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'Dear Evan Hansen' Actor Ben Platt Escapes From Anxiety By Being In The Spotlight

Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt admits to being anxious. He frequently worries about the past and also about what's to come, but there's one place where his anxiety tends to subside.

"Being on stage, for me, is kind of the antidote to that," Platt says. "That's the place where my mind is the most quiet."

Platt drew on his own anxiety to play Evan Hansen, a socially insecure high-school senior who lies about having been close friends with a classmate who dies by suicide. Platt originated the role and went on to win a Tony for his performance in the original Broadway production. Now, he's starring in a new film adaptation of the musical.

Platt acknowledges that the musical, which deals with teen suicide and deception, has an inherent tension between being inspirational and something much darker.

"That's why it sometimes is somewhat polarizing because it does require that level of discomfort and that gray area," he says. "[There's] that kind of nuance of things being healing and redemptive and meaningful, but also morally ambiguous and difficult and wrong and predicated on a lie."

Interview highlights

On how the Broadway success of Dear Evan Hansen added pressure and made him feel closer to his character who is also very anxious

The experience, while it was incredibly gratifying and fulfilling, was very isolating as well and kind of a lonely one, because of the nature of the role and how kind of monkish my lifestyle needed to be to support the role. Especially when we were doing press during the day and performances on television and things like that, it required that any moment that I had to myself was spent resting and recharging and saving up physical, mental and emotional energy to continue to recreate the show eight times a week.

So, in my own kind of mental world and in my own mind, I certainly continued to feel connected more and more to Evan in terms of the anxiety and the worry about others and what others might think and what others might be saying. And you know, those things come along with the territory of something that gets that kind of attention.

On being 27 years old at the time of filming Dear Evan Hansen, playing a teenager

I think my first thing I did was release the feeling of having to be 100% a realistic teenager because ultimately I was 27 years old when we made the film. And this is a very specific situation in terms of a character that I was lucky to create and develop, and that the studio and the director asked me to be the one to sort of shepherd that performance on screen, and I can only do so much. So I wanted to first kind of release myself from doing things that are impossible to do and just focus on really giving a great performance. I think anything that I did physically was really for my own emotional satisfaction to feel separate, for myself, to feel transformed and separate from Ben Platt and just be able to inhabit somebody different. So those things, the more obvious ones, were that I grew my hair out and allowed it to become as Jewish and curly as possible. I shaved my face multiple times a day. I shaved my arms. I lost about 15 pounds. I feel that I did everything that my adult body would allow me to do.

On falling in love with Noah Galvin, the actor who took over his Evan Hansen role on Broadway

We've known each other long before the Evan Hansen experience. We were friends in the theater community and through doing some comedy together and having a lot of mutual friends and already had quite a foundation of friendship before the Evan Hansen thing happened. Obviously, his being cast and replacing me was very separate from me knowing him. He just was the right person for the job and the creative team was in love with him, and I was thankful that I was getting to see this legacy [go] to somebody that I loved and trusted. It's just kind of one small aspect of our many years of friendship-now-turned romance and partnership. ...

For many years as a young person, I sort of avoided the idea of being with another artist or another actor, because you hear all these stories about how difficult it can be to have differing levels of success or to find support for each other or to have room for each other, things like that. ... I think [Noah] has a really special ability to be entirely selfless, and can take up all of the air in the room and be the center and be as funny and as brilliant as anyone you've ever seen, but then also has the ability to just be fully in my corner and to support me, and I can only hope that I can do the same for him. And I think that the Evan Hansen experience was sort of a little microcosm of what was to come in that regard.

On watching Dear Evan Hansen for the first time as an audience member

Luckily it was, again, Noah [Galvin], who I loved and trusted and who I think is so talented. And so in terms of seeing the actual character, that was a wonderful experience. It's like revisiting an ex or going back to a place that was as wonderful as it was, there was a lot of trauma associated with it, too, given the kind of emotional angst that I had to kind of go to each night. And so watching it, regardless of my emotional state in the moment, when I get to those moments in the show, I naturally become emotional and go back to those kind of mental spaces. And so it's never an easy thing to watch. The film is a similar experience, in terms of I can appreciate and be proud of the piece and of my performance, but it's never kind of an easy, breezy thing to watch.

On co-starring opposite Beanie Feldstein in the upcomingRichard Linklater film adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along, which will be filmed over the course of 18 years — and thinking about where he'll be in his 40s

I spend a lot of time worrying about what's to come and what has happened already and not as much as I should being where I am. So yes, I think it's made me think about: Will this [project] be the one kind of holdover at that stage in my life that I'm still doing, or will I still be working all the time? Or will I be, God willing, still singing my own music, and maybe, just doing that? And this [project] is what I pop into or will I be on stage for the rest of my life, which would be wonderful too? Will I, God willing, be with Noah? And will we have children?

I think I'd love to hopefully, theoretically, be, at some point, a bit more of a behind-the-scenes kind of a person. I'd love to continue to write and to hopefully maybe direct theater someday. And, you know, get to do things that are creative, maybe even teach musical theater to young people just to stay connected to the art and to the thing that makes me the happiest, even past the point of maybe feeling up to doing it myself. But for now, I'm grateful to be doing it myself.

Lauren Krenzel and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Natalie Escobar adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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