Ben Platt Wants to Let 'Dear Evan Hansen' Speak for Itself (Exclusive)

On reprising his role, controversy over his casting and a potential Oscar nomination.

Ben Platt played Evan Hansen -- the socially anxious high schooler caught up in a lie involving a letter with the titular address and the suicide of one of his classmates -- for the first time when he was 20. It would be two more years before Dear Evan Hansen made its debut on Broadway. At 23, he became the youngest solo winner of the Tony's Best Actor in a Musical prize, and the following year, he took home a GRAMMY and an Emmy too.

On the cusp of turning 28, Platt now brings Dear Evan Hansen to the big screen, reprising the role he's dedicated nearly a decade of his life to in a film adaptation that casts Julianne Moore as his mom and Amy Adams as the mother of the deceased. On Thursday, the movie had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival to polarizing (and much-tweeted about) reviews.

Ahead of its debut, ET's Lauren Zima sat down with Platt to discuss taking the role from stage to screen, what he has to say to naysayers who have criticized his casting as a high school student, and the possibility of EGOT-ing off of Dear Evan Hansen.

ET: I saw Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway and now the movie is finally coming out. I got a little emotional watching the movie, so if it hit me -- on my small scale as a viewer -- how emotional was it for you to return to this part ?

Ben Platt: Quite. I mean, I think a lot of different levels of emotion at the same time. I felt a lot of gratitude that I was having the opportunity to immortalize the role and finish the journey all the way from creating it in workshops to doing it on Broadway to being in the film. And also so much excitement that this really powerful story that affects so many people when they come see it in the theater on stage is going to get to affect such a huge number of people now that it's a film. Like, just the sheer number of lives that can hopefully be touched by it is so huge. I felt some pride. Some nerves, of course -- emotionally and mentally, returning to that character. It's kind of a difficult space to be in. Pressure of, like, creating the same performance, carrying on the legacy of the stage performance. Everything wrapped into one, but mostly just really, really excited.

Someone as accomplished as you, it's refreshing to hear you get some nerves.

Oh, some is-- Yes, I get lots of nerves!

Really? What were your nerves, especially because you know this part so well?

Totally. I think for me it's because it means so much to me. This role, obviously, and this show has really changed my life and has meant so much to me deeply, personally, so I think I felt so much pressure internally to immortalize it in the best way possible and deliver a performance that I'd be proud of forever. Since it's going to be the version that people see for so long. And just really wanting to deliver the emotional reality and the physicality and everything about the stage performance but make sure I could translate it for film and still maintain the power of it.

The Broadway Opening Night Performance of 'Dear Evan Hansen' in 2016. (WireImage)
Universal Pictures

You've had this rare experience of doing an incredible show on Broadway and now making a movie [of it]. What would you say are the biggest differences? And do you prefer one over the other?

I grew up a musical theater nerd, so I'll always love Broadway the most and performing live the most. But I think for me the biggest difference was how deeply intimate and human and close to the ground the story is on film. Obviously, in the musical, it's still very emotionally effective and played very authentically, but there is a level of theatricality, of playing to the fourth wall, of impressionistic things about the set and the music--

And the audience.

Exactly. The audience is a huge part of it. And so to do it on film, there's such a reality to it. It's a fully realized version of all these things I've seen in my head for so many years -- like, the Murphys' house and Evan's bedroom and being in the hallways at school -- just things coming to actualization for the first time. So, it was it was all about maintaining the essence of what I did on stage and the same emotional intensity of the story but keeping it as firmly planted on the ground as possible. Particularly for a musical.

You maintain it. You leave it all out there. How do you leave that at work? How do you go home at the end of the day?

In this particular instance, I had the privilege of living with Kaitlyn Dever, who plays Zoe Murphy, who is one of the most wonderful people I ever met. She and I lived together through the whole filming, which was during the early days of COVID so it was quite an isolated experience in terms of all of the protocols and all of the testing and living apart and not being able to go anywhere. So, for me it was about getting to come home to Kaitlyn every night after we would finish shooting and we watched Love Island and we'd order in Seamless and be humans again. To have that, like, little bit of family to look forward to every night got us through the more emotionally difficult days.

Love Island might be the exact opposite of Dear Evan Hansen.

Exactly. When I used to come home from the show every night when I was doing it eight times a week on Broadway, I would watch, like, Parks and Recreation. So this time, the snap-out-of-it show was Love Island.

The British version?

Of course! Only U.K.

You take on those accents?

Exactly! They're fascinating.

That's your next role. Love Island: The Movie.

Yes. I'll play a Scouser.

