Ben Platt: Not Your Average Leading Man

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Ben Platt doesn’t really listen to records. “I’m too much of a millennial, I suppose,” the 22-year-old actor says with a shrug.

We’re sitting in an independent record shop in Williamsburg so the topic inevitably comes up, though Platt does remember his dad’s collection, mainly comprised of Broadway cast recordings, tucked away in the back of the family room in his childhood home.

Platt essentially grew up in the theater. His father is a producer (Wicked numbers among his projects), and all four of his siblings (he’s the second youngest) are musically inclined. In fact, the family earned the nickname “The VonPlatts” after gaining fame among friends as bar and bat mitzvah entertainment. At age 11, Platt starred in the national tour of Caroline, or Change, but he skyrocketed onto the national scene when he landed the part of Benji Applebaum in the small-film-turned-blockbuster-franchise Pitch Perfect. 

However, before Pitch Perfect was on anyone’s radar, Platt auditioned for one of his favorite songwriting teams, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, for their musical Dogfight at Second Stage Theatre. Platt sang from their song cycle Edges for his senior recital in high school, and although he was too young for the part in Dogfight, Pasek and Paul were in the early stages of writing a project he might be right for: Dear Evan Hansen. 

The show follows a socially awkward teenager who struggles with loneliness and self-doubt, and when his high school experiences a tragedy, Evan finds himself in the middle of a lie that brings him closer to the people around him with unforeseen consequences. Platt has been developing the role since early workshops and starred in the show’s premiere at Arena Stage in Washington D.C. over the summer, and now, he’s making his Off-Broadway debut at Second Stage, where the musical is in previews with opening set for May 1.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed about for so long,” Platt says of originating a character in a new musical in New York. While Platt took a stint as Elder Cunningham on Broadway in The Book of Mormon, Evan Hansen marks the first time he’s originated a role.

“He’s a new kind of hero,” Platt says of the part. “In many other stories, he would be the sidekick or the strange kid, but the fact that it’s his story is really special.”

And Platt sees a lot of himself in Evan—and not just because the two share Platt’s nail biting habit. He has also dealt with anxiety, and he remembers feeling like an outsider in high school. Although his school had a great performing arts program and many of his closest friends are still from that time, Platt says he spent a lot of time buried in his room, studying for AP classes or the SATs. (He hasn’t attended college yet, unless playing a college student in Pitch Perfect counts.)

When the show was running in D.C., young audience members would approach Platt after each performance, excited to see their own struggles portrayed onstage. “A lot of kids, who were so riddled with anxiety, would come up to me, and it would be difficult for them to even say this to me,” Platt says, “but just telling me, to see somebody represented onstage who’s dealing with anxiety and see it so fully realized and it’s a human person who’s not perfect and not flawless but that everyone can love and understand and see themselves in a way, I think was important to kids.”

He also has a romantic storyline in the show with Glee’s Laura Dreyfuss, who plays Evan’s crush Zoe, and Platt also had a love interest in Pitch Perfect 2 in Hailee Steinfeld. “I’m not necessarily the traditional leading man—square jaw, Mr. Romance—so I think it’s nice to get to play characters that get to have successful romances,” he says, adding that Evan’s is “questionably successful.” “Any full human has a romantic side and has a sexuality and has attraction and to get to play a character that’s fully rounded out in that way, that’s what you want.”

He lost a lot of weight to play Evan Hansen—a product of cutting out dairy and gluten for vocal reasons and becoming a Soul Cycle devotee. He wanted to be able to convincingly play a 17-year-old and also stay healthy for the eight-show-a-week schedule. “I have to become like super boring and stop drinking and stop talking and stop staying out,” he says. “So I become like super fun and like everybody wants to hang out with me.”

Sometimes Platt struggles with the public’s perception of him as his characters. Most people still associate him with the Star Wars-obsessed, magic geek Benji from Pitch Perfect, and Platt wants to prove his range on stage and in life. “People start to really see you as your character, especially if you do something like Pitch Perfect that become so cult-ish,” he says, adding that he’s started establish a personal style and uses the clothes he wears to industry events to set himself apart form his onscreen and onstage personas. “When I go to things where I’m seen, it’s a nice way to be like, I’m actually a different person. I’m my own person, I have my own style. I have my own sort of ideas of how to be and how I carry myself.”

Clothes are also very important to his character development as Evan. When he first sat down with costume designer Emily Rebholz, he knew the character needed New Balance shoes. He based a lot of Evan on his friend Nick, and Platt’s first vision of the character was: “Nick and his New Balances.” “Just sad enough where they’re like, he’s making an effort, but he doesn’t want to stand out too much, he’s trying to blend in,” Platt explains of the wardrobe choice.

Platt wore the New Balances throughout rehearsals, and he wants to keep his costumes after the run is finished. However, there are hopes for a life beyond Second Stage so it might be a while before the sneakers make their way into his closet.

And Platt’s star is continuing to rise. He starred in the Meryl Streep-led Ricki and the Flash over the summer, and he has two films in post-production: Ang Lee’s Billy Lee’s Long Halftime Walk and Drunk Parents with Alec Baldwin and Salma Hayek. But the theater will always be where his heart is.

“I don’t think I’ll ever love filmmaking as much as I love the theater,” he says. “I’ve loved my experiences in film, but at this point, it’s really to create scenarios where I can be doing whatever theater I want to be doing because that will always be my passion and what makes me the happiest. I’ll never leave it.”

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Styling by James Brown III
Hair & Make-Up by Brittany Bell Spencer
Clothing by Zara and TopMan