passion projects

Ben Platt talks new tour, the need for queer artists, plus an update on “The Politician” season 3

Photo: Vince Aung

Ben Platt’s resume is as impressive as it is diverse. A seasoned musical theater actor, he’s appeared in some of the biggest regional and touring productions in the country, and has twice graced the Broadway stage. In 2014, he replaced Andrew Rannells in The Book of Mormon, and in 2016 he originated the lead role in Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen, earning a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical.

Lately, he’s been popping up more in film and television, including Ryan Murphy‘s The Politician, for which he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy.

On top of all that, he’s put out two, original studio albums — Sing to Me Instead in 2019, and Reverie in 2021. Now he’s embarking on his second national tour, and he says there’s nothing quite like getting up on stage to perform his own music. The tour runs through October 7 — check for upcoming dates here.

We caught up with him to chat about the tour, the importance of being out as an artist, and if we can ever expect details about The Politician season three.

QUEERTY: Hey Ben! What are you most looking forward to about getting back in front of a live audience?

PLATT: I think that why I’m in any of this in the first place comes from how much I love to perform live. I haven’t gotten to do it for almost three years, so I’m really hankering to getting back to feeling like I’m myself. I also think that post-pandemic, one of the very few experiences that remain untouched, aside from a mask here or there, is the experience of live performance. There’s no way to replicate or replace the experience of seeing something live, and I’m really excited to get back to something that feels pure in that way.

Do you feel like you’re most “yourself” up on stage?

For sure. I would say up until three years ago, my answer would have been “unequivocally — that’s the only place I feel entirely myself.” Now I would just add an addendum of onstage, but also when I’m with my partner Noah [Galvin].

There must be such a difference between what you’re doing now — performing as yourself and singing your own music — as opposed to in character as part of a production. Do you find one more challenging, or more rewarding, than the other?

They’re rewarding in different ways. It’s very satisfying, as someone who’s very Type A, who really enjoys routine, to do a musical and be a cog in a larger wheel, and be in service of somebody else’s message and story — to kind of get to disappear into a character. There’s a lot of freedom in that. But I do think that given the filterlessness of performing my own music as myself, and the direct connection that affords with the audience, the fact that there really is no separation between them and me, I think there’s sometimes even greater reward because it feels like it’s coming entirely from me. It’s also a little more frightening!

Is there an overall theme to your new tour that might set it apart from the previous one?

Yeah, during the first tour I was very focused on introducing myself in terms of it being the first time I’d stepped away from being in other people’s shows. So I was expressing my point of view and perspective and sharing stories about who I am. That’s not to say this show won’t have moments of that, but this time feels a lot more celebratory. It’ll be a joyful and escapist experience, and less emotionally wrought.

You say you like a good routine — are there any pre-show rituals you’ve found that get you in the right headspace?

I do a FaceTime with my voice teacher, Liz Caplan, before every show. I’ve been working with her ever since in was in The Book of Mormon — we’ve been on a long journey together. We do a vocal warmup but she’s also like, a pseudo energy healer — she’s just a very calming presence. There’s a lot of breathing and body work we do to feel centered and always start from the same status quo. I also like to eat a lot of protein before a show.

Need that energy.

Exactly, and I usually drink some ginger tea with Manuka honey and then I’m good.

How would you describe your fans who come out to see your shows?

Well God willing, largely queer. That’s what happened last time and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. I do think that whether or not I outwardly discuss or name the queerness of the music, it’s very inherent in it. It’s hopefully not an exclusive experience, there’s a way for everyone to connect with it. But I think it’s something queer people can especially connect and commune with, and I really enjoy getting to do that with them live. And then it’s anyone who isn’t afraid of unabashed earnestness. I hope to be a lot of things, but apathetic has never been one of them.

It’s not your brand!

It’s not my brand, it’s just not who I am. I think a lot of pop music is dependent on that, that attitude. And I certainly love that as a consumer, too, and am a fan of others. But that’s not me, and it’s what I’ve loved about my fans. They don’t ever ask me to be anything other than myself, and I’m very straightforward and earnest.

I’m curious to hear more about the inherent queerness in your work you mentioned. I read that you were out to your friends and family from a fairly early age, but then in 2019 when you released the video for “Ease my Mind,” it was part of a bigger, public ‘coming out’ moment. Since then, how does your queer identity come through in your work?

Well I think that was almost a secondary reaction. For me, the big thing about sharing my music for the first time was also sharing my own perspective for the first time. And that was a pretty scary, new landscape. But most of the relationships I was writing about were queer relationships, so it was just part of my story and it wasn’t necessarily a decision of “this is going to be my opportunity to talk about being gay.” It just kind of came along with it.

I already think we’re in a different place than we were three years ago, but it still does seem to require an acknowledgement. So I didn’t want to avoid that, because I’d never want to give the impression that there’s any kind of shame in it, I certainly don’t feel any. I wanted to make sure that people were going to feel represented, so for that reason I kind of allowed articles to be that “announcement.”

But I do feel, then and now, that the most powerful thing is to allow it to be the assumed reality and make it part of my music the way that it authentically is — the pronouns, the people I’m writing about, even about my relationship with Noah. Just live as openly and authentically as I can. I can appreciate the reluctance for artist to put themselves in a box, but I do think we’re still in a place where saying that you’re queer is still a really powerful thing, and a necessary thing.

Amen. So now that you’ve brought up Noah a couple of times, can you tell us about Theater Camp, the film you’ve been working on together?

Yeah! We just shot it in June with our two best friends, Molly Gordon (Book Smart, Winning Time) and Nick Lieberman, who’s directed all of my music videos including “Ease my Mind.” It’s based on a short that we made in 2017 and put out in 2020, about the staff at a theater camp in upstate New York fighting to keep it afloat. It was our many-years passion project. It’s the first time Noah and I have gotten the chance to work together properly, which was wonderful.

That’s great. So we loved Ryan Murphy’s The Politician so much, and you are fantastic in it. Any information you can share about if or when season three will come around? Details seem hard to come by.

I wish! It’s kind of been radio silence. The last I heard is Ryan wanted us to get a little bit older so for all I know, it could still come back around. As of now I’ve heard no rumblings, but I love it as much as you.

Photo: Netflix

One last thing, since you mentioned Ryan waiting for you guys to get a little older. Another project you’re working on, which sounds so mind-boggling to be a part of, is Richard Linklater’s film adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical, Merrily We Roll Along. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that it’s going to be shot over 20 years. Have you started filming, and how do you feel about the fact that you’re going to be in your 40s by the time you wrap?

It’s very hard to grasp. It’s such a passion project for all involved, and a big leap of faith each time we do a sequence that we’ll keep trucking along. We’ve only shot the first sequence, but its an iconic piece and anything having to do with Sondheim I consider to be a honor to be part of. My costar Beanie [Feldstein] (Ladybird, Booksmart, American Crime Story: Impeachment) is one of my best friends in the world. It gives us an opportunity to meet up every couple of years and work together — not that we’re not hanging out in between, but it keeps us on each other’s calendars in a really great way.

It’s a really beautiful idea, and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to solve some of the issues that that show has had in many iterations. It should be really emotionally powerful to watch the dissolution of a friendship happen in real time. But it’s still a lot of unknowns! As you said I’ll be in my 40s theoretically when we’ll be finished. So it’s one leap at a time.

Wild. Well thank you so much for chatting, and good luck with the tour and everything else you have going on!

Ben Platt is currently on tour through October 7 — head here for more info.

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