Glee and American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy is bringing the Tony Award-winning play The Normal Heart to HBO as a TV movie, and the '80s-set project has an impressive cast, including Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Taylor Kitsch, and Julia Roberts. The cast and Murphy came to the Winter TCA to talk about the movie, which deals with the outbreak of AIDS and how it affects a handful of characters in New York City and in the medical community. Roberts, who plays Dr. Emma Brookner, a polio-stricken woman who treats early AIDS patients, may seem like a surprising cast addition, because she's so well known as a movie star, but she revealed why she joined the cast — and it had to do with her friendship with Murphy.
Roberts said that she had been asked twice before to play the character and turned it down both times because of a time conflict and what she calls an "inability to fully understand who this character was." But when Murphy asked her to play the character, "I said no, and I didn't think he heard me." She added, "He just said, 'Well, call me back,'" so she thought about it and watched a documentary on polio, and "it unlocked the door to who this woman is to me." When she told Murphy she was accepting the part, she joked that Murphy got what he always gets, "which is the answer he wants."