Ben Platt: 'Beyoncé gave me flowers. I'm afraid to touch them'


‘I really like playing people who aren’t easily likable,” says Ben Platt. Bearded and dressed in lumberjack chic – plaid shirt, fleece-lined denim jacket – he appears unflustered, a departure from his perma-agitated characters: Benji in the Pitch Perfect movies, Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon and Evan in Dear Evan Hansen, both on Broadway. A trinity of, in his words, “socially anxious weirdo nerds”.

A professional actor since he was eight and, at 25, almost an EGOT – winner of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards – (he hasn’t yet won an Oscar), you hope that Platt will find his latest role more likable: he’s playing himself. Platt recently released Sing to Me Instead, his first studio album and a chance to put himself out there. Atlantic Records had approached him while he was making the Dear Evan Hansen original cast recording and asked him if he wanted to do a pop record. He did, and after months of messing around at the piano and finding a few sympathetic co-writers, he delivered 45 minutes of tear-jerking original ballads. The “instead” part of the title is about wishing a lover could sing his feelings rather than talking them out and also a rejection of what he calls “Auto-Tune and computers and hooks and trap beats, just, like, sing a song instead”.

How personal is it? “I was hell-bent on being as much myself as possible,” he says, “as transparent and authentic with my experiences and my feelings as I can be.”



Emotional prowess … Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen

Being himself means describing relationships with men, though it would be wrong to call it a coming out album. He has been out to his “comically progressive” liberal Jewish family (his father is the La La Land producer Marc Platt) since he was 12 and if he never discussed his sexuality in interviews, he did keep a photo of Judy Garland in his Dear Evan Hansen dressing room and has been open about his obsession with Beyoncé. “I don’t think it was a big surprise to anyone,” he says. Beyoncé came backstage with flowers for him a year and a half ago. “They’re still on my table,” he says. “I’m just afraid to touch them.”

He’s only talking about his sexuality now because he believes it’s relevant to the album and the videos that support it, which co-star the bluffly handsome actor Charlie Carver. He knows that out gay actors don’t always have the opportunity to play straight roles – even in musical theatre. “But I cared enough about the music that I really wanted to give it a full go and be as open as I could be.” If a producer or a casting director sees his sexuality as a problem or a snag, “I don’t really want to work with that person. Ultimately that was what overrules any fears I had about people’s closed minds.”

Platt has always been very good at fear, awkwardness, angst and just a little self-loathing. He specialises in creeps who are actually good guys and good guys who are actually creeps. “It’s a nice challenge to have to keep the audience on your side while you’re making really morally ambiguous choices.” He recently finished filming Ryan Murphy’s first Netflix series, The Politician – “part social satire, part soap opera, part political comedy,” he says – starring as a wealthy Santa Barbara teenager scheming to win the class presidency. Lots of moral ambiguity there.

His emotional ability borders on the extreme, maybe even the unhealthy. If you saw him in Dear Evan Hansen you will have witnessed a young man wet with tears and nasal mucus, ugly-crying while nailing every note. He eviscerated himself eight times a week and then tucked the viscera back in, ready for the next performance. Evan, he says, was “the most extreme version of that kind of vulnerability and that kind of masochism”.

Now he’s having to be vulnerable in a different way, with no role to hide behind, no book writer or lyricist to blame. And if it’s not a coming out album, it is possibly a coming-of-age one, a record of someone learning to be honest with himself, more at ease in his own skin. Its key song is Grow As We Go, about individuals changing, together.

So is he more comfortable now that he’s playing and being himself? “Totally,” he says, although he still keeps some anti-anxiety pills for airline travel. Performing these songs, from his own heart, in his own voice, is frightening, he says, but liberating. “It’s scarier and a bit more exposing, but also a lot freer,” he says. “I feel not beholden to anyone, which is really nice.”



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