How Ben Platt and Kaitlyn Dever brought Dear Evan Hansen from stage to screen
Ben Platt and Kaitlyn Dever did a lot of crying on the set of Dear Evan Hansen. The film version of the hit Broadway musical (out Sept. 24) is an operatic whirlwind of emotion, with Platt reprising his Tony-winning role as Evan, the nervous, blue-polo-wearing teenager with a broken arm. When his classmate Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) dies by suicide, Evan tells a well-intentioned fib that soon grows into a web of lies that brings him closer to Connor's sister Zoe (Dever). Platt, 27, and Dever, 24, had to navigate a tonal tightrope of romance, betrayal, and anxiety — as well as the difficult task of singing while sobbing. (Fortunately, they bonded off screen by quarantining together while filming last fall and connecting over their shared friendship with Dever's Booksmart costar Beanie Feldstein.)
Here, the two actors break down Evan's path from stage to screen.
Ben, you originated the role of Evan, starting with early readings in 2014 and ending with your final Broadway performance in 2017. Did you have any hesitation about tackling it again?
BEN PLATT: Certainly. I think I was very scared to reenter the world of Dear Evan Hansen, for a myriad of reasons. Obviously, on a personal level, it's painful material. It's a vulnerable place to go emotionally. I did it for many years on Broadway and sort of put that chapter to bed, so it was a scary thought to reopen that. But the idea of the sheer number of people that would see [a film] was enough to assuage those fears and sell me on the idea. It was a combination of the idea of immortalizing the performance and having it to show my children and their children someday — and then also just how many young people will be able to be seen by it and hopefully moved by it.
Kaitlyn, what was it about Zoe that you connected with?
KAITLYN DEVER: I saw Dear Evan Hansen about three years ago with my mom on Broadway. Of course, I wish I could've seen [Ben's] performance, but I [eventually] got to see it three feet away from his face, so that's fine. [Laughs] What really struck me when I saw Zoe on Broadway was her resilience and her strength. And I was so excited to be able to sing for the first time and work with Ben.
When did plans for a movie start to take shape?
PLATT: There was sort of a collective realization that in terms of being able to make the movie with me, we're running out of time. I think everybody was really interested in only making that version of the film, which I really appreciate. It was sort of a sink-or-swim, now-or-never kind of vibe. I think everybody knew this could really have the potential to be something special and was worth running against the clock to do, even in the midst of a pandemic.
DEVER: We actually talked a lot about this when we were shooting. We're making a movie about characters feeling isolated — while in the middle of pandemic, where a lot of people are having this similar feeling of isolation. I hope this is a movie that is going to allow people to feel really seen in that way.
Are there any particular memories that stand out most from filming?
DEVER: There was this one moment where we're singing "Only Us." We had done it all day, and we couldn't stop laughing. I've never squeezed someone's hand so hard.
PLATT: We were so tired, and we couldn't stop laughing, but it was the point in the day where no one else thinks it's funny. Everyone else is like, "We want to go home."
DEVER: I think they actually used the shot of us almost peeing our pants. [Laughs] But there was a beautiful moment at the end of the day, where we were singing not on camera, just for sound. I got a little emotional because it was our last time singing together.
PLATT: For me, it was all about the fact that we watched Love Island U.K. every night when we got home.
How was quarantining together?
PLATT: It just made it so much warmer and a more familial experience. It could have been a very isolated experience, which at times it was, but there was such a safe haven to come home to. My birthday was [during] shooting as well. I was working that day and she wasn't, and when I got home, she had cooked me this amazing breakfast-for-dinner meal for my birthday. There were balloons, and she got me this vintage T-shirt with Pikachu on it. It was like having my family waiting at home.
DEVER: Some days he would come home and his face was so puffy from crying all day, and it was just so nice to embrace in a hug and go snuggle on the couch and watch Netflix.
The film makes some changes from the show: There are new story lines and music. What change were you most excited to explore?
PLATT: For me, the most exciting change is the third act of the film. In the [stage] musical, there's very little closure once Evan confesses to the family. He doesn't have to repent in any real way. We get a sense that he is going to in the future, which obviously makes the musical work in the end, but we don't get to see really what that means. I don't want to give too much away, but there's a whole section in the film where Evan gets to come clean in a meaningful way and go to work to try to make some good. That was the part that really got me because it was new.
You don't necessarily think of movie musicals as being so intimate and serious. How did you find the right tone?
DEVER: That was something that was really important to [director Stephen Chbosky]: portraying all of these emotions in a grounded way. It was about keeping it at a level where it never felt like we were pushing it.
PLATT: Totally — more so than any musical movie I've ever seen. The texture of it stays really small and real, and it never becomes operatic or theatrical. It stays really close to the ground in a beautiful way.
Ben, you've obviously grown up since Dear Evan Hansen debuted on Broadway in 2016. How did you approach the physical parts of playing him for the movie?
PLATT: Well, I wanted to get a little smaller because I always have seen Evan as a ganglier kid who doesn't necessarily have the safety to have a great appetite. I shaved my arms to try to give a little more of a teen vibe. I shaved my face like three times a day because I'm a Jew and my hair grows really fast on my face. [Laughs] And I grew my hair out and let it be as Jew curly as it wants to be. I just wanted to do everything in my power to feel like him.
Julianne Moore plays Evan's mom, and Amy Adams plays Zoe's mom. How was working with those two?
PLATT: Julianne Moore was amazing and just so warm. She jumped right in and made me feel that we had known each other for a really long time.
DEVER: Amy is truly such a light on set. She literally just felt like my mom. And getting to watch Amy Adams, it's like a full-on master class.
PLATT: We were shooting in the beautiful Murphy house, and I heard all this singing coming from downstairs in the dining room. I walked downstairs, and Kaitlyn and Amy were walking around the dining-room table, singing something together. It was like Karen Carpenter or something.
DEVER: I think it was. Amy Adams does love a good karaoke moment.
Ben, did you immediately slip back into Evan's head when you put on that blue polo and cast, or did it take some adjusting?
PLATT: I feel like that came pretty easily, just because I have sort of created that character for many years, so the essence of it feels very accessible.
DEVER: And you wore your original Evan shoes.
PLATT: I did! I wore my gray New Balance shoes that I wore every performance, eight times a week, for all of Evan Hansen for the D.C. production, for the Off Broadway production, and for the Broadway production. They are barely holding together. [Laughs]
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.