Interview: Ben Platt on Netflix Concert Film, The Politician, and Recording Music on Zoom
Platt's Radio City Music Hall show comes to Netflix today.
It's a banner moment for Dear Evan Hansen Tony winner Ben Platt. Today, May 20, Netflix debuts his concert film, Ben Platt Live From Radio City Music Hall. June 19 marks the release of season two of Netflix's The Politician, in which his politically inclined character will face off against Judith Light and Bette Midler. And Platt is still recording and releasing music while holed up in Los Angeles. Here, he tells us about all of his forthcoming projects.
What was going through your mind when you walked out on stage at Radio City Music Hall and saw the sold-out crowd?
It felt like an arrival, like the culmination of a lot of things. So many different factors from over the 10 or 12 years I've been working as an actor and a singer came together at once and it was a little overwhelming, especially at a space that I associate with the Tonys. It's such a sacred room. It felt like I was in the right place at the right time, and it's really where I really wanted to be. On top of that, it was kind of like a Bart Mitzvah, because my family and all of my friends from different walks of life — Evan Hansen and high school and The Politician — came together in that one show. I'm so grateful there's this fantastic home video of it now.
Was the idea of playing Radio City terrifying, or were you all in from the start?
It was only terrifying in a good way. It never scared me to the point that I didn't want to do it, but it gave me the right kind of butterflies, the kind that make you want to chase after it. It felt like the right next challenge, because I had just done the tour, with stops at places like the Beacon, and each of those steps felt scary in a good way and really prepared me to take on this room. But certainly, the day of, it was very scary to walk into the theater and think that I'm not here as part of some larger telecast, I'm here to play my own show.
How did you come to work with Alex Timbers as director of the concert film?
I wanted him from the start. I love his work on stage and how he make things on stage work on camera. I love his David Byrne piece [American Utopia], I love his John Mulaney special [Kid Gorgeous], I love Moulin Rouge! He creates such great evenings and experiences. I knew I wanted someone who had that crossover of live theater and can make it feel intimate on camera. He was very enthusiastic and protected my vision and didn't want to mess with the live experience in any way. He just wanted to make sure it was filmed in the right way. He did a fantastic job.
Was the Radio City show very different from the tour before it?
We upped the production a little bit to fit the space in the practical sense. It's a little bit bigger, and there are a few more lights. I got an extra string player. More so, it was having to earn our place in such an amazing venue and rise to the occasion of playing of Radio City that added a new energy to the show. It was very purposeful that we did the tour before this show, because we really honed the show and figured out exactly how it should flow and what stories I should tell. We had such a solid foundation that I was able to go out and fly, instead of having to worry about specifics.
Who was your choreographer and how were your dance moves developed?
There actually was no choreographer. I knew that I wanted to dance in the way that I dance when I'm out with my friends. I wanted it to seem like we were all dancing together, so there was no plan for the choreographed moments. In rehearsals over time, the amazing backup vocalists and I found these moments where we all just naturally wanted to move together, so we leaned into those. I don't ever get to dance or move as myself, so I'm excited for people to get to see that aspect of it.
Your show The Politician comes back June 19. Were you affected by the Covid shutdown and what can we expect from this season?
We shot it from October through about February, and luckily, we got in under the wire. There was one outstanding scene left to do, and that's been turned into a very Covid-like FaceTime scene that worked really, really well.
This season is all about going head to head with Judith Light's character in a senate race for New York. It's all about Manhattan, and the aesthetic of the show is much more East Coast. It's gotten more adult and sharper and focused, because the kids are in their twenties and it's a real political race.
On top of all that, Bette Midler and Judith Light are giving incredible performances. Judith is always spectacular, but it's really special to see Bette Midler give this all-in comedic performance on screen. It's been a minute since we've gotten to see her do that and she's every bit as good as she always has been. There is one musical moment in the show and both Bette and Judith are there. Singing with them present was really special.
You're still putting out new music. What is it like to write songs over Zoom and FaceTime?
It's really tough. It took a while to get used to. There's so much that you miss in terms of the in-person energy and the vibing with people and hearing the nuances of the sound that people are making. I found I can't do it with new collaborators. I've tried a few times and it's too arduous. But if you have an existing dynamic with someone you're already comfortable with, it's not so difficult to translate that to FaceTime. It's a learning curve, for sure, but we adjust and hopefully music is one of the few things we can get done in this time.
I just put out a song that Finneas produced that we wrote over Zoom. Naturally, when we get on these sessions, we make something that speaks to the moment now. But I'm trying to write things that will live beyond this. As we all must have faith in, this is temporary and it will pass, so I'm trying to write songs that will live on.