The Normal Heart’s Mark Ruffalo remembers his best friend in high school being so agitated and upset for weeks because he had something difficult to tell him.
Ruffalo wondered if he had killed somebody.
He hadn’t. It turns out he was gay.
‘I was 17 years old and my best friend came out to me with basically a declaration of love attached to it,’ Ruffalo tells Queerty. ‘I had to look into myself and ask myself “How do you feel about that and how does that sit with your values of equality?"’
It was the 1984-85 school year and it was around the time that Larry Kramer’s play about AIDS crisis was first was performed.
‘I thought he was the only gay person who could possibly be in the whole town,’ he says. ‘At that time … homosexuality was still this fringe thing. It wasn’t out in the open.’
The actor remembers that ‘it took me a moment to get my head around it, but I didn’t stop being his friend. Actually, to a larger degree he felt more uncomfortable about it than I did.’
He’ll never forget the torment his friend suffered through in the weeks leading up to the coming out.
‘Leading up to his telling me he was in so much pain and physical agony. I could see he was disturbed and I kept asking, “What’s the matter?” He said, “I can’t tell you.” This was going on for weeks. I asked if he killed somebody. I couldn’t figure out why he was suffering so much that he couldn’t talk about. Then he told me he was gay.’
Ruffalo gave it a lot of thought and this shaped his views on homosexuality.
‘I looked around and understood he didn’t have a choice about it. It was very clear to me as a 17-year-old that that wasn’t something you chose. Why would you choose to live under such angst and persecution. Who would choose that? That’s the way the culture responded at that time.’