Matt Bomer: Larry Kramer saved my life
LOS ANGELES—“On some level, Larry Kramer probably saved my life,” Matt Bomer declared about the playwright, public health advocate and gay rights activist behind “The Normal Heart.” When Matt was 14 years old, he read the play, which resulted from Larry’s frustration with the bureaucratic paralysis and apathy of gay men when AIDS was spreading in the 1980s.
“If I hadn’t read him, there were so many things that I wouldn’t have known, coming into my formative years and young adulthood,” said Matt in an interview at The London Hotel in Manhattan. “While the play inspired me, it also scared me—that served me well as an adult.”
Matt is in the cast of the long-awaited TV-movie adaptation by HBO of “The Normal Heart,” a largely autobiographical play on the beginnings of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s from the perspective of Ned Weeks (played by Mark Ruffalo), a gay activist whose aggressive tactics contrast with the less confrontational method opted by his friends, including his lover, Felix Turner (Matt).
Matt, who is reportedly reprising his Ken role in “Magic Mike XXL,” said that when he first read the play in his early teens, he became aware of the AIDS/HIV crisis. “I knew that there was an inherent risk of death with sex.”
The Texas native recalled, “I was living in suburban Texas and had a very progressive drama teacher who would order plays that were going on and off Broadway so we could read them. I was immediately struck by the social injustice, the way the gay community was being treated. It immediately lit a fire in my belly.”
In high school, Matt was dating girls. He said it wasn’t until he was in his early 20s that he had homosexual relationships.
Matt came out as gay in 2012 when he acknowledged his partner, publicist Simon Halls, and their sons (an 8-year-old and a set of 6-year-old twins) through surrogacy, in his acceptance remarks as the recipient of a Steve Chase Humanitarian Award. He and Simon had a private wedding in 2011.
The actor who started in theater and TV soap dramas expressed gratitude to advocates and AIDS/HIV advocacy groups in the 1980s who championed gay rights and issues. “I know that I wouldn’t have the right to get married today if it weren’t for people like Larry Kramer (now 78) and those organizations,” he stressed.
He is buoyed by the attitude of his kids’ generation. “They are so open-minded and accepting, at least in New York and LA,” Matt said. “They care (more) about your character. Our kids go to school. And the kids there don’t bat an eye that our children have two dads.”
Matt, who will play closeted actor Montgomery Clift in “Monty Clift,” claimed that before coming out, he was open about his sexuality in his circle. “It was never something that I was really closed off about at work. It was something I always shared with my costars.”
Ryan Murphy directs a cast that includes Julia Roberts, Jim Parsons, Taylor Kitsch and Jonathan Groff. “One of the things that this movie captures so beautifully is that activism is not some neat and tidy thing where we all hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya.’ It’s messy. There were a lot different points of view going on but what did come out was the formation of GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis) and Act Up (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power). It really did catalyze the gay rights movement.”
“I was terrified” he said of the challenge that lay ahead of him when he landed the role of Felix, a man dying of AIDS. “I worked really hard. I first met with Ryan on this in 2011. I would rent out a theater space in LA. I found this dingy little theater, and I would go there and practice my scenes on my own.”
On how he lost about 35 pounds to play a dying AIDS patient, Matt commented, “I’m hesitant to give out too many details because it’s something that needs to be medically supervised.” He had about three months to shed the weight for the role.
“Even though I was fatigued, I felt a physical freedom, and I also felt mentally quite sharp,” Matt described how he felt with a lighter weight. “The whole thing was very monastic and spiritual.”
He expressed his hope that people will see “The Normal Heart” “and broaden their sense of compassion and understanding.”
“We’ve clearly come a long way, especially in America, but AIDS has not been eradicated,” he cautioned. “So, it’s important for the younger generation to see this movie, to educate themselves and to have an appreciation for the generation that came before them.”
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