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Ben Platt on Making an Album About Queer Love and How a Hike With Chocolate Mushrooms Helped

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On a hike with his snacks of choice — his fiancé Noah Galvin and chocolate mushrooms — Ben Platt saw the light.

“I was feeling really joyful and really present with [Noah] and I think he could really sense that. We were having one of those deep talks on our walk and he was asking me to describe what was allowing me to feel that way, and I started to talk about what it feels like to be in our relationship and my love for him and I started to envision a physical manifestation of what it might look like inside my head,” Platt tells The Hollywood Reporter

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“Because I am super anxiety prone and a very stressed person generally, I imagine there’s lots of jagged edges and lots of sharp things poking out and prodding, and when I envision what love does, it doesn’t necessarily make those things disappear or replace them. Those are still realities, but it softens everything and coats everything in something a little bit sweeter and easier to handle,” he continues. “And it led me to this feeling and vision of honey kind of coating everything.”

In Nashville, where he wrote most of his new album, Platt composed a track called “Honeymind” with Sam Roman and Michael Pollack, who recently won a Grammy for his work on Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers.”

“When it came time to pick an album title, I felt like it really encapsulated the whole energy of the body of work,” the singer explains.

Noah Galvin and Ben Platt Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Honeymind, out May 31, sounds like a celebration and tribute to queer love and to Galvin, who Platt calls “such a muse to me.” Platt started recording the album in spring 2022 and Dave Cobb — best known for his Grammy-winning work with Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell — produced the 13-track set. Platt co-wrote each song and was joined by a starry team of writers, including upcoming Songwriter Hall of Famer Hillary Lindsey, Alex Hope, Natalie Hemby, Laura Veltz, Ilsey Juber, Sammy Witte, Jimmy Ribbons, Ross Copperman and Brandy Clark, who appears on the track “Treehouse.”

“Immediately, I could tell within 10 minutes we were going to be really close,” Cobb tells THR. “We just jumped right into it. It was very brave on his behalf. He didn’t get to know me yet but he walked in and everyone was in this joyous spirit. He brought such incredible songs; he’d sent me some iPhone demos, [and] it felt like we were making something that was really honest and true to him. He really put whatever he was feeling and emoting and believed in on the record. You can hear it in the lyrics. You feel like you’re hearing what he thinks almost with the lyrics.”

The confessional and organic album — most of the songs built around one take in the studio — is a departure for Platt, who takes on a folkier, Americana sound for the project. He’ll perform the new music during his concert residency at Broadway’s Palace Theatre from May 28 to June 15, and three days later he’ll launch The Honeymind Tour.

In an interview, the Emmy, Tony and Grammy winner talks about singing proudly about queer love, how he wished he had an album like this as a teen, wanting to play Paul Simon in a biopic and losing out on a role for Lena Dunham’s Girls years ago.

Ben Platt’s Honeymind Interscope Records

It is so clear that you’re in love and I feel like this album is almost like you shouting out how much you’re in love. What’s it feel like to be able to share so much of how you’re feeling in these songs?

It’s wonderful. It feels multifaceted. Noah gives me so much as my partner, and my most authentic way of communicating or expressing my thanks or what he does for me is in music, and so it hopefully expresses to him what it means to me. In terms of getting to be very specific and forthright and celebratory about a queer relationship and the complexity of it and the joy of it and the romance of it — I think is something I feel really proud and happy about.

We have a lot of amazing artists like Troye Sivan and Lil Nas X and guys who are really doing amazing things, but often there can be an aggression or a sexuality forward quality to the music that I obviously love as a fan and a consumer, but is a little less authentic to me. I exist in a more earnest kind of vulnerable zone, and so I was excited to put something out that lived in that little more of an introspective romantic world, but still as expressly and openly queer, and Noah and I both really appreciate the opportunity to represent in that way.

I read that you were excited about making this album because you wish you had something similar when you were a kid, and that you “tried to imagine what Graceland or Bridge Over Troubled Water might have sounded like if Paul Simon was a fellow homo.” 

