'The Normal Heart's Taylor Kitsch May Finally Get Out Of His 'Friday Night Lights' Pigeonhole
It's easy to look at The Normal Heart star Taylor Kitsch, who's still rocking his Tim Riggins long locks offscreen, and assume that in every role he's the same character we've seen time and again. But HBO's adaptation of the beloved Larry Kramer stage play is going to change all of that. It gives fans of the Riggs hope that the actor will eventually break out beyond playing "Tim Riggins as John Carter" or "Tim Riggins as suave Orange Country drug dealer." In The Normal Heart, Kitsch finally escapes type casting and delivers a performance that many of us didn't think he had in him.
Of course, Kitsch appears as a different person in the film, donning a perfectly '80s blonde coif. He may be slightly unrecognizable to some, but elements of the Kitsch we fell in love with in Dillon, Texas are there. Kitsch plays Bruce, one of the founding members of an organization aimed at education and eradication of an unidentified disease seemingly affecting only gay men. Of course, The Normal Heart is the story of gay men in New York in the 1980s as they discovered, fought, and lost many battles with AIDS long before the HIV virus was widely understood and accepted as a crisis. Bruce and his friends, include writer and activist Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo), New York Times reporter Felix Turner (Matthew Bomer), and activist Tommy Boatwright (Jim Parsons) struggle to understand the new affliction as their friends continue to fall ill and die, all the while earning no support or even a single person in power willing to listen.
It's powerful stuff and it would be very, very easy to assume that Kitsch's performance earns its gravity from the subject matter alone, but that's simply untrue. While Kramer's script (which he adapted from his own play) and the real life tragedy attached to the film bring a requisite level of gravity and heart to the production, it's the intimate moments in which Kitsch portrays a grieving boyfriend, a frustrated human, and a furious activist that earn him his stripes.
When Kitsch was still loping around Texas as Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights, he was a solid actor, but was often prone to over-the-top explosions of emotion. Tim was volatile, but Kitsch sometimes took it to an unnatural place. In The Normal Heart, it's clear that Kitsch has matured and found a way to channel that same level of anger and frustration through a sieve. What's left are the most honest piece of that anger and a truly moving performance.
His turn as Bruce, a character played by Lee Pace in the 2011 Broadway debut of The Normal Heart, is the sort of actor transformation that gives fans and fellow actors alike hope. Sure, you could get stuck in a series of roles that require little more than breath and a heart beat (looking at you, Battleship), but if you're really lucky, something like this incredible film will come along and deliver a role that demands everything you've got. Here Kitsch has the chance not only to prove that he's a better actor than his past projects have given him credit for, but also the chance to tell an important story to an audience that the original play never had the chance to reach. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.