You really transformed for Evan. It had been a couple years since you played him, tell me what you went through. I heard you grew your hair out and--

Yeah, I just wanted to bring him as close to what I had in my mind as possible. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I am who I am, he is who he is and there's only so much I can do. It was more about wanting to feel like somebody different for the performance more so than wanting to look a certain way for the screen. So, I grew my hair out and let it get as Jew-y and curly as I possibly could. I lost about 15 pounds. I shaved my face like three times a day because my hair grows really fast. I shaved my arms too. Anything that I could do to get in touch with that kind of smaller, meeker, younger, awkward, too nervous to eat too much kind of a guy who wants to stay shrouded and small.

I'm seeing you with a very impressive beard now.

Thank you very much. I always say God gave me no physical hand-eye coordination, no sports ability, but I can grow a really good beard. So, I'll take it.

I can't see anyone in this role other than you. You workshopped it, you created it and I'm so incredibly excited for everybody to see the movie. There were some comments about your casting. What do you have to say about all that now, just to leave it on a final note and be excited for the movie to come out?

I would just say I'm really excited for the work to speak for itself, and I feel so grateful that the director and the studio asked me to do it and they trusted me to finish the journey with the character that I've created. And I would say that it happens a lot in film, that people are playing younger -- especially high school films -- and I'm excited for people to see the movie. I think that the movie will speak for itself.

I mean, I think we had 35-year-olds playing high schoolers in Grease.

Yeah, it's not a new thing.

We do have a new thing in [casting] Julianne Moore and Amy Adams. Tell me your reaction when you heard that these women had signed on to play these mother roles.

Very surreal. They're both veterans. They're both icons. Like, it's an embarrassment of riches, an embarrassment of mom riches. They were both extraordinary. I mean, I knew they'd be so gifted as actors, and they kept everything so honest and real. The grief that Amy carries throughout the whole movie just underneath her performance is so subtle and understated but so painful and so real. And then Julie just feels like salt of the earth, like blue collar, the single mother, just so real and dropped in. I expected all of that. But what was so inspiring to me was working with them every day and having them feel so kind of silly, so human, so excited to be there, so much respect and gratitude for the work even still after hundreds of iconic films from both of them. I feel like, God willing, if I'm able to continue to work and I ever get to the point in my career that they're at, I can only hope that I'll have that same gratitude and excitement and appreciation for the everyday that they have.

I mean, you have Julianne Moore singing to you.

It was insane. One of the most special moments for me shooting was that moment, because for many of the people in the film, it's a new experience to be singing on camera. So to be there and to be able to squeeze her hands and do that whole experience with her and help her feel comfortable doing that -- because obviously singing is something that I'm very comfortable doing -- that was very special to see somebody who's so brilliant and such a veteran still trying new things. It was really inspiring.

Any advice from either of them that you walked away with?

I think just not to take things too seriously that don't need to be taken too seriously. Obviously, the work should always be taken seriously and should be handled with respect, but I think letting things fall off your back and taking each day as it comes and not getting too mired in the minutiae I think I would take away from them.

There are some changes from the musical to movie. Talk to me a little bit about why those changes were made and are there any songs you're missing? Or how do you feel about the different ending?

I think that the creative team -- the writers, particularly Steven Levenson who did the screenplay [and] who also wrote the book for the musical -- did an incredibly beautiful job of maintaining all of the essence of the musical, everything about the feeling of it, the story of it, the characters, and then taking this opportunity of adaptation to further invest and elaborate and give new texture to things that were missing a little bit in the musical. I think the musical is fantastic and works beautifully, but I think for film, there are certain areas where we want a little bit more.

For example, we get much more of the character of Alana. We get a sense of really who she is and what her mental health struggle is and why she and Evan become friends in the first place and where that connection comes from. Which makes the unfolding -- I won't give it away, but all of the stuff that goes wrong -- so much more heartbreaking now that we know why they're so close. And additionally, I think because of the virtue of how much time you can really spend in a musical on stage, there's not a ton in the end of the piece about how Evan moves forward, how he heals, how he evolves. We get the one lovely scene in the orchard, but we don't get as much of a full visual representation of how he grows from the mistake and tries to do good. So, to see that in the film I think is my favorite, favorite change.

So, if I have this right, you've won a Tony, a GRAMMY and an Emmy for Dear Evan Hansen. An Oscar? What do you think?

I think that would be great. I also think the fact that I even got to do it and that so many people are going to see it and that it's going to exist now to show, God willing, my children someday, that's the greatest. So anything that happens after that is like little cherries on top. So, of course, one day would be great. But you know, I have to keep that in the rearview.

How will you react if you become an EGOT?

I'll probably have a really nice meal with my boyfriend, Noah [Galvin], and hug my family and then move on to the next project.

Dear Evan Hansen is in theaters on Sept. 24.