By David Hochman By David Hochman | October 1, 2019 | People Feature Covers
Is there anything golden guy Ben Platt can’t do? This fall, the Tony-winning actor-singer takes on TV in Ryan Murphy’s Netflix jest fest, The Politician.
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Ben Platt is running fashionable circles around the rest of us. The stylists, photographers and photo assistants gathered for this cover shoot had slotted half a day to capture the actor in a variety of fashionable looks, but Platt pumps out the entire session in less than two hours, and the room is cheering his playful charm and work ethic by the end.
Back in a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers in the dressing room at Smashbox Studios in Culver City, Calif., Platt is rolling through stories and candid aha moments as if our interview is a speed date. Five minutes in and we’ve already covered his passion for SoulCycle (“It’s dark in there, so all those moms can’t really watch and judge me,” he says), the sleight of hand he learned to portray a misfit illusionist in the Pitch Perfect movies (“They say you’re either born to magic or you’re not, but with me the jury’s still out”) and the time Reese Witherspoon delivered a video message at his sister’s bat mitzvah dressed as Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. “She was all, like, ‘Le cham. I mean, l’chaim,’” Platt says, allowing a second for a quick laugh.
Talking to Platt, you get a sense that there is so much he wants to do (and say and sing and joke about) that he’s somehow compressing time itself. It’s not only that he talks really fast; consider what he’s accomplished already at age 26, including earning a Tony for best actor in a musical in 2017 (he was the youngest actor ever to win that award solo) for originating the title role in Dear Evan Hansen—a performance The New York Times theater critic said was “not likely to be bettered on Broadway this season.” The part, which required Platt to belt songs through what one writer called “a nightly display of almost unbearable anguish,” made him famous and landed him on the Time 100 list of the planet’s most influential people. That followed multiple productions starting at age 9 onstage at the Hollywood Bowl opposite Kristin Chenoweth in The Music Man. At 11, Platt toured in a traveling run of the Tony Kushner musical, Caroline, or Change. He then played Elder Cunningham on Broadway in The Book of Mormon; reviewers dubbed his acting “a revelation.” As Platt puts it, “I’ve never had stage fright. I get worried in small spaces and on planes and can wake up in the middle of the night with huge anxiety, but performing is where I’m most myself and most engaged.”
Naturally, Platt is pushing ahead this year with new peaks to summit and expectations to shatter. This month he stars in a highly anticipated new Netflix comedy, which he is co-executive producing with Ryan Murphy, called The Politician, alongside Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Lange. It’s his first big television experience. Platt’s character, Payton Hobart, is an up-and-coming public servant from the golden side of Santa Barbara, Calif. “He’s known since he was a kid that he wanted to be president,” Platt says. “Each new path he chooses reveals something essential about how this guy is going to achieve greatness.”
You could say the same for Platt himself. Last spring he released his first solo album, Sing to Me Instead, and is touring the country in what he admits is the scariest role he’s brought to the stage—“I’m being me, unfiltered,” he says. “There’s no character, no script, no hiding. It’s freeing and satisfying in ways I can’t even describe.”
The album is built around 12 songs Platt cowrote that he says reflect the “ups and downs and further downs of various relationships” he’s experienced over the years. Think of it as pop balladeering meets primal scream therapy. Take a song like “Temporary Love,” which begins, “You’re afraid to meet someone ’cause you’ve been burned, you’ve been burned, you’ve been burned.”
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“All my life I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve, but this is new levels of me putting it out there,” Platt says. The videos for two of the tracks feature actor Charlie Carver as Platt’s love interest. Though Platt came out as gay to his family at age 12, it was only last year that he talked about his sexuality publicly. “I’d been open about it with anybody who ever worked with me for longer than 10 minutes,” he says. “But writing my own story, and being authentic about it, it felt strange to edit the fact out of conversations for no reason. Being real was the most natural way to go.”
Benjamin Schiff Platt was born in Los Angeles Sept. 24, 1993, and grew up in Westwood. He’s the fourth of five children to Julie and Marc Platt, the producer of Broadway shows, including Wicked, and movies such as Legally Blonde (there’s the bat mitzvah connection), Bridge of Spies and La La Land.
It would be convenient to write off Platt’s success as classic nepotism— and, yes, his dad’s industry connections certainly didn’t hurt—but the people who collaborate with him say few performers work harder. Steven Levenson, the Tony Award-winning playwright who wrote the book for Dear Evan Hansen and calls the actor a “unicorn” who is “technically perfect every time,” insists he had no idea Platt grew up in a showbiz family until a year into knowing him. “He doesn’t wear that at all,” Levenson says.
"I’ve never had stage fright. ... I can wake up in the middle of the night with huge anxiety, but performing is where I’m most myself and most engaged."
“If anything, my father didn’t want me going into the entertainment world because he knows it’s such a shitty place to work sometimes,” Platt says. “But once he saw I had the ability to back up how much I loved it, he was gung-ho. I’d be an idiot not to listen and take his advice, but he has a lot of trust in my intelligence, so we can be creative together and apart.”
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Though his parents remain in L.A., Platt now lives in New York City, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “I’m near Central Park and I am a big people-watcher,” he says. “New York is so varied per square foot that it’s endlessly fascinating, and you can’t beat being 20 minutes away from all the greatest theater.”
What you do careerwise after reaching such heights so young remains a question mark, but Platt says he’s OK to explore things as they come. He has a fantasy list of people he’d like to work with: Beyoncé, Greta Gerwig, Olivia Wilde, director Bo Burnham and “Meryl, again.” (He and Streep costarred briefly in Ricki and the Flash, “but I was so terrified of messing up my one scene that I’ve practically blanked it out.”)
The bigger challenge might be finding time for a personal life. Platt is currently single and says he finds it hard to clear the schedule for a serious relationship. “I’m dating. I’m on the apps and all that, like everybody else, but it’s tough. Ten years from now, I’d love to have some kids and a husband and a house and a magical balance of all that along with a great career, with writing, performing and collaborating. I’ll just have to sort it out.”
If anybody can do it all, Platt can—and no doubt he’ll make it happen in a fraction of the time it would take you, me or the guy holding the camera to do it.
Photography by: Photographed by MIKE ROSENTHAL; Styled by JASON REMBERT; Grooming by Melissa DeZarate at The Wall Group