Ben Platt: The joy of seeing people relate and respond to my music really outweighed any anxiety or fear I had
Ben Platt showed off his vocal talents in Pitch Perfect, was lauded for his leading stage role on Broadway and has now released his debut solo album, Sing To Me Instead. The US star talks with Kerri-Ann Roper about writing parts of his album in London and his love of Harry Potter movies
Ben Platt is one of those people who's good at everything. He conquered Broadway with award-winning performances in Dear Evan Hansen, for which he won a Tony award, and starred in two instalments of the Pitch Perfect films.
Browsing through his Instagram page is like taking a digital stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It features pictures of him with A-list stars such as Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman, Kate Hudson and more, all of them fans of his work.
So, it's comforting to hear the vivacious 25-year-old American star confess there's something he's not particularly good at - team sports.
"I'm horrible at them, absolutely terrible," he tells me down the phone.
"I can run and cycle and do athletic stuff where it's just on me to get healthy and all that, but I crack under the pressure when it comes to team sports."
It's perhaps fitting, then, that his latest project is a solo one.
He's swapped the bright lights of Broadway to record and release his first solo album, Sing To Me Instead.
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The venture came about while he was recording the music for Dear Evan Hansen with Atlantic Records.
"Serendipitously, while that (an album) was being suggested, I was also moving into a new apartment in New York that finally had room for me to have my own piano, which I hadn't had since I had been living at home with my parents," he says.
"I started tinkering and trying earnestly for the first time to write songs from my own perspective and in my own style - and I liked the things that were coming out.
"I shared them with the folks at Atlantic and we kind of went from there."
The end product is an album of 12 co-written songs.
"I think it was all about figuring out the balance between not throwing out all the skills, tactics and abilities I've learnt over time as an actor and performer of musical theatre - just for the sake of throwing them out - but also not leaning on them to the point where I couldn't listen to my gut and instinct and be as organic and authentic as possible," he says.
"It was trying to combine that background with this new goal of sharing purely just myself, rather than focusing on transforming into or disguising (myself) as something else to convey someone else's message."
Having voiced characters on stage and on screen, you have to wonder if Ben felt nervous about sharing his own voice in his music.
"It was scarier in anticipation just because I had never done it before and it was brand new territory," he says.
"It's such a lovely safety net to do pieces as an actor because you know you're sharing your abilities and your emotions, but it's a separation because there's no real sacrifice. You're not saying 'I endorse any of these things' or 'this is what I feel', so I think in concept it was (worrying).
"But having ripped the Band-Aid off when we put the first few songs out, I think the joy of seeing people relate and respond to it really outweighed any anxiety or fear I had. Now I'm just anxious to keep doing it."
When we speak, it's the day after Ben appeared in front of an audience at the Cambridge Union to talk to students.
"It was great. It was slightly intimidating because it's a very hallowed place and everybody was very intelligent, but it was really fun and the kids were lovely and asked very insightful questions," he says.
He spent a month in London writing the album, and three of the songs he wrote during his stay feature on it.
"I loved all the time I got to spend there," he says.
The visit also allowed the actor and singer to indulge two of his biggest passions - the theatre and Harry Potter.
"I grew up going to see theatre and I flew to London when the Harry Potter play opened a few years ago," he says.
"Harry Potter and theatre are two of my greatest passions, so when they combined, I could not be stopped."
He's also a big fan of Wagamama and spends most of his London visits taking in as much theatre as he can.
Which brings us back to his other love of music and his album, which he says was also a chance for him to show fans a new side of himself.
He explains: "I think that I've been fortunate to play a lot of characters that are very much in the same family, which is sort of this social outcast - a very anxious and somewhat nerdy and introverted guy.
"I think there are certainly pieces of me in that, but it isn't who I am.
"I think up until this point that's the only persona I've really had the ability to identify with because that's the only persona that's been a public one.
"To get to share more of the nuances of who I am and the other pieces of me and the more complicated bits that are not just this dork, really made me feel very fulfilled in a new way."
Last year he collaborated with Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda on the song Found/Tonight, which was a mash-up of The Story of Tonight from Hamilton and the song You Will Be Found from Dear Evan Hansen.
All proceeds from the song went to March for Our Lives, the rally held to protest against gun violence in the US.
Platt is full of praise for Miranda. "He really started to bridge the gap between musical theatre and popular music with Hamilton," he says.
"The roaring success of that really set the stage for Dear Evan Hansen and The Greatest Showman and all of these other things that have started to close that gap, which is something I've been really hoping would happen.
"It harks back to the Sixties and a time when the number one songs on the radio were the songs from the musicals.
"I'm very happy that the stigma around anything that has something to do with theatre being too earnest or too vulnerable is going away and I think he's a big leader in that.
"I was really honoured he asked me to collaborate on that song with him for March for Our Lives.
"Gun control is something that I'm very passionate about and something every American should be passionate about at the moment.
"To get to work with him... as an artist, it was really great and to get to do it for something like that felt like a very special opportunity."
- Ben Platt's debut album, Sing To Me Instead, is out now