Barbra Streisand and Larry Kramer trade blame for failed 'Normal Heart' film -- EXCLUSIVE

Streisand-Kramer-Normal-Heart

Image Credit: Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic.com; Andrew H. Walk

Film legend Barbra Streisand and gay activist Larry Kramer would both like to set the record straight about their failed attempt to bring The Normal Heart — Kramer’s 1985 play about the dawn of the AIDS epidemic — to the big screen. The problem is, each of them says it’s the other’s fault. In an exclusive interview with EW, Streisand calls Kramer “brilliant, courageous, stubborn, and self-destructive.” The writer’s response? “She never put her money where her mouth is.”

“I love this play, and I love its cause,” says Streisand, who first purchased the film rights to The Normal Heart after seeing its original Off Broadway incarnation in 1985. (A Tony-nominated revival is currently running at Broadway’s John Golden Theatre.)  Over the next ten years, she worked with Kramer and another screenwriter to adapt the story, which focuses on the struggles of writer Ned Weeks (Kramer’s literary alter ego) during the early days of the AIDS crisis in NYC. Streisand intended to direct the film and take the part of strong-willed Dr. Emma Brookner, a supporting role in the play.

But a movie never materialized. According to Streisand, Kramer was unwilling to allow adjustments that were necessary to make the script more cinematic. “I was using the best of [the play]. But there are certain things you do for film,” she tells EW. “Larry only wanted to use his screenplay. I couldn’t have my hands tied artistically.”

Kramer has another version of the story. He says Streisand rewrote the script to make her character the star, marginalizing the gay characters who are at the center of the play. “She cut Ned’s part so much that when she offered the movie to a major star who had played the part on stage, he said, ‘I can’t play this. The character has no motivation anymore,'” claims Kramer. “She subsumed all of the motivations into her part, as the doctor.”

UPDATE: “Larry’s claim that I wanted to expand the role of the doctor to make her the star and marginalize the gay characters is nonsense,” Streisand writes in an email to EW. The star has also posted a “truth alert” about the matter on her official website, claiming that Kramer is “rewriting history.”

Streisand also says Kramer rejected a deal from HBO to turn the play into a TV project after major studios balked at its subject matter. “Larry wouldn’t accept their highest offer of $250,000. He wanted a million dollars,” says Streisand. “Larry held out for the money. I didn’t. Why not advance your cause? Why keep this movie unseen for all these years?” Kramer claims he never heard about such an offer and says Streisand repeatedly abandoned the project to work on other movies.

Even after the rights to the play reverted back to Kramer in the mid-nineties, Streisand says she never stopped supporting the project. Then, last year, Kramer posted a missive on the website of AIDS-awareness organization ACT UP, calling Streisand a “hypocrite” for failing to make The Normal Heart. “When he printed that diatribe on the web, I was very hurt by it, because it’s not true. I started to write [a response] but then decided not to do it,” says Streisand. “It was wonderful to read some of the comments from the gay community about this. They fought the battle for me. It was really lovely for all these people to come to my defense.”

Streisand says she was most upset by Kramer’s accusation that she had sabotaged the fight for gay rights. “At a time when we are all pulling together to achieve such giant steps for gay equality, it is anguishing to me to have my devotion to this cause so distorted. I think my efforts for the gay community and my immersion in securing its constitutional entitlement and other equitable rights is quite evident and a matter of record.”

On that point, at least, the two agree. “She’s a mighty force, and I certainly agree she has done a good deal for the gay world,” says Kramer. “She just wasn’t going to make this movie right.”

But there’s still hope for fans who dreamed of seeing Streisand in a movie version of The Normal Heart. The Oscar winner says she would consider playing Brookner in Glee creator Ryan Murphy’s planned adaptation starring Mark Ruffalo, although it would be difficult for her to let go of her creative vision for the movie. “If I could direct it today, I would direct it today,” Streisand says. “Because it’s been very hard for me to find a piece that I feel as passionate about. I mean, I love this play.”

Comments (64 total) Add your comment
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  • Joey

    In this article, as well as in previous ones regarding this subject, Larry Kramer always “appears” as a bitter person who only wants things his way. It is always “it is my way or the highway”. He also sounds bitter about everything in life.

  • Frank Lee

    Ryan Murphy, beware. Streisand is a great actress and a talented director, but she will try to direct your movie for you.

    • CT

      Good! Ryan Murphy could use the help-he totally butchered Running With Scissors. Plus, Streisand has worked with some great directors: William Wyler, Sydney Pollack, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Ritt, so she could share her vast experience with someone who made the same TV show twice, but added cruise ship singing to one of them.

