig, who is the first in a group of friends to die from the then-unnamed disease at the dawn of the AIDS crisis. Groff, who spoke with Playbill.com towards the end of June, said the first week of filming was “kind of amazing. The play is so sad and intense, but the beginning of [the film] takes place on Fire Island, just as the disease is starting to hit, and so we got to shoot all of the fun stuff this week, like the Fire Island party time. It was a moment of levity, and it was a blast. I’ve never been on Fire Island before. … It was so beautiful. We were in the Pines, and they’re shooting in places that have never been shot at before.”
The made-for-TV film boasts a starry cast led by Academy Award winner Julia Roberts as Dr. Emma Brookner, Mark Ruffalo as the protagonist Ned Weeks, Matt Bomer as Felix Turner, Taylor Kitsch as AIDS activist Bruce Niles, Emmy winner Jim Parsons as Tommy Boatwright (reprising the role he played on Broadway) and Tony winner Joe Mantello, who played Weeks on Broadway, as Mickey Marcus.
"It’s an incredible cast," Groff enthused. “I’m just so proud to be a part of that piece. I saw the play at the Public when it was there like ten years ago with Raul Esparza and was blown away by that. And, I saw it again this last time around when it was on Broadway and just cried through the whole thing — so powerful. I hope that the movie turns out great, but I think that it certainly has all of the right ingredients. And, everybody working on it is very passionate.
"People are just so excited that this movie is being made," he continued. “I think people really want this story to be told for the masses because theatre people know about it, and obviously everyone in New York saw the revival two years ago, but being on TV and being on HBO, it’s hopefully going to reach a whole new audience — a wider audience and a whole, hopefully, new audience of people my age and younger… I was born in 1985, and so there’s a whole generation growing up that has heard tell of it, but didn’t really live through it the way the generation before us did. I think, historically and in terms of the gay community, it’s amazing that this movie is going to be all over TV and the story is going to be out there, and people are going to be talking about it. I think it’s incredible."
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Director Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story) was joined onset for the day by his husband, photographer David Miller, and their 6 month old baby boy, Logan. Logan was brought out by a nanny mid-day for a visit with his Dads – David was snapping pics of him, and Ryan would come over and scoop him up for a snuggle every time there was a momentary break in the shooting. Logan watched as the colorful scene was shot, in which Mark Ruffalo – playing AIDS activist, Ned Weeks (based on Kramer) – got off the ferry surrounded by dozens of drag queens and tanned, buff boys wardrobed in 80s garb.
Julia Roberts – who plays early-AIDS crusader, Dr. Emma Brookner (based on real-life person, Dr. Linda Laubenstein) – wasn’t in the Fire Island Pines scenes, but traveled to the Pines to spend the week onset with husband, Danny Moder, who is the director of photography for the film. She was overheard talking about how beautiful the Pines was, and how much she was enjoying having her kids out here. She and Hazel, Henry, and Phinneas enjoyed walking on the beach at 6:30 am, which she deemed “magical.”
Julia Roberts was incredibly sweet and kind to EVERYONE. She was seen walking around the boardwalks by the commercial district with the kids in the morning, and told the realtor who rented her the home “don’t worry about housekeeping… the kids are just going to track in more sand!”
Extras were overheard saying, “at least there’s totally gonna be no wait for the ladies room!”
Mark Ruffalo was overheard saying that Larry Kramer himself will be out tomorrow, and that he is “so amazing.” Also that the big drag queen with parasol is Larry’s personal friend.
Towards the end of the day, the cast of GLEE showed up to enjoy the Pines and support Ryan. – Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, and Jonathon Groff.
- Jonathan was wearing 80s garb, as he has a role in the film.
- Lea ordered a turkey burger and a Heineken, and was singing along with the music playing in the Canteen while she waited for her order. Our cashier asked her for ID, jokingly, and she chuckled.
- Cory ordered a cheeseburger and Jonathan said he wasn’t eating till Thursday. [X]
Actor Mark Ruffalo ( playing the Larry Kramer role Ned Weeks) on the set in the Pines for the Normal Heart movie. Also pictured Jonathan Groff. [X]