If you are into musical theatre, or watch Pitch Perfect repeatedly, then, like Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton, you will already be very familiar with Ben Platt. If not, no matter, because at the end of September, Platt is going to be right there on your TV, starring as the lead in The Politician, with Gwyneth Paltrow playing his mother, in the latest big hitter from Netflix.
It is TV mogul Ryan Murphy’s first show as part of his multi-million-dollar deal with the streaming company, and Murphy created the role specifically for Platt. No audition required.
It’s a busy time for Platt: on Monday, the 25-year-old headlined the ceremony that launched tennis’s US Open; in a few weeks, he will perform alongside Queen, Alicia Keys and Pharrell Williams at New York’s Global Citizen concert (co-hosted by a friend, Hugh Jackman); and his new single, “Rain”, came out last Friday.
Musically, it sounds as if Platt burst into a Carly Rae Jepsen and Bleachers house party – and frankly, I wish I’d been invited. I did luck into his sold-out debut UK gig in June, where seats in the stalls went for £70.
When we meet a few days later, Platt’s anxiety about whether he would sell any tickets in the UK appears to have been unfounded. “I tend to ask over and over again, are people going to come?” admits Platt, as we awkwardly share a too-small sofa. “I’m never quite comfortable just assuming that it’s all going to go well, it’s not in my nature. Then it’s just all the more enjoyable when it does.”
Dear Evan Hansen was the Broadway musical that made LA-born Platt a star, winning him a Tony, a Grammy and an Emmy. The show’s songs are written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo behind The Greatest Showman, and a UK production (as yet uncast) opens in London’s Noël Coward Theatre in November. It’s an emotional high-school story about struggling to fit in, mental health and teen suicide, all heightened by social media.
Platt’s breakout song from that show was “Waving Through a Window” (24 million listens on YouTube, compared with 310,000 clicks for Katy Perry’s cover). Dear Evan Hansen is also the show that piqued the interest of Ryan Murphy and, in turn, Netflix. “He [Murphy] came to Evan Hansen and sort of built [The Politician] around me,” admits Platt, somewhat sheepishly.
Even if he does play an unstoppably ambitious teen politician, I suppose that’s still a compliment. “He came backstage and mentioned he’d love to do something together,” continues Platt. “I was like, ‘Sure, but you’re Ryan Murphy, you’ve got 10 things going on’, but he really followed through.”
Platt was “freaking out” during their exchange, but by that point in 2016, his idols had been regularly dropping by the Broadway theatre where he was performing. It was a lot to take in aged 22. “I mean, it was insane. It was the kind of thing that I tried really hard not to normalise, because we have Hillary Clinton and then Beyoncé and then Mandy Patinkin and then Melissa McCarthy. And then, you know, all of my theatre heroes like Harold Prince and Stephen Sondheim.”
Much of Platt’s life might seem surreal; his father is the film producer Marc Platt, responsible for Legally Blonde, La La Land and Mary Poppins Returns. He came out to his parents when he was 13, yet there was still a media flutter when it was deemed that he had come out publicly earlier this year, when his first pop video, for the track “Ease My Mind”, cast him in a gay romance.
“I never wanted the album, or any part of it, to be just a blanket statement about coming out or queerness,” says Platt. “It’s just a part of the story that I have, because that’s who I am.”
Discussing the sexuality of the characters of The Politician, Platt says “everybody in the show is sort of fluid”. He doesn’t think only gay actors should take gay roles: “It’s less in the particular casting of who is given which role, and more about whether the room is filled with different identities. If we start to say that only queer people can tell queer stories, it’s difficult, because we want to be able to tell other kinds of stories, too.”
He cites Jonathan Groff as a role model in this regard. “He did a show that was incredibly queer-positive, called Looking, on HBO, and now is the lead in David Fincher’s Mindhunter, playing an everyman, straight man, and he’s just really shown that his talent supersedes everything and he can tell both kinds of stories. I’d love to fit in that space, too.”
Platt is a delightfully chatty performer at the London gig, his first outside the US; there are charming traces of musical theatre in his stage presence – a little Flashdance dip here, a Fosse-style hand flick there.
‘As an artist, there’s more room for humanity than in politics’
He draws the crowd in by detailing that teenage coming out (to loud applause), leaving the stage mid-set because he needs the loo (more applause) and dropping “fun facts” about himself. These include how he thinks cats are the devil’s children, partly because he is allergic; his love of all things Harry Potter (“Hufflepuffs unite!”); and how he once accidentally broke a glass cauldron in a shopping mall during an impromptu performance as Elphaba from Wicked. It seems that, while the swathes of teenage fans came for the angst of Dear Evan Hansen, they have stayed for the authenticity of Platt.
It is a quality any politician would kill to have. Might a career in politics hold any appeal? “I don’t think I’d be capable of quelling my own opinions and emotions and wellbeing for the greater good, or for self-serving reasons,” he says. “I mean, as an artist, there’s more room for humanity than in politics.”
It’s not something that he is cut out for, he concludes – but that’s not to say he doesn’t have political beliefs. It is worth looking up his March 2018 live performance with Lin-Manuel Miranda at the March For Our Lives rally in Washington DC. The pair performed “Found/Tonight”, their mash-up of a poignant song each from Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, in support of the mass student-led demonstration for better gun control legislation in the US. It took place the month after 17 people were shot and killed at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
He now has ambitions to write his own musical: “I’m looking for the right idea or the right thing to adapt or to write from scratch.” And he is only an Oscar away from EGOT status – winning an award from each of the four major US entertainment ceremonies (Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Tony).
An Evan Hansen film is planned, with his father producing, and while Platt appears most likely to star, he is not officially attached to the movie. “Not officially, in the sense that there is no script yet,” he clarifies. “There’s no reality to it, it’s just in development, but hopefully, down the line, that’d be a wonderful thing and I’m just waiting to see what happens.” Platt turns 26 in a month; he can’t pretend to be in high school for ever. “Sooner rather than later would be good,” he agrees.
He confirms that he will not be appearing in the long-gestating Wicked musical movie adaptation that his father is also producing (“I don’t think I’m a Fiyero”). He would be happy for the role to go to his brother, Jonah, who has already played it on Broadway – or, failing that, Harry Styles. So, Styles is his Fiyero, then? “Harry Styles is my anything, really,” comes the reply.
He says he will be back performing in the UK at some point, which hopefully means more tales like the one when his parents used a McFlurry to bribe him to join in football practice. “But when I got there, I would spend most of the time grabbing the chalk, delineating the lines and throwing it up in the air like it was fairy dust because I loved Peter Pan. There were some clues,” he deadpanned on stage in London. Frankly, what the world needs now is more Ben Platt.
Ben Platt’s single ‘Rain’ is out now. ‘The Politician’ is on Netflix from 27 September