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Ryan Murphy on directing Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer’s sex scenes

Larry Kramer has been trying for decades to get his play The Normal Heart adapted for the big screen. After a few failed attempts plagued by pre-production holdups (including 10 years where Barbra Streisand owned the rights and never got the project off the ground), Ryan Murphy proved to be the man to help Kramer fulfill his dream. 

The Normal Heart airs on HBO on May 25, and in a new interview with SiriusXM via The Huffington Post, Murphy opens up about the passion-project and how “terrified” Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer were during their sex scenes.

On how his fear of AIDS is what motivated him to direct The Normal Heart: I had sex for the first time in 1981, the year the play begins, the year the AIDS crisis begins. So for me, I grew up thinking “Well I’m going to die.” I thought, “I’m gonna die.” Every day. I always thought like I was really on borrowed time, which is where I think a lot of my ambition came from, because I felt I have a lot to do and maybe not a lot of time to do it in. So, only when I finished the movie did I realize, for me, what a cathartic thing it was, and how much pain and loss and death that I had sort of filed away in my life. So it was very powerful, a very moving experience for me.

On how the film differs from Larry Kramer’s play: I would say the movie is 40 percent different from the play. And the great thing about Larry is that he’s not precious about anything. And he is a screenwriter. He was nominated for an Academy Award in the early ’70s for screenwriting. So he knows screenwriting. And he knows what works onstage is not what works in a movie. I think he was interested in the movie being a little bit softer at times, a little bit more emotional. And I think that the thing that the movie has that the play didn’t is the advantage of history. Because the movie, to me, it’s not really about AIDS or HIV. It’s a very modern thing. It’s about civil rights. It’s about equal rights. It’s amazing that back then, in the day, that play ended with a marriage between a same-sex couple, which was at the time radical and just crazy.

On the sex scenes between Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer: Mark, I believe, had never kissed a guy, ever, on camera, and he had certainly never had that level of sexuality. And I don’t think Matt had either. So I had a gay actor [Bomer] and a straight actor. And they were both terrified. But I just threw them into it. And the first day of shooting was the scene in the movie where Mark has to walk out of a sauna where two guys are going at it and walk by Matt, and sort of ignore him, and Matt looks on lasciviously. We shot that almost as an homage to the bathhouse ads they used to run in New York in the early ’80s on The Robin Byrd Show. Remember those? Those were the days. So we just got into it, man. We just got into it. And they were nervous but they were game. They knew it was an important part of the story. They went for it.