When Dear Evan Hansen premiered on Broadway in 2016, it was immediately lauded for its raw portrayal of an anxious teenager (Ben Platt) who becomes a social media celebrity after misrepresenting his role in a tragic local teen suicide. Now, six Tony Awards later, the Stephen Chbosky-directed film adaption aims to expand upon the conversation about mental health in young people.
At its core, the film is about the human capacity to handle grief and how some people often respond to tragic events by making the aftermath all about them — as is the case with Evan, who invents a role in a tragedy he did not earn.
Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment, Chbosky, Platt and the cast explain how the film changed parts of the musical to address critics of the stage show and the adolescent mental health crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and why stories like this are vital in helping to end mental health stigma.
"Mental health is a very important subject and it can’t be glossed over," Chbosky explains. In fact, he says the creative team consulted with several mental organizations like the Jed Foundation in efforts to make the characters' struggles as authentic and relatable as possible.
"They saw the film, they had absolute veto power," Chbosky continues. "'You want the shot cut? It’s out.' We wanted it to be authentic because we wanted to be part of the solution."
Platt, who won a Tony for his star-making performance on Broadway, adds that while shooting the film created more "intimate" moments than the stage version, it was bitter sweet saying goodbye to the character that shot him to superstardom.
"As soon as we hit that last cut and it was over, I was obviously very emotional," he explains. "But," he adds, "I did feel such a weight lifted and such a relief because I really had felt like I did everything I could do and I’d laid it all out and I was really fully ready to say goodbye to Evan."
The film's themes are echoed by characters like Alana Beck (Amandla Stenberg), Evan's diligent friend and classmate who is dealing with her own depression and anxiety, which fuel her obsession with making good grades and being involved in extracurricular activities to help boost her collegiate chances.
"All of those things are things I can deeply relate to," Stenberg says, adding, "I do wish I could have had conversations around mental health when I was younger because I maybe would have avoided a kind of painful path to arrive to the ways in which I have help in my life now.
Stenberg explains that she has another connection her character. "I’m on the exact same medication and dosage as Alana," she says. "And so when I read that on the page, I was like, 'Hmm, that’s funny.'"
The film, which was shot under very strict COVID protocols that required actors to wear masks at all times when they weren't performing, prompted a new sense of community, explains Amy Adams, who plays the mother of Connor, a high school outcast who dies by suicide, and whom Evan invents a fictional friendship with.
"The connectivity we were able to create on set was something I understood to be very special that maybe I would have taken for granted before," says Adams. "That connectivity and human connection was something I was really grateful for at the time."
Stenberg hopes the film can help audiences know that "it’s normal to struggle with mental illness and it's normal to receive help for it and its normal to get the services you need."
"We wanted to go about inspiring young people and helping them after this horrible year and a half that we all lived through," Chbosky adds of the film. "Considering what people have been through and their relationship to [phone/computer] screens in general ... they’re gong to find a lot of solace in this [film]."
Dear Evan Hansen is set to be released exclusively in theaters on Friday.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
—Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jason Fitzpatrick