Ben Platt: “We should be doing everything in our power to cast queer actors”

He's only one Oscar shy of an EGOT, but 'The Politician' star has more important things on his mind

At 27, Ben Platt is already three-quarters to EGOT. This coveted collection of accolades representing top honours in TV (Emmy), music (Grammy), film (Oscar) and theatre (Tony) has only ever been completed by 16 people – most recently John Legend in 2018 and Disney composer Alan Menken last year. In 2017, Platt won a Tony for his breakout performance in the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, a role he reprises in the upcoming film adaptation. He then collected a Grammy for the Dear Evan Hansen album and an Emmy for his performance of its standout number, ‘You Will Be Found’, on The Today Show. On top of all this, he earned a Golden Globe nomination for his first ever series regular TV role: in the wickedly satirical Netflix hit The Politician, which completed its second season last year.

Because people like to remind him he’s “only an ‘O’ away”, Platt concedes that EGOT does take up space at the back of his head. “But it’s not necessarily the directive in terms of what I’m taking on or trying to do,” he quickly adds. “I’m in no rush, honestly. Obviously if it did happen, that would be very wonderful and very cool. And I’d get to tell my children about it. But I have no issue with how long it takes.” Actually, Platt says he can see the benefit of crossing the line as an older performer. “I feel like, you know, I don’t wanna overstay my welcome too quickly,” he says, modestly but also quite shrewdly.

“I realised work is supposed to bring me joy not stress”

Speaking via Zoom from his home in LA’s trendy Loz Feliz neighbourhood, Platt is relaxed, friendly and forthcoming. He gives detailed answers that suggest he thinks about things – whether that’s his next acting job or the debate around queer actors playing queer roles – from every angle before reaching a conclusion. A few minutes into the interview, he sweetly confides that being in his first serious relationship – with Noah Galvin, the actor who succeeded him as Evan Hansen on Broadway – has changed his outlook for the better. “I started working when I was nine years old, so that’s always been the driving force in my life,” he says. “But I think being in this relationship has really allowed me to take pressure off myself and remind myself that this [career] is supposed to be something that brings me joy: that it doesn’t need to be a source of stress or a kind of continued striving.” Platt certainly radiates a zen energy today; I end the interview feeling noticeably calmer than when I started.

Platt’s relationship also inspired his excellent new single ‘Imagine’, a powerful electro-pop ballad on which he sings: “You say I’m your hero/But you are the one that saved me.” Written with The Monsters & Strangerz, a production crew who’ve also worked with Dua Lipa and Miley Cyrus, ‘Imagine’ is a confident first taster from Platt’s upcoming second album: you don’t put out a song with the same title as a John Lennon classic unless you’re sure you’ve nailed the assignment. The album is currently untitled and doesn’t have a release date yet, but Platt says it will feel “even more contemporary” than his 2019 debut ‘Sing To Me Instead’, which was “pop but still felt like it lived in the world of theatricality”. The deluxe edition included ‘So Will I’, a slow-building piano ballad produced by Billie Eilish‘s brother and collaborator, Finneas. Platt says part of Finneas’ genius is “really knowing not to get in the way of a song”: he was expecting him to “impose more of his own vision”, but instead Finneas did something more “instinctual” and “lifted [the song] up subtly and in this very nuanced way”.

Ben Platt

Platt says his new album will feature the “emotionally cathartic” moments that fans have come to expect, but also reflect the full breadth of his musical tastes. “Of course I’ve always loved musical theatre and artists like Barbra Streisand, but I also love things in the indie-pop sphere,” he says, citing Muna, Caroline Polachek, Haim and Maggie Rogers as his favourite artists. “And I’ve been listening to a lot of Years & Years recently because I loved It’s a Sin and I’m obsessed with Olly [Alexander] now,” he adds.

I suggest to Platt that making an album that feels like ‘Years & Years-meets-Barbra Streisand’ sounds pretty difficult, as well as kind of amazing. Does he think he’s managed it? “I think so,” he says. “Less so in individual songs, but more in the breadth of [the album]. “There are a few quintessential Ben Platt ballad moments but there are some more lofty pop ideas as well. I’m hoping that it kind of rides the lines of those two worlds, which I feel I do as a person.”

“My new album sounds like Years & Years-meets-Barbra Streisand”

As a person, Platt is clearly a high achiever from a high-achieving background: his father is Oscar-nominated film and TV producer Marc Platt, whose credits include La La Land and The Trial of the Chicago 7. At nine, Ben made his professional acting debut in a production of The Music Man at the Hollywood Bowl, then racked up further stage roles in Mame, Caroline, or Change and The Sound of Music. Then as he entered his twenties, he branched out into film and TV. After taking on supporting roles in the Pitch Perfect movies and Ricki and the Flash – an underrated Meryl Streep comedy produced by his dad – Dear Evan Hansen‘s Broadway success got him noticed in Hollywood. In 2019, he landed the title role in The Politician, Ryan Murphy’s spiky Netflix series about a conniving rich kid with stratospheric political ambitions.

Platt says Murphy asked to meet him as his Broadway run was coming to an end. At the time, Platt was contemplating his next step and had “a lot of really interesting ideas coming my way”, but obviously leapt at the chance to meet ‘TV’s first $300 million man’. At their meeting, Murphy handed Platt an offer he wasn’t expecting and couldn’t refuse. “I think I assumed he was going to say, ‘Would you like to be on American Horror Story or maybe do a miniseries about Broadway?” Platt recalls. Instead, Murphy outlined the entire idea for The Politician in front of him; it was clear he’d been developing it for a while.

