David Corenswet knows you think he looks like Henry Cavill.
As the introspective River on Netflix’s The Politician, the 26-year-old — who caught audiences’ eyes and the heart of Ben Platt’s Payton — admits he’s been aware of the striking resemblance to the British film star for a while.
“It came to my attention before the internet got a hold of me,” he tells EW. “But my pie-in-the-sky ambition is definitely to play Superman. I would love to see somebody do an upbeat, throwback [take on Superman]. I love the Henry Cavill dark and gritty take, but I would love to see the next one be very bright and optimistic.”
Bright and optimistic could also be used to describe Corenswet, a Juilliard-graduate with a tall, dark, and handsome vibe that feels more classic Hollywood than 2019. Fitting then, that his next project is producing and starring in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, a limited series for Netflix set in the world of Hollywood’s post-war studio system.
Corenswet describes the premise as following four or five young people in Hollywood just after World War II. “[They] are out to seek their fortunes in the fertile ground that is the desert of Hollywoodland,” he muses. “It tackles the film industry of the time and also deals with the sex industry. There’s a seedy underbelly to be explored.”
He stars alongside the likes of Jeremy Pope, Darren Criss, Patti LuPone, Dylan McDermott, and Holland Taylor. Hollywood will blend the real faces of classic Hollywood with invented characters. For his part, Corenswet’s character is an amalgamation of Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and James Dean — young Hollywood rebels who helped revolutionize the type of acting audiences were seeing on screen.
It’s also been an opportunity for Corenswet to dig back in some of his favorite films from growing up, projects starring the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Gene Kelly. “My character has a certain optimism, a lack of jadedness,” he elaborates, drawing connections to many of Kelly and Stewart’s characters. “At least at the beginning of the series.”
But mostly, he just loves the opportunity to be surrounded by the working actor ethos he grew up with. Corenswet’s late father was an actor, pounding the New York City pavement as a young man – and Corenswet was bit by the acting bug at a young age. After seeing his sister in a community theater production of Fiddler on the Roof, he asked his parents if he could do something similar. Soon, he had his first paying acting job at nine years old, playing the little boy in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre.
“I had a very full-on introduction to the craft, doing two scenes in Act One of one of the greatest American plays ever written,” he recounts. “Then going home before intermission so I could get to bed early and wake up for school the next morning.”
Because even though he was head over heels for acting from that moment on, Corenswet still very much had a normal childhood, one quite different from the wealthy, campy upbringing of the characters on The Politician. He calls himself a “theater kid” but also admits he split his time between the drama kids, a capella groups, and sports teams at his high school. His most formative theatrical experiences came via Upper Darby Summer Stage (the same Pennsylvania theater camp Tina Fey chronicled with hilarious glee in her memoir Bossypants). “That was where all the drama happened – the romances, the arguments,” he muses. There, he played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz and Jafar in Aladdin Jr., racking up credits with the success rate that comes with being the rare entity of an adolescent boy in love with theater.
Still, he was never one for all the drama that comes with the drama department. He describes himself as a relatively zen person, someone who prefers to observe rather than be at the center of things, much like his character on The Politician. “I was raised with a lot of Buddhist influences, doing a lot of mindfulness meditation,” he explains, drawing parallels between him and River. “I had this feeling of ‘I get who this guy is.’ I got his level of calm, his mode of serene observation where he’s watching and listening to everything.”
Corenswet originally auditioned for Ricardo, a role that Benjamin Barrett crafted into a mustachioed dunce to brilliant comedic effect. It wasn’t his first time auditioning for the insular, familial world that is a Ryan Murphy TV show. He’d also been seen for Scream Queens and 9-1-1. At the time, he was laboring in smaller indie projects and a few guest-starring roles.
That’s what River was meant to be initially – another short gig that only required him to be in Los Angeles for a few weeks. But then he got the call that he was being bumped up to a series regular, with River appearing in flashbacks and as a spectral conscience for Platt’s Payton (Corenswet is set to return for season 2).
Landing the role and getting the regular bump was the first moment where Corenswet says he felt like he’d really made it — a sense hammered home by his dad. When he got the news, he was directing and shooting his own short film, and his father was on set with him. “I was able to hand the phone to my dad and just say, ‘Will you read this text message and tell me if it says what I think it says?’ He said, ‘It says what you think it says. This is it. I think this is the one.’”
In some ways that has held true. Despite the fact that his character dies by suicide in episode 1 and that he appears sparingly in episodes after that, Corenswet was one of the biggest breakouts from The Politician, his role inspiring lots of internet love. It also feels like a huge win for him, considering it’s earned him what seems to be a recurring spot in the Ryan Murphy family.
“It’s the difference between feeling like you’re getting to do your job and you’re not getting to do your job,” he says of the change The Politician has made for him. “It’s a deep and profound feeling when you feel you can do a job, but you’re not getting the opportunity to do the job. Any chance I get to do my job is good enough for me.”
His hands are full with Murphy projects at the moment, but Corenswet isn’t short on ambition, geeking out about his dreams of playing Superman or working on any kind of Star Wars project, as well as looking ahead to his hopes of writing and directing. But for now, he’s happy to just have a shot at doing what he loves.
“I love being on set. I love working – getting to show up every day and play around, even if I’m just running up a flight of steps. I love being on set with a crew who loves what they’re doing and is good at what they’re doing, and a cast who’s happy to be there,” he says, the gratitude evident in his voice. “Any actor who gets to work, especially for longer than a few days here and there, is really lucky.”
Somehow it feels more like audiences are the lucky ones.
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