Barbra Sets The Record Straight On 'The Normal Heart'
I’ve endured Larry Kramer’s outbursts in the past, not wishing to dignify them with a response. But at a time when we are all pulling together to achieve such giant steps toward gay equality, it is anguishing to me to have my devotion to this cause so distorted. I think my efforts for the gay community and my immersion in securing its constitutional entitlement and other equitable rights is quite evident and a matter of record.
During the time we were trying to move The Normal Heart forward, my production company, Barwood Films, made the TV films Serving In Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story—which brought home to millions of Americans the painful truth about the disparate treatment of gays in the military, and What Makes A Family?—about gay adoption. Perhaps it’s time for me to disclose why my earnest and passionate efforts to direct The Normal Heart as a film were frustrated.
When I saw the play in 1985 I was very moved and immediately contacted Larry to acquire the rights. I worked for ten years, without pay, trying to get it made. After going through several drafts with Larry, I hired a writer to develop a screenplay that was faithful to Larry’s play, adapting it to make it more cinematic. But Larry refused to accept any revisions and insisted we use his screenplay. I couldn’t get any studio to commit to his version. Many fine actors were ready to commit to our version, but Larry would not allow it.
When Larry now says I rewrote the script in order to make the woman doctor the star, marginalizing the gay characters, he is rewriting history. My objective was not to be in this movie. I only wanted to direct it and I was willing to play the doctor only if that would help get it made.
Eventually, when it became clear that we couldn’t raise the money to do it as a film, I thought, all right, we’ll do it on TV. At least it would reach a wide audience. But even HBO would only pay Larry $250,000 for the rights, and he would not let it go forward for anything less than $1,000,000. No studio was willing to move on it, considering the controversial subject matter and the burden of that cost.
After ten years, the rights reverted back to Larry. But even when I had no contractual involvement, I still persisted in pressing to get The Normal Heart made, purely because I believed in the project. As my producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron can confirm, I thought that if we could get a great cast together, maybe a studio would finally finance it and we could persuade Larry to let us do it. I offered the part of the doctor to Julia Roberts because I thought she would be terrific, and when she turned us down, we approached another actress. I also asked Mark Ruffalo and Bradley Cooper to be in it, and Bradley Cooper immediately said yes to my version of the screenplay. By the way, this is not to say that it wouldn’t have been rewritten again. The work is never done until the movie is released.
I think it’s unfair to blame me for the movie not getting made. After all, Larry has had the rights for the last 15 years and he couldn’t get it made, either. Those are the facts, and none of this is news to Larry.
More recently, he sent me a note before giving the project to another director, asking me again if I wanted to direct it—but only with his screenplay. As a filmmaker, I couldn’t have my hands tied like that. What if I needed to make changes? What if I needed to have something rewritten? Sadly, I turned his offer down and wished him well.
It’s been very hard for me to find a piece that I feel as passionate about. I will always believe in Larry’s play and its powerful theme about everyone’s right to love.