      • Kris

        I’m sorry but Popular was nothing like Glee. Just cause they’re both high school dramedies, doesn’t mean they’re the same show. Popular was much more serious than Glee is and delt with far more real issues.

      • CT

        You’re right Chris. The Glamazons are totally different from the Cheerios, the mannish science teacher on Popular is 180 degrees away from the mannish PE teacher on Glee. Glee is a unique and totally original concept in hour-long high school shows from Ryan Murphy and the singing is always wonderful. Oh, also Jessalyn Gilsig is a completely different character than the one she plyed on Nip/Tuck. Yeah, The Normal Heart will be the best movie of all time, just like Eat Pray Love.

      • Tom

        It’s really a blessing in disguise. Don’t try to top Yentl. Not gonna happen.

    • Chichi

      Glee and Popular both suffered from the same uneven writing and direction. There is no way to get around that. Murphy has a clear problem with narrative and plot and with Glee it changed into a totally different show by the SECOND episode, at least it took Popular falling into a second season trap to accomplish that.

  • Trisha

    Aniston is going to look like Barbra in 3 years

    • Mac

      I like that Streisand is/was an unconventional beauty and she hasn’t used plastic surgery to hide her age. I’m NOT a fan of her movies, and her music is too… Broadway? I will give her credit for not going under the knife and keeping it classy. There will always be critics out there that think if a woman doesn’t look like Grace Kelley or Charlize Theron or some other blonde Continental, then they should be ridiculed. Barbra was pretty good looking when she first made it big, and she had a nice set of T*ts. Just sayin.

      • Tom

        Grace Kelly? She married a prince. So that’s conventional? No, that’s nearly impossible. No comparison.

    • Vince

      Lucky for Jen. Barbra looks great.

  • Tiffany

    I suspect that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I can totally see Babs rewriting the script to cut out everyone else but her, but I can also see where it might not be possible to shoot a movie using an absolutely untouched stage script. Seems to me that everyone involved might need to learn to leave their egos at the door to get this done.

    • angela

      I agree. Although I remember how she co-opted The Prince of Tides so Mr. Kramer has cause to be concerned.

  • efrain

    I say do the movie with Barbara so more people will go see it!

  • heyy

    The most heart-breaking part of this article is the fact that Ryan Murphy has been given the reigns. He is a HORRIBLE director.

  • davey

    Murphy should hire Streisand to play the doctor. And give her a few more lines. Just don’t cast Jane Lynch as the doctor.

  • ??????

    Someone better call Robert Smith out to do battle with Mecha-Streisand.

    • Fortune

      loL

  • TorontoTom

    I really hope that this very important project will someday see the light of the big screen. Put your differences aside and find a way to get this done. It needs to be seen by a larger audience.

  • deedeedragons

    Babs tried to make it all about her? in other news the sky is blue…

    • JR

      LOL

    • Chad

      Lol – I almost choked on my coffee reading that – thanks for the laugh!

    • Vince

      I don’t believe that. Barbra is more sensitive than that.

      • Tom

        Boom! Roasted.

    • Tom G

      Exactly what I was going to say. Look what she did to PRINCE OF TIDES! She turned the secondary role of the doctor in that story into a leading role. I fear the accusation she was trying to do the same to THE NORMAL HEART is true.

  • sam

    wasn’t annette bening attached at some point?

  • nana

    Huh. Interesting article. Is never heard of this project before, but it sounds quote good; hope Barbra gets to be a part of it/direct it someday soon.

  • stew

    Yawn.

  • Warren

    Well, it does sound like Streisand to augment her role while dwarfing the other, more central characters. She did exactly this with “The Prince of Tides.”

    • Paciano

      Are you sure you’re referring to “Prince of Tides”? This movie is all about Nick Nolte. Along with the Fockers movies and “All Night Long”, “Prince of Tides” is the only Streisand starrer where she stands aside. You think she appears to be “augmented” in “Prince of Tides” because of the press’s fixation on her well-done nails, which are in fact quite obvious in the movie. Have you actually seen the movie, to begin with?

  • steve

    Barbra tried to get this made
    no one in the late 80’s would finance a gay movie…and not much has changed…has there even been a major studio gay film since BROKEBACK there are only independent gay films and gay sidekicks in studio films

    • Tom

      well 16 percent of the american movie going public is gay = 16 percent of all american movies are gay themed.

      Still not happy?

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