What Is 'The Normal Heart'? The Ryan Murphy & HBO Film Started As A Tony-Winning Play

The billboards and banner ads you may have spotted for HBO's TV movie The Normal Heart boast the tagline "to win a war you have to start one." But exactly what sort of war is the television event waging? In the wake of so many post-Iraq satires and dramas littering the scene, you might be inclined to think Normal Heart was some sort of emotional take on current US foreign policy. However, the actual storyline wages a war of a different stripe: the rise of AIDS and HIV in gay communities of the early '80s.

The movie stars Mark Ruffalo as gay Jewish-American activist Ned Weeks who takes it upon himself to wage a war against HIV silences, loudly and openly, often to the resistance of organizations and activists who preferred non confrontational means outside of the media lens. Basically, it's an ambitious story produced in an ambitious way. According to gay Hollywood blog The Backlot, filming for the project was temporarily suspended mid-shooting to allow for the actors to properly change their appearances for the role, including losing up to 40 pounds to reflect the ravages of the virus.

Here's everything you need to know about The Normal Heart (and a few reasons why you should definitely be watching it on Sunday night):

1. IT WAS BASED ON A STAGE PRODUCTION

The New York Times on YouTube

Playwright Larry Kramer wrote the semi-autobiographical work, which opened as an Off-Broadway production in 1985. It has since been revived and performed numerous times since then, including a 2004 off-Broadway revival, a 1993 benefit reading organized by Barbara Streisand featuring Kevin Bacon in the lead role, and finally reaching Broadway proper in 2011.

2. IT BOASTS MAJOR STAR POWER ON-AND-OFF SCREEN

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American sweethearts of both big and small screens like Julia Roberts, Alfred Molina, and Jim Parsons add some familiar faces to the cast, alongside producer Brad Pitt, with Taylor Kitsch of Friday Night Lights and White Collar's Matt Bomer rounding out the onscreen ensemble.

3. IT'S A HARD-PRESSING STORY BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE GUY FROM GLEE

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....and American Horror Story, and Nip/Tuck. That's right, the ever-evolving Ryan Murphy directed the film, but this isn't his first time. Murphy has previously directed Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love and it's clear he knows a thing or two about the process. Murphy also created the above short docu-video, The Fight Continues, about homophobia and the AIDS crisis. Clearly, the cause is very dear to his heart.

4. THE STORY NEEDS TO BE TOLD MORE NOW THAN EVER BEFORE

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The clip above illustrates a great line indicative of the film's era, "tell gay men to stop having sex." That line basically says "change who you are fundamentally as a person and your deviant problem will go away," which, let's face it, is tantamount to telling a person of color to come back when they have less melanin if they don't want to get lynched. This is especially an important story to absorb right now, when so many of our gay characters in media are lively, sassy caricatures. It's more important than ever to recall the very visceral, very real civil rights struggles endured by this community.

Image: HBO