The Politician season 2
As Payton Hobart in ‘The Politician’. CREDIT: Netflix

“[Ryan] very smartly appealed to what I was hungry to do in terms of trying to differentiate myself from Dear Evan Hansen and do something with a little more aggression and confidence and hubris,” says Platt. Just as shrewdly, Murphy offered Platt an executive producer credit – practically unheard of for an actor in his first significant TV role – because he intuited that a certain amount of “creative ownership” was important to him. In typically committed fashion, Platt took his extra responsibilities very seriously. He wanted to create a “unified” and family-like atmosphere on set – no easy task considering the show’s sprawling cast of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Lange, Bette Midler, Bohemian Rhapsody‘s Lucy Boynton and, somewhat randomly, tennis legend Martina Navratilova.

“Being the sort of [on-set] counsellor allowed me to override my anxieties in a way and just enjoy the fact that we all got to bond and feel protected,” he says. “It helped me feel like I wasn’t necessarily a guest in the home, but a real part of the home.”

Ben Platt

Platt spoke about his social anxiety in a recent Reddit AMA, saying he struggles with it “often, especially with a larger group that I don’t feel very close to”. Acting is an inherently sociable profession that involves having to bond quickly with people you don’t necessarily know, but Platt says his anxiety is less pronounced when he’s working in the theatre because it’s “where I grew up” and in his comfort zone. “I think, particularly in the theatre, it’s everybody’s job to open up and trust each other,” he adds. “That’s sort of invaluable: you’re not going to be successful in what you’re doing until you feel comfortable enough with everybody in the room.”

He says working in film and TV is generally “a little less comfortable” for him, especially since sets have become more “segmented” during the pandemic. From August to December of last year, he shot the film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen with director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and a starry cast including Julianne Moore, Amandla Stenberg and Booksmart‘s Kaitlyn Dever. Platt says he was “really excited” to “immortalise” his performance as Evan Hansen, a teenager with deep-rooted anxiety who is so desperate to connect with his high school peers that he fabricates a relationship with a student who has died. After his tribute at the memorial service goes viral, Evan’s popularity skyrockets, but he becomes increasingly consumed by guilt. When the musical premiered on Broadway in 2016, Variety praised Platt’s “carefully choreographed physical performance that makes his [character’s] emotional discomfort painfully clear”. Celebrated critic Marilyn Stasio observed that “his whole body is wracked with physical and vocal tics”.

“I like seeing more queer actors telling their own stories”

Because his gruelling stage performance earned raves – “it became this larger-than-life thing that people were coming to see”, Platt says – he admits he was apprehensive about translating it for the screen. “I think I was nervous about having to meet that same level in a medium that I’m not necessarily as instinctually comfortable in, and that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the same kind of fireworks as a live performance,” he says. Ultimately, Platt overcame his personal reservations because they felt like “small beer”. “Having an opportunity to share this story with, like, millions more people is ultimately much more important than my being worried that my performance won’t be as good as it was on stage,” he says. Still, it sounds as though Platt has definitely gone all in again: as well as shaving off his beard, he says he lost weight in order to look “authentic” as a gawky and fresh-faced 17-year-old.

After Dear Evan Hansen, Platt’s next film role sounds like a bit of a palate cleanser. In March, it was announced that he had been cast in The People We Hate at the Wedding, a comedy co-starring Allison Janney and Schitt’s Creek actress Annie Murphy. Platt says the idea of making something “warm and funny and silly” was appealing as we clamber out of the pandemic; he also wanted to display some “levity” after his more “fraught” roles in The Politician and Dear Evan Hansen. “But first of all,” he says, “it’s a gay character, which isn’t something I’ve done very often. It’s something I really have wanted to do, just because I’m liking seeing more and more queer actors telling their own stories.”

It’s a Sin writer Russell T Davies recently poured petrol on an already smouldering debate when he said queer actors should always be cast in queer roles. “It’s about authenticity,” Davies maintained. “You wouldn’t cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t Black someone up.” Platt says he “largely” agrees with Davies’ view, but doesn’t have a “black and white answer” to this complex question. “I feel like the attitude should be, wherever possible, especially if the story is really rooted in a queer background or is [fundamentally] a queer story like It’s a Sin, we should be doing everything in our power to cast queer actors,” he says. For Platt, this isn’t just about authenticity – it’s also about equal opportunities. “Because often, just in terms of judgement from creators and casting directors, we [queer perfomers] aren’t able to tell straight stories or play straight characters,” he explains.

Approaching the issue from another angle, Platt adds a caveat. “In reaction to how consistently straight men specifically are awarded and applauded just for playing a queer or gay character, I think that that’s not necessarily the right narrative to move forward,” he says. “It would be lovely to continue celebrating people who are queer and gay playing who they are. I think it’s about leaning into that until we reach a bit more of an equilibrium.” At present, Platt says he thinks it’s easier for openly queer performers to land non-queer roles in the theatre, partly because there’s “less of a hang-up on what someone’s look and image is”. “There’s something a bit more ‘put up and shut up’ about the theatre because it’s about delivering on the day,” he adds. “You’re the one going out there and delivering a performance every night. So you can be whoever the fuck you want, essentially.”

Succeeding in the theatre has definitely given Platt a certain freedom. He says that winning a Tony so early in his career initially made him nervous because it was something he’d dreamed about for years: his gut feeling was: ‘So now what?’ “But then I had this realisation, like, the world’s my oyster. I can take on projects that excite me and make me feel the good kind of scared: stuff that’s challenging and stretches me in different ways.” So, I believe him when he says EGOT can wait – for now. But if you like playing the long game, betting on Ben Platt to complete the set seems like a very shrewd move.

Ben Platt’s new single ‘Imagine’ is out now

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