'The Normal Heart': Alec Baldwin, Julia Roberts; Latest Stars To Join Gay Dramas

Alec Baldwin and Julia Roberts have signed on to star in "The Normal Heart," a big screen adaptation of the Tony-winning stage show about the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The film, being put together by "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy, follows the rise of the disease in the 1980s, when it spread rapidly through New York's gay community. An autobiographical tale written by Larry Kramer, the play debuted off-Broadway in 1985, was revived in 2004 in Los Angeles and London, and debuted on Broadway in 2011.

Mark Ruffalo, who had already signed on to star, will play Ned Weeks, who sounds the alarm about the epidemic in its early days. Baldwin will play his brother, while Roberts will play the doctor who understands the seriousness of the mystery sickness.

"White Collar" star Matt Bomer and "The Big Bang Theory" Emmy-winner Jim Parsons have also signed on; Bomer will play Weeks' journalist boyfriend, while Parsons, who appeared in the Broadway version, will play a southern gay activist.

The Broadway production won Best Revival, as well as Best Performance awards for Ellen Barkin and John Benjamin Hickey. Barkin played the role that Roberts will be taking on on the big screen.

This is the latest in a growing series of star-studded projects that tackle quite directly issues dealing with the gay community and the discrimination it often faces. Dustin Lance Black wrote the play "8," a stage dramatization of the California trial that overturned gay marriage ban Proposition 8; a staging in New York featured Morgan Freeman, Ellen Barkin, Anthony Edwards, Bradley Whitford, John Lithgow, Cheyenne Jackson, Rob Reiner and a number of other stars. Now, a Los Angeles-set staging featuring George Clooney, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jane Lynch, Matthew Morrison, Rob Reiner, Martin Sheen and George Takei is set to bow in March.

Murphy, meanwhile, has been at the forefront of bringing issues of gay equality into the national conversation; his teen musical "Glee" features several gay characters and story lines, and "American Horror Story" tackles those subjects as well.

Leonardo DiCaprio starred as former FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover in Clint Eastwood's biopic "J. Edgar" this fall; along with tackling his long, controversial reign as America's top cop, the film also delved into Hoover's alleged homosexual relationship with top assistant Clyde Tolson.

Michael Douglas will star in Steven Soderbergh's Liberace biopic for HBO, in which Matt Damon will play his longtime partner. Meanwhile, Christopher Plummer won a Golden Globe and is the front runner for an Oscar for his turn in "Beginners" as a gay man who comes out of the closet in his 70s.

Baldwin has plenty of stage experience; he earned a Tony nomination for his turn as Stanley Kowalski in the 1995 staging of "A Streetcar Named Desire," as well as an Emmy nomination for the televised production. He's also starred in "Macbeth" at the Public theater; led the cast in a 2004 revival of "Twentieth Century"; and featured in a Long Island-staged version of "Equus, amongst other roles. He'll also star in the big screen adaptation of the musical "Rock of Ages."

Roberts starred in Murphy's 2010 film "Eat Pray Love."