Ruffalo plays pioneering AIDS activist in ‘Heart’

After enduring a winding road from stage to screen, Larry Kramer’s prize-winning play “The Normal Heart” finally landed at HBO, where it premieres Sunday night.

Mark Ruffalo takes on Kramer’s quasi-autobiographical Ned Weeks, the ornery gay activist at the center of “The Normal Heart” who fervently tries to shake the public to action after a mysterious disease begins plaguing the gay community in the early ‘80s.

Imbued with passion, pain and fury, the drama beckons one to look back just as gay rights are undergoing a sea change. To remember — for some, imagine — a society before gay TV characters were a commonality and same-sex marriage an actuality in more and more places.

The action in “The Normal Heart” takes place between 1981 and 1984 in New York City, when the gay community was still in the reverberations of the Stonewall riots and the sexual revolution. It hones in on sexual politics during the early days of the AIDS crisis — with its central character undergoing moments of rage and powerlessness in the fight to raise awareness while most of his co-workers counseled a more moderate, step-by-step approach.

Producer Ryan Murphy and Ruffalo stressed that the film takes on a new focus from Kramer’s agitprop drama. Murphy, who bought the rights to the play in 2012 and spent three years working on the script with Kramer, estimates that almost half of the film is new material — for starters, it opens and ends in scenes not witnessed in the play.

“The play was meant to get you out of your seat, to take you out of your ennui and drive you to action,” Ruffalo said.

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