Bomer, whom Murphy had cast in guest roles on Glee (he played Darren Criss’s older brother) and The New Normal (as Andrew Rannells’s ostentatious ex-boyfriend), campaigned aggressively to play Felix. “Matt, out of everybody, fought the hardest for it,” Murphy tells Out. “It was that same passion that I had used to persuade Larry Kramer to give me the rights to the play.”
Murphy told Kramer they’d found their Felix. “I said, ‘I really believe in Matt Bomer.’ And Larry said, ‘But he’s so beautiful! Is he too beautiful?’ ”
Murphy arranged a meeting between the two men. “I was pretty starstruck,” Bomer says. “It was like meeting one of the Beatles. He was so central to my understanding and development. We talked for a really long time.” Kramer emailed Murphy immediately after: “He’s the one.”
Because Bomer knew the part would require a production break during which he would have to lose a substantial amount of weight—40 pounds—part of his original lobbying effort for the role was extensive, specific research into how, in 1984, a man dying of AIDS would see his body change. His transformation— especially in contrast to Ned and Felix’s vigorous sex scenes earlier in the movie—is a painfully, hauntingly accurate time capsule.
“I think Matt felt the ghosts,” Murphy says. “I think he felt all the shame and humiliation and degradation of all those brothers who have died of AIDS. It was a very beautiful, spiritual thing to witness.”
Filming such demanding material over the course of five months employed Bomer’s years of classical training, and it took him back to that wide-eyed 14-year-old who first read The Normal Heart. “You’re really lucky as an artist if you get a role that changes you as a person,” Bomer, now 36, says earnestly, on the brink of tears. “It taught me how to access myself on a completely different level as an artist. And it blew my mind in terms of the level of unconditional love between Ned and Felix—my goodness, if these people could incorporate this into their lives, under their circumstances, why can’t I?”