Game of Thrones fans will be dismayed tonight when they turn their televisions on at 9 PM to visit the mythical kingdom of Westeros, only to find themselves in the midst of a much more real, if equally fatal, world. The hit fantasy series is taking a week off so HBO can air its new movie, The Normal Heart . Directed by Ryan Murphy (Glee, Nip/Tuck), Normal Heart is based on a famous 1985 semi-autobiographical play by Larry Kramer, which recently enjoyed a well-received revival on Broadway in 2011. The film chronicles the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, and tells the story of the victims, doctors, and activists who fought to raise public awareness of the insidious disease.
Murphy has assembled a stellar cast that includes actors from film (Mark Ruffalo; Julia Roberts), television (Matt Bomer, White Collar; Taylor Kitsch, Friday Night Lights), and stage (Joe Mantello, Angels in America; Jonathan Groff, Spring Awakening). But there's one cast member in particular who we have a hunch audiences will be surprised to see tackle a role in such atypically dramatic fare: Jim Parsons of CBS' The Big Bang Theory.
There's no question that the majority of America knows Parsons as the socially awkward Sheldon Cooper. After all, Big Bang was this season's highest-rated scripted network show with a staggering 6.2 rating — and the highest-rated sitcom since Friends. But now that we've seen him in Normal Heart, we know that his talents range much wider than what is demanded of him on Big Bang, and we can't help but feel that this terrific actor is being wasted on a sitcom that he's sadly locked into for at least three more years.
In Normal Heart, Parsons plays the part of Tommy Boatwright, an activist and self-proclaimed "Southern bitch." It's a part the actor is familiar with: he played the same role in the 2011 Broadway revival. He's won acclaim in both iterations, despite Tommy being a relatively minor supporting role. Our own Normal Heart review on Bustle gives Parsons a hat tip for showing he's more than a sitcom nerd with interpersonal relationship issues, but across the board, critics elsewhere have drawn the same conclusion. From the Backstage review of the Broadway revival:
Jim Parsons nails the scene-stealing, sweetly waspish "Southern bitch" Tommy.
Jim Parsons provides exemplary comic relief and unexpected depth as a Southern activist in Ned's group.
From The Hollywood Reporter 's review of the film:
Jim Parsons is also excellent and adds both compassion and humor as he reprises his role from the play.
Jim Parsons deliver[s] a wonderful supporting turn, including a sobering scene in which he talks about eulogizing fallen friends.
We couldn't be more thrilled that Parsons (pictured above, center, in the 2011 production) is finally getting the dramatic exposure he deserves. Hopefully the actor, who came out publicly as a gay man two years ago this month in a New York Times article, will be able to continue juggling his Emmy-winning role with smaller dramatic turns. It's always refreshing to see actors break out of the roles that defined them — hopefully Parsons will make more like Clooney and less like David Caruso and transition into a successful film career.
Check out this clip from HBO's The Normal Heart featuring Parsons as Tommy, and then tune in to watch the whole heartbreaking film tonight:
Images: HBO; CBS; The Shubert Organization