There have been wonderful versions and examples to grab onto, like the guys I mentioned and Elton John and even Brandi Carlile more recently. I think that when it comes to the specific lane of the music that I loved a lot growing up — I listen to a lot of show tunes but besides that — James Taylor, Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac, Carole King, that very Americana kind of introspective, often very earnestly romantic space. There aren’t a lot of albums I had to go to that were expressly queer. Obviously all those artists make incredibly beautiful universal music that I could connect to because it’s not exclusive in any way, but it would’ve been wonderful to have one that felt even more special for me. And I feel happy to make something that exists in that stylistic world that can be a little more specific, and generally specificity, or hopefully I guess, specificity begets universality.

“Andrew” sounds like it’s about unrequited love — what was it like writing that song? 

Definitely at its core it’s about any kind of unrequited love, and I think that everyone’s had some kind of dalliance with that. In terms of my very particular personal experience, I wrote it about when you’re a queer young person and you’re growing up, it’s sort of a rite of passage, like an inevitable experience to have a wonderful straight friend that you would develop feelings for. And in fact, Jerrod Carmichael’s reality show that just came out, his whole first episode is sort of about this phenomenon and his feelings for his best friend Tyler, the Creator, and it meant so much to me to see that reflected in that way, too.

It’s a pretty universal queer experience — it’s just a very particular kind of melancholy [situation] that is nobody’s fault and no one’s doing anything wrong; it’s just a misfire of chemicals and genes that just simply don’t match up. I hadn’t really heard a song express that particular blue melancholy.

Is Andrew the real person or just a name you chose for the song?

It really is just an amalgam name. I mean, I love the way it sang and it sort of felt like the right type of name to me. When I envision a guy like that, that’s sort of a nice moniker, but it’s definitely more so an amalgam of lots of different people.

Marc E. Platt, Ben Platt and Julie Platt Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

On “All American Queen” you sing: “Soon he’s loading his life in the back of his truck/When his pop starts crying he says, ‘Daddy, be tough!’” I wonder if you played it for your dad and what he thought?

He loves it. Once I was finished with the record, I sat down and played the whole thing for him, for both my parents, and he really responded to hearing a narrative about a queer kid that is growing up in pure joy and acceptance and not having heard that maybe in this stylistic world before and really loved that as much as I did. And a huge part of why I have the privilege of writing that or, I guess, envisioning that is because that’s definitely the upbringing that they gave me in the sense that it never was a source of anything other than just part of my identity. And he responded to it very well. He really liked it.

“Boy Who Hung the Moon” has a Sufjan Stevens vibe a little bit. What was it like putting that one together?

I really wanted to write about the sort of push and pull of lifting your partner up and needing to be lifted up by your partner. And both Noah and I have gone through phases where our self-esteem is low or something doesn’t go the way we want it to, or we’re just feeling really down on ourselves. It’s really powerful to be able to see yourself through your partner’s eyes when something like that happens.

There’s been occasions where I’ve wanted Noah to see himself the way that I see him, and so I wanted to write a song, a sort of soothing, comforting song from the perspective of someone who’s trying to lift up their partner or their friend or their love or whoever it might be, who needs to be reminded of their specialness and their power and needs a chance to see themselves through a different lens. And definitely Sufjan is a huge inspiration and an amazing artist. I just saw Illinoise, which is the dance piece that’s coming to Broadway that’s set to his album Illinois and it’s beautiful, so I appreciate the reference.

You live in Brooklyn and dating in NYC can be trash for a lot of people. You’re in love so what advice or words can you offer to those who are looking for love? 

I can only speak from my own experience and the lesson that I had to learn is just how closely related friendship and love are. When I was younger, I was searching for something that felt volatile or an ephemeral spark that’s hard to tame or that was dramatic or passionate, which isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be any of that. But when I realized that primarily the person you’re looking for is the person that you want to spend all your time with and who you want to do things with and download life with, and you want to hopefully share the same bliss and find things that bring you both joy and you want it to be someone who you’d rather go through something with than do it alone, and that’s a friend.

For me it was about realizing that you can have the foundation of a friendship or a best friendship and that romance and spark and attraction and love can grow from that and that it doesn’t need to be this kind of little spark that has to be tamed. It can really be something more thoughtful and meaningful. I think that they can exist in a closer Venn diagram.

Ben Platt and Noah Galvin Aliah Anderson/Getty Images

Have you and Noah had a chance to start planning your wedding?

Yes. We are getting married in the fall, and we are trying to do as much as we can because I head to the Palace [Theatre] for my residency and then on tour, and then we’re kind of getting really close to wedding time once that’s done, so trying to front load all the planning.

