Dear Old Evan Hansen – The Casting Of Ben Platt
The year is 2027. The new E.T reboot has just come out and the leading role of Elliot is played by Danny DeVito. They put some makeup on him and give him a wig, Danny is as unrecognisable as DiCaprio in the newest Scorsese film. Around comes Oscar season and DeVito is nominated for Best Male Actor in a Leading Role. He wins. This is the future that liberals want? It’s fucking disgusting.
I’m sure you’re all wondering what I’m on about here, and as tempting as it is to just not tell and leave you worrying about my mental state, I feel generous today. Now, if you’ve spent any time at all on the internet recently then I have no doubt you’ll have seen the discourse surrounding the ages of actors on your timeline.
For the uninitiated amongst you, you may find yourself questioning why this is. The reason comes in the form of a shameless cash grab adaptation. The reason is Ben Platt.
On May 18, 2021, Universal Pictures dropped their first trailer for a new movie: Dear Evan Hansen. A movie adaptation of hit Broadway musical of the same name and of the same lead actor; it’s safe to say there were many conversations being had. The YouTube version of the trailer is doing just fine; it has plenty of views, a respectable like-to-dislike ratio, and most of the top comments expressing their love and support for the project, as if the multi-million-dollar conglomerate would be self-conscious otherwise.
However, as with most things, if you look at Twitter, things start to go to shit. There are more jokes in the comments than any kind of genuine discourse. There is more criticism than praise. It truly is the internet being the internet.
Chief among the onslaught of hate, time and time again, is the unshakable fact that Ben Platt is old. Not in a mean way, just in a ‘he in no way looks 17’ type of thing. I’m aware that there are 17-year-olds who look way older than they actually are, but there is a difference between just looking a bit old for your age and being a 27-year-old man. I can’t quite put it into words, but he has that jaded look in his eye and the wear and tear that can only ever be seen on someone who has – well, lived for 27 years.
Ultimately, Evan being played by someone 10 years his senior isn’t simply an annoying aesthetic choice but something which dramatically affects how we perceive the films narrative.
The original story of Hansen was that of a troubled teen who got in over his head. He was depressed and anxious, had no friends or anyone who understood him, was longing for a beautiful girl who never noticed him, and had a broken arm. One day at school he almost makes friends with another loser outcast, Connor Murphy, who just so happens to be the brother of said beautiful girl. But wait… it doesn’t stop there. Some whacky hijinks ensue, and Evan becomes responsible for Connor killing himself!?
Due to a confusing suicide note and overexaggerated account of their friendship, Evan accidently becomes intrinsically tied in with the Murphy family, as they believe that he’s the only person who truly knew the real Connor. Evan of course keeps on lying, hooks-up with Connor’s grieving sister and becomes somewhat popular due to losing his ‘best friend’.
People have criticised the musical for almost glorifying Evan’s actions and trying to redeem what can be seen as a horrible person who lied to a suicide victim’s family. But I feel they are missing the point. Sure, Evan did some inexcusable things over the course of his story, but at its core, he’s meant to be a grey character, his actions are pretty bad, but they’re never totally out of nowhere. He’s just fresh out of hospital with a broken arm that he got from trying to kill himself, as said he’s struggling with mental health and has no one to talk to except his therapist.
Now we cut to the movie version of Evan. Despite the fact he’s meant to be a high school senior, this is not what we see. When we look at Platt as he is now, we see mutton dressed as lamb, a man who tries to play a boy. Nay, we see a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a pathological liar who drives a man to kill himself and then takes advantage of his distraught family for pleasure and profit. He is infinitely less sympathetic.
Sure, this might be a bit of an exaggeration and manipulative, but hey, that’s journalism baby!
Even with this hyperbole though, I hope you still see my point. Film is such a collaborative artform, if even one of the aspects of it is off, the whole things risks falling apart (insert some intricate dance imagery, with a few overlayed cogs and machines). Its why great films are so hard to come by. A great script can be ruined by a poor director, amazing acting can be tarnished by weak sound mixing, and a fine story can be undone by bad casting. It doesn’t matter how well done every other aspect of the film is, if even one casting choice is off, the whole thing is unfortunately ruined.
Now, I’m not an idiot. I’m aware how the film process works and why Platt was cast. First and foremost, he’s Ben Platt – why wouldn’t he be cast? He was the star of the original musical and he’s become an even bigger one due to his work on Pitch Perfect. So obviously he’s getting the role. His name creates a buzz like no other in theatre, he has a loyal fanbase who would kiss the very ground he walked on if it weren’t for the restraining orders that have been imposed, and he’s still a great actor. I don’t doubt that he’ll give the role his all and deliver a great performance, but my beef isn’t necessarily with Ben.
It could just be my repressed trauma – that my parents never made me become a child actor, but I feel a bit bad for all the people who could have got this role. Yeah, you could be boring and safe and get in Ben Platt who you know will be good and you know will get sales, or you could get an unknown up-and-coming late teen who is hungry for that chance to prove themselves.
This kind of leads onto another reason why Platt was cast, and I guess older actors in general; that being: age = experience. Think about it, why would you cast a 16-year-old as a 16-year-old? They’ve not been acting too long, they won’t know the etiquette of being on set, they have parents who might care about them (it’s a 50/50 chance in Hollywood), they’ll have school, they have rights. Someone’s who 30 on the other hand? No such problems will occur.
I mean it’s not as though a number of young actors have played Evan on stage, some of whom could easily adapt to screen to create a more authentic experience for the movie going audience. This is Ben Platt we’re talking about people, he’s a tenor!
Ultimately though, whether it be Dear Evan Hansen, Glee, or Grease an actor’s age just isn’t as important to casting as it should be. As the audience we are told that this man is 15 and we will like it, no matter how close to death Michael Tucci was in Grease.
Forget story when it comes to Hollywood – money is king. It doesn’t matter how much it ruins the immersion, it doesn’t matter how much it changes the story or how the characters are perceived, history shows that older actors, and well-established actors are normally what makes money. Franchises like Harry Potter are exceptions to the rule, not the norm, and it doesn’t seem like that’ll be changing anytime soon. Money, sex, and nepotism is what the film industry is all about and unless we do something to change that, they sure as hell aren’t going to.
Like I said, Ben Platt isn’t a half bad guy, this isn’t his fault, he’d need to be an idiot to turn down a movie like this. My issues are just with the FAT CAT BOURGEOIS WHO ARE RUINING FILM. They take advantage of those who try to break in all the while laughing at them for being a bit fat, that is until they need yet another creep to hit on the hot female lead.
Basically, I want Hollywood to get its act together. I get it, you want money, we all do, I just think that at this point, you can start making that a lower priority. A low budget film (generally one with less than $2 million) still has more money backing it than the average Brit will make in their life, so I reckon it’s not the biggest deal anymore.
Start casting people we would normally never see on screen. Get a real teenager in, get in someone who can really relate to that character. Forget Evan Hansen, in general this is a much-needed change, and this isn’t me being woke or progressive or anything, I’m just sick of it all being the same. I’m sick of everyone looking the same, I’m sick of them all having the same privileged background, I’m sick of them all knowing someone or blowing someone, and I’m sick of people not noticing the importance of casting and age in film.