Barbra Streisand was the first filmmaker to see the potential in a screen adaptation of Larry Kramer‘s The Normal Heart, his 1985 play about the early days of the AIDS epidemic. But although she held an option on the project for 10 years and continued to try to assemble a film version even after her option lapsed, her efforts proved unsuccessful. In 2012, even as Ryan Murphy‘s adaptation, which will premiere on HBO on May 25, was coming together, Kramer blasted Streisand in an email that went public, telling her she did not have “quite the same burning passion to make it as you always claim.” Here, in her own words, Streisand gives THR a full account of her involvement with The Normal Heart:
When I saw The Normal Heart in 1985 I was very moved and immediately contacted Larry to acquire the rights. After going through several drafts with Larry in my director capacity, I hired another writer to develop a screenplay that was faithful to Larry’s play — but adapting it to make it more cinematic. It was finished in 1995. Ralph Fiennes and Kenneth Branagh were interested in doing the version that I worked on.
I tried very hard to get it made, but when it became clear that we couldn’t raise the money to do it as a film due to the controversial nature of the material, I thought, “All right, we’ll do it on TV.” At least it would reach a wide audience. But HBO would only pay Larry $250,000 for the rights, and he would not let it go forward for anything less than $1,000,000, and no company was willing to move on it.
After 10 years, the rights reverted back to Larry. But even when I had no contractual involvement, I still persisted in pressing to get The Normal Heart made, purely because I believed in the project. As producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron can confirm, I thought that if we could get a great cast together, maybe a studio would finally finance it and we could persuade Larry to let us do it. I offered the part of the doctor to Julia Roberts because I thought she would be terrific. I also asked Mark Ruffalo and Bradley Cooper to be in it, and they said yes to my adaptation of the screenplay.
In the press, Larry kept speaking out against me. But I think it’s unfair to keep blaming me for the movie not getting made. I worked on it for 25 years, without pay. Larry had the rights for the last 15 years and he couldn’t get it made, either. Those are the facts.
In 2007, he sent me a note before giving the project to another director, asking me again if I wanted to direct it — but only with his screenplay. As a filmmaker, I couldn’t have my hands tied like that. What if I needed changes? Sadly, I turned his offer down and wished him well.
I will always believe in Larry’s play and its powerful theme about everyone’s right to love. It’s been 28 years since I tried to get this piece made … so much has happened since. But I’m glad it’s finally here.