“Home of the Terrified” sounds deeply personal and is about having children in the future. What made you write that one?

There was a shooting that happened while I was in Nashville writing, and I came into the session planning to write something else, and we, Alex [Hope] and I, got to talking about it because we couldn’t help it and ended up wanting to focus more on that.

You never want it to be preachy or informational — it’s such a touchy, difficult, emotional thing. And I tried to frame it from as personal a perspective as I could because as I start to get married or get ready to get married, obviously children comes to mind and we start having these first conversations about having kids and raising them, and it’s not a decision we’ve made yet, but definitely one of the things that scares me the most is raising a child in this country in particular when it comes to obviously gun control, but also anti-queer legislation, and there’s lots of ways in which we’re not really taking care of our young people. So trying to unlock it and come at it from that way helped it to feel like more of a personal musing than a kind of statement sort of preaching song hopefully.

You’re in the upcoming Richard Linklater film Merrily We Roll Along — an adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical — with Paul Mescal and Beanie Feldstein. Have you guys already shot it? How’s that going?

We have shot, so it’s nine sequences over the course of, I think, a total of 18 years and we’ve shot two of them so far. It’s wonderful. It’s unlike anything else. Obviously it’s a very unique process and [I’ve] sort of been treating it little short films every couple of years with this wonderful group of people, where I get to kind of check back in with the same family and the same story and see how everyone’s lives have changed and see how we’ve grown and try to take it one at a time. If we look too far ahead at what the end goal is, it gets a little too overwhelming and it’s sort of like, “How are we ever going to make it there?” Just trying to take it one little sequence at a time.

Ben Platt, Paul Simon, Barry Gibb and Howard Ashman Rob Kim/Getty Images; Kevin Mazur/Getty Images; Steve Parsons – WPA Pool/Getty Images; Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

When it comes to biopics, is there a real person that you would love to play in a film?

Yes, a few. Howard Ashman was an incredible songwriter that used to write musicals with Alan Menken. He was one of his primary collaborators. He wrote a lot of the Disney musicals. He wrote Little Shop of Horrors and he was closeted and ended up dying of AIDS at a time when he couldn’t be open about it. He was such a genius and really changed the way that Disney made movies and turned them into real Broadway musicals. I’ve always been such a huge fan and lover of him and his work, and if there was ever a story about him, I’d love to do that. 

I’m a little too tall, I think, maybe to play Paul Simon, but if that could be forgiven, then of course I’d love to play Paul Simon or a Bee Gee. I recently sang for Barry Gibb at the Kennedy Center Honors and I’ve got the beard and I’ve got the chest hair and I can sing pretty high, so I’d be happy to play any of the Gibbs.

Have you had a chance to meet Paul Simon?

I have not. I’ve only seen him from a crowd a couple of times, but I’ve not shaken his hand. Definitely on the bucket list for sure.

Ben Platt Jesse Grant/Getty Images

Was there a role you really wanted that you didn’t get?

There’s been so many over the years. Honestly, one of my favorite shows is Girls, Lena Dunham’s show from years ago, and I rewatch it lots of times. And all throughout the course of that show, anytime there was a day player or a guest role or anything that even remotely resembled me or my type, I would go in and audition. And a couple of times I made it to reading it with Lena or improvising or whatever it might be. And that that’s definitely one that got away in terms of such an amazing show that I’m a fan of and culturally that I love, and I was always either a little too young or not quite right. But yeah, it definitely inspired me to want to chase after creators and shows that I love as a consumer.

You turned 30 in September and for some people it’s a huge moment and for others it’s another birthday. What was it like for you?

It sort of ended up being a larger moment than I expected, only because it coincided with so many life things coming together in the sense that my fiancé and I are engaged and getting ready to get married, and we’ve moved into our more long-term home, and I was finishing up this album, and it just felt like more of a shift in terms of the grander scheme of my life than I expected. But it was, for me, pretty positive. I feel kind of nice to be in this zone now. There were wonderful things about being in my 20s, but I also feel a little tired and happy to be a little bit older and have some new experiences that are a little more in a more contained environment. And so it was good. It felt like a properly momentous shift for 30, but a positive one.

Ben Platt Vince Aung

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