The Politician star Ben Platt talks first season and working with Gwyneth Paltrow
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Warning: This story contains spoilers from the first season of The Politician.
Ben Platt wants your vote.
The Tony-winner for Dear Evan Hansen plays the titular role in Netflix’s The Politician, created by Glee‘s Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan. Platt portrays Payton Hobart, a power-hungry high schooler who’s determined to both win his school presidency and pave a path to the White House.
EW talked to Platt about the eight-episode first season, dropping today on Netflix, and what’s in store for the already-greenlit second season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it about this script and this character that made you want to sign on?
BEN PLATT: I think first and foremost, working with Ryan, in general, was something I really wanted to do. He’s obviously very brilliant and very one step ahead of the curve. I think what was the most attractive for me was that it was a total 180 character-wise from Evan [Hansen]. It was somebody much darker and more conniving, and egomaniacal. And the sexuality to him, and the hubris to him, it was just something that stretched me in a way that made me very frightened but I think in a good way. I think that combined with how much I trust Ryan, and how clear his vision was for this particular show, it made it a really easy no-brainer that’s the perfect thing to go into next.
I heard that you were very involved in helping cast your fellow high schoolers in the show.
Yeah, I mean Alexa Fogel is an absolutely brilliant casting director and she found a majority of the folks. Then, obviously, it was just up to us to kind of pick out who stood out to us between the pool that she found. But I think there were a couple of instances where I really felt like because I had a seat at the table creatively, I was able to really pursue people who I responded to, people who were in my generation and who I heard about. Zoey Deutch, in particular, is someone who I brought to the table. She was somebody that always stood out to me. I was just really thankful to be part of creating a family; me coming from the theater, the sort of family experience of it is my favorite part of any project, and I knew that this would be one that we had at least 2 seasons that we would be spending a lot of time together. To get to be part of crafting that with people is the best.
You and your co-star Laura Dreyfuss also were on Broadway in Dear Evan Hansen together. Did you push for her to be on the show, too?
Complete coincidence. I had no idea she was going to be in the same thing and Alexa sent us all her favorites, like she always does, and among them was Laura. I didn’t say a word because I didn’t wanna jinx it but I was really excited. Then she went in for her test and obviously they all – but you can’t even really hear her speaking in her audition because they were laughing so hard. But I wouldn’t have to say anything, and she booked it.
Based on social media, it looked like you all spent a lot of downtime together.
Very much so. I mean I think as sort of the number one on the call sheet and sort of as the captain of the ship I felt a real responsibility to create unity. I think that in any project I’ve done, Evan Hansen included, that’s part of what makes the work so good—it’s that people feel they care very much about the particular community they’re in and they want to show up for everyone. I think because I saw that the script was so dissected in the sense that I would be working with everyone, but we wouldn’t always be all together—very rarely would we be all together—that I wanted to create opportunities right away to be together.
So as soon as we had everyone cast, I messaged everyone on social media and I created a little group chat. I was like, “We gotta plan Disneyland weekend. We gotta plan a Malibu weekend.” Just a lot of get-to-know-you-icebreaker stuff. I think apart from that just being the joy of the process and now having great friends that I’ve made, I think it really affected the work in a really positive way. I think we all thought we were very much of one world, of one team.
The most emotional scenes of the show involve you and your mother played by Gwyneth Paltrow. What was it like working with her?
The first day, the first scene was me and Gwyneth. I was very nervous because I hadn’t met her beforehand and she’s obviously a very larger-than-life idea in everyone’s mind. As soon as we met, she just felt immediately very maternal and very warm and very loving to me and took a real shine to me, kind of took me under her wing. I think we both knew how important these things work for the structure of the whole piece for you to feel it, Payton’s humanity is really showing, and that their relationship is really deeply felt and that they’re really connected. I think we both were really open to that intimacy and feeling like we’ve known each other forever and jumping into that vulnerability together. She’s obviously a movie star, like I forget what a star she is because she’s so busy ruling the world in other ways. I’m happy we gave her a reason to come back and remind everybody what a brilliant actor she is.
In Dear Evan Hansen and The Politician, you have to have intense crying scenes. Does that come easily to you? Do you get dehydrated?
There are days when it feels very natural and comes very second nature and I do it, and the material and that it feels honest, and there are days where it’s more of a muscle thing and I kind of need to push it. I think it’s a real kind of taking one at a time situation, I don’t think generally it’s very easy and I enjoy doing it but it’s obviously satisfying in the right situations. The fun thing about Payton as opposed to Evan is that there are times when the emotions feel like it’s coming directly from me and that it’s authentic and there are times when I can have a layer of, this is performed and this is what’s right, this is calculated and it’s fun to have the audience try to guess where I am on that scale any time I look emotional.
You have a couple musical numbers in this show. Was that your idea to include those?
I think the idea was that when Ryan first created the show, the jumping-off point was very much a showcase for me, so that’s really where the character came from, and I think he felt that a whole kind of 360 showcase of what I can do has to include music in some way. I think I was very resistant to that because I don’t necessarily want to be pigeonholed as the guy who’s always in musicals. But I was obviously very open to finding ways for the music to enhance the story and to feel like little accents, as opposed to the show itself being a very musical show. There are only really 3 proper musical moments from the whole season, which I think is a beautiful sort of little surprise.
You guys are already greenlit for a season 2 and the final episode of season one teases Payton running for office in New York. What can you say about that?
All I can say is that it’s another election in Payton’s road to trying to make his way to the White House, or blast us forward to the next political moment in his life.
One of your best friends, Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart), is going to be playing Monica Lewinsky for Ryan in the next installment of American Crime Story. Did you recommend her for that?
No input. it wasn’t necessary. Obviously, we all see Beanie on the rise. He’s a smart guy and he did ask me for her number so that he could call her. Other than that, I had no involvement but just excited and makes complete sense.