“There is always something that makes human beings feel on the outside or feel disconnected.”
The adaptation of a beloved musical to the cinema is not without its anxiety, and that is exactly what Ben Platt felt when he returned to his role of Tony Gagnant for the film version of Dear Evan Hansen (in theaters September 24). “I wanted to deliver a story as powerful and viscerally emotional as the play.” Ultimately, the opportunity to share the story of teenage loss and depression with a wider audience provided Platt with a unique opportunity. “The intimacy of the film allows you to penetrate even deeper into Evan’s mind and heart.” For Platt, the character is someone anyone can connect with. “There is always something that makes human beings feel on the outside or feel disconnected.” But the anxiety was not only felt in the story; producing the film during the pandemic presented its own issues. “It was COVID very early on, and there was a lot of fear. Eventually, this stress created a close atmosphere. “We were all so grateful that we had even a small bubble of people to connect with.” And in some ways, it helped the end product. “It gave each day a different kind of focus than I’ve ever felt on a movie, and that was the driving energy.”
Did you have any reservations about making a film adaptation of such a beloved Broadway show?
Sure. I was dreading reopening this chapter on a personal level, because as wonderful and fulfilling as it was, it was also very difficult for me emotionally and physically, to live in this space for so long, I was able to really have a beautiful closing with that. So naturally, for selfish reasons, I was nervous and wanted to deliver a story as powerful and viscerally emotional as the play, but I think that all of that was canceled out by the excitement of how many people might be seeing the story if it’s a movie, how much bigger the audience gets. A huge pool of young people now have the opportunity to be moved and touched by this compared to if they were to live only on stage. And I have enormous gratitude for being the one to end this trip and the one to translate Evan into a movie. It’s not an opportunity that is offered to direct actors all the time, and I really appreciate that I was able to do that.
What were some of the advantages of telling the story in the cinema compared to the stage?
I think generally speaking, the intimacy of the film allows you to get even more into Evan’s mind and heart. I think you can really get closer to his inner life, and I was able to communicate things in the performance in a more nuanced way that isn’t possible when you’re on stage. And that obviously requires a much smaller, more moderate performance. I think there was a little more layering. It’s possible when you have the camera in your nose, if you will. In terms of material, this gave the creative team, especially Steven Levinson, who fantastically adapted the scripts, the opportunity to look for moments to deepen or update. And besides, I think the kind of third act of the movie that is about Evan’s evolution, his healing, his repentance and his search for forgiveness, after their lie has come to the surface, is really emotionally satisfying and giving. kind of a closure not only to the movie, but I think of the fans who liked the musical too, in the sense that they never really saw Evan go through that. We heard about it on stage before the last scene in the musical, but to really watch that process, I think that’s what makes the movie for me almost more satisfying than the musical.
The cast is amazing, but two in particular, the two red hair icons: Amy Adams and Julianne Moore. How was it fair to be in their presence?
It was just as wonderful as you might think. They’re obviously on-screen legends and their performances were so impressive, genuine and layered and everything we expected of them considering they’re two of the biggest actors out there. I was so excited to see because I got to experience them in person. They both still have such a joy to work and do something they love. Both could really quit today and they would have done more than their fair share of iconic performances. So that was an inspiration to me as a person who obviously hopes to keep doing things for a long time to see people who have done so many fantastic things still respectful and grateful to be there, to give so much themselves. I was very grateful that it was a play I knew so much with and a character I felt so comfortable with because, of course, I was so intimidated by their gifts. Coming with that foundation helped me overcome the hurdle of meeting them where they were and their authenticity and their kind of subtlety and very ingrained performances.
How do you think music helps facilitate these conversations about mental health and anxiety?
I think musicals, in general, have the ability to really shed some light or discuss things that are really difficult or oppressive, upsetting or painful, and make them a lot easier to deal with or acceptable in terms of the beauty of the world. the music and warmth that a beautiful song can give you allows you to go to these places without it being too triggering or harmful to your own sanity. In discussing this stuff, the entire creative team took very seriously how to responsibly discuss these things in a way that would affect positive change and be uplifting and redemptive, not the other way around. So I think with this story, in particular, the songs give you a much deeper take on the characters. The purpose of the song is to express new information or a new layer of a character that was not expressed in the scene. When you are discussing something like sanity and you really want to understand the uniqueness of a character like Evan, hearing them sing about what they go through and what they feel really gives it a very specific name and genre. detailed relativity which is very particular to musicals.
When the show first came out, some were surprised that it was unrelated to gay people, like a coming out story. In many ways, this shows just how universality Dear Evan Hansenthe message really is. With your years on the show, have you been through this?
Totally. I think one of my favorite parts of the experience of making the musical was getting this response, especially from young gay men who feel so perceived by her. As a queer person myself, telling a story that really points to how and how universal otherness really is, no matter how people might present themselves or what their stats or demographics may be, there is always something that makes human beings feel on the outside, or feel disconnected, doesn’t fit in the right box. I feel like Evan is a character who really illustrates this. Of course, that’s a big part of the queer experience. I think that’s why so many people and so many different types see each other in Evan.
With such a serious subject and so many deeply intense scenes, what was it like on set?
Obviously, this is a pretty painful material. It was also very early COVID and there was a lot of fear and anxiety around you having an production at the time. The whole was very affectionate. I think everyone had a lot of empathy and cared for each other and we all knew what we were doing was very difficult on many levels. So especially when we were shooting those more difficult emotional or uncomfortable sequences, between shots there’s just a lot of hugs and love and asking how the other is feeling and just a lot of support. Particularly because of COVID, we were all so grateful to have even a small bubble of people that we were able to connect with so intimately. So I think we were all very proud of this and really taking care of each other, mostly led by the energy and compassion of our director Stephen Chbosky, who has maintained such positivity and lightness throughout. .
How did the pandemic impact production?
A lot of what’s so exciting about going and doing something is the experience of being on location and spending time off the set and getting to know each other. While, of course, we had the option of doing it on a smaller scale, it was a much more isolated environment and kind of an anxiety-prone environment. It also forced us every day to remind ourselves why it is so important that we are here to do this. When you are doing a work before or during a non-COVID period, it can seem very easy to just enjoy the experience for the experience, regardless of the subject of the pieces. But for that, I think it was so important that we realized at the end of the tunnel that there was a real purpose and a reason it was a big enough piece to muscle through the hardships of COVID to do. . It gave each day a different focus than I had ever felt in a movie and that was the driving energy. There was real efficiency and a real kind of laser focus.
What is your new album Reverie does mean to you?
I was really excited to start evolving as an artist and start making music that is more like the person I feel today, as in love as I am with musical theater and where I come from and what are my roots. It was the first album where I really felt the freedom to start venturing into other worlds, sound and music that resembles the things I listen to and dance to that affect me in as an adult in quotes. And for me, he will always be an example of this pandemic and his experience. The two major themes of the album are the two things I felt the most during the pandemic, first falling in love with my partner, Noah [Galvin], and what it meant to me and how it changed who I am. Then, on top of that, the experience of living at home in my childhood bedroom with my family and remembering who I was and feeling longing and regrets and also gratitude for all the things that happened and all the things I was feeling and doing. Mix that up with this kind of evolved mature version of myself that I’ve become and kind of stuck in the middle of those two things. So yeah, this album will always feel like a snapshot of that particular time in my life, which hopefully if I’m as transparent and as authentic as I hope, that’s what I hope the album will look like years from now.