RYAN MURPHY and Brad Falchuk, creators of Glee, Scream Queens and American Horror Story, bring us another delicious feast for the eye, with everyone looking like they have stepped out of a Vanity Fair magazine in the satirical and soapie-flavoured series, The Politician.
The show not only has some hilarious nods to other politically-themed shows, but to real life politics too, with some great deadpan lines making it a delight to watch. While it is sumptuous, camp and witty, the story of Payton Hobart (played by Ben Platt) ‒ the wealthy adopted son of Gwyneth Paltrow and Bob Balaban’s characters ‒ and his deep burning quest from childhood to become president explores the interesting themes and conflicting issues of morals, love and ambition, and how we are, in Ben’s words, ‘all politicians’ in how we present ourselves to the world.
people got to meet the talented and personable Tony award winner Ben Platt, to chat about his role.
What drew you to this role and what did you most enjoy about playing it?
Ben Platt: Ryan [Murphy] pitched me the part in the show after he’d seen Dear Evan Hansen, which is a musical I was doing in New York where I played a rather anxious, sort of shy character. And I think what attracted me most, other than that it was a Ryan Murphy piece and it was brilliant, was that I was going to get to play a character that really took up space and that stood up straight and was assertive and confident and self-serving and a little bit egomaniacal ‒ just someone a lot farther from myself and someone that I hadn’t experimented with playing before, and I think it scared me, in a good way. I got the good stomach flip when he was talking about it ‒ just the opportunity to play a character that was layered and really nuanced and had a lot of different colours on camera, which I really haven’t had the opportunity to do.
What I enjoyed the most in the actual playing was probably the cast. We ended up having such a beautiful little family and particularly since there were so many of us in the same age range we became really very close. And because I’m playing at the centre of the story, I get to experience everybody’s storylines and have relationships with everyone. You know, have a very intense, tender moment with David Corenswet (who plays River) on one day and then be at each other’s throats with Lucy Boynton the next day; then have Zoey Deutch be absolutely ridiculous and brilliant the next day. We were able to form a family on this. I think it’s rare, particularly with such a big cast and also a cast that’s performing in such a disparate way. There’s not a lot of material that includes everyone for it to feel like a unified front. I really took it upon myself, since I was a producer as well, to make it feel like a unified family. So we found all the opportunities we could to spend time together outside of the work and when we were first getting to know each other, so it could feel like we were all making the same piece. And I think that’s reflected.
Were there people you drew inspiration from – like for instance, politicians, famous people, such as people in Hollywood – for the egomaniacal, ruthless side of your character?
Ben Platt: Totally. I watched a lot of general speeches. I didn’t want to pick one particular politician because I think [Payton] is definitely his own creature. But I’ve watched a lot of people – how they command rooms and what the go-to gesticulations are when they’re trying to appear authoritative, and then how they ride the line of authenticity and inauthenticity. I grew up in LA and so my father’s in the [movie] business, and I’ve been around a lot of schmoozing and a lot of people putting on versions of themselves. So I just thought back to who are the most powerful people I’ve met who really have it down, the way they present themselves – where they can make it feel as organic as possible but you know that it’s curated and edited.
What would you like audiences to take away from the show? It obviously aims to entertain but there are themes that are relevant to today’s world.
Ben Platt: I always come back to the way in which we all present ourselves, how we are all politicians in the sense that we are editing the way that we’re being viewed, and the way that we’re being perceived, in order to get what we want, or to appear in a certain way to someone to achieve something; and just knowing that’s not a unique experience. Everybody is grappling with the balancing act of that, how honestly to show yourself and when it’s appropriate to put your best foot forward and to curate your image. And I also think just the concept that no one is entirely good and no one is entirely bad. You can’t take everyone at face value; everyone has three dimensions and the people you might consider to be the villains are a lot more complicated than that, and vice versa. I think the people who appear like they’re these angelic, blameless characters also have just as much complication and interest. And hopefully by the end you realise that there’s something that unifies all of them.
Theo Germaine, who plays one of your advisors, looks like activist Emma Gonzalez, survivor of the Parkland shooting, and it makes you see how the show touches on young people becoming activists – Moving into a new era of saying, “we’re not going to stand for this, we’re going to change things.”
Ben Platt: Hundred percent. I think Cameron Kasky [Parkland school activist] was a big inspiration to me in cracking the Payton character because he’s an eloquent, very intelligent, politically-minded actual 18-year-old. So that was very inspiring to see. But certainly I think the show presents young people as fully formed, complex human beings with valid problems and valid emotions. Obviously it pokes fun at their wealth and privilege but I think young people like to see themselves reflected as complicated as they are and as they feel, and taken seriously. I think we’re seeing more and more of their involvement, and that’s going to be the key to things turning the right direction and the tide turning in a positive way.
Your character worries a lot about not being able to feel things, but he does – For his mom and River, for example. Are these themes continued and explored?
Ben Platt: Yes, the major journey that you are following is Payton’s, and I think that the grandest question that he is trying to figure out is there is a way to be self-serving and ambitious and achieve goals, and also considerate and empathetic and in touch with other people’s emotions. And I think he experiences both sides of the spectrum throughout the season and accomplishes things he’s been dying to do but has trouble feeling anything for them or feels that he finally gets in touch and connects but then feels that he’s lost his drive and his ambition. So it’s all about, can he find that balance and what is the authentic him? Is it the authentic inclination to be blindly ambitious and let everything fall by the wayside, or is the true voice trying to get out the one that’s saying, “Be a kinder, more connected person.”
Do you think the politics of today has played a big part in the creation of The Politician? Is it a product of its time?
Ben Platt: Certainly. I think Ryan’s always very conscious of portraying a world that he wants to see. In the sense that it’s incredibly liberal socially and in the way that it discusses gender identity and sexual identity and gun control and the way that he crafts incredible female characters. I just think he’s perpetuating all of these really positive messages that are ripped from headlines and such but in such a digestible, sardonic, delicious way, particularly for young people. It’s the best way to deliver it to them.
What was it like acting with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Lange?
Ben Platt: Gwyneth was wonderful, because I think of her as such a larger than life figure, whose glamorous. And she certainly is when she walks into a room. But she made me feel incredibly equal with her and intimately close, and felt very maternal and protective. I think that was very important for that relationship with Payton and his mother – for it to feel as warm and lived-in as possible, and she made that very easy. Jessica Lange is absolutely spectacular to watch. I think of her first and foremost as a dramatic actress because she is. She is also hilariously hysterical, really funny. To the point where I ruined much of her material. She had some improvs that didn’t make the show simply because I ruined all of them! But it was a masterclass.
The Politician is currently streaming on Netflix.
- Ben Platt
- Jessica Lange
- Gwyneth Paltrow
- Bette Midler
- Zoey Deutch
- Lucy Boynton
- Bob Balaban
- Judith Light
- David Corenswet
- Julia Schlaepfer
- Laura Dreyfuss
- Theo Germaine
- Rahne Jones
- Benjamin Barrett