Exclusive: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ director on mental health, talks movie’s message to teenagers

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Gabriella Winans

On the phone, Eagle Nation News adviser Michael Hatch speaks with Stephen Chbosky, the director of “Dear Evan Hansen.” Hatch co-hosts a podcast called “Faith Spotting,” where he discusses movies and interviews people in the film industry. “We felt a great responsibility (while filming,)” Chbosky said. “Not only to this movie, of course, but also to this industry that we love.”

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As the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie adaptation debuted Friday, Sept. 24, students had the opportunity to listen to an exclusive live interview with Eagle Nation News adviser Michael Hatch and the movie’s director, Stephen Chbosky, as a part of Hatch’s “Faith Spotting” podcast that he co-hosts with Kenny Dickson. Senior journalists Gabriella Winans and Amanda Hare had the chance to speak with Chbosky during the interview.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is based on the Broadway musical that tells the story of a high school student with social anxiety who fabricates a friendship with a deceased classmate to gain popularity. The movie stars Ben Platt as Evan Hansen, along with actors Kaitlyn Dever and Colton Ryan. The movie was filmed, edited and produced amid COVID-19 circumstances.

“The COVID element was genuinely challenging because of isolation, because of the protocols, and because we were doing everything we could to keep everybody safe,” Chbosky said. “Also, we had this massive production, and we were trying to get it done. So, if one person slips up it can derail everything.”

The movie began filming on Aug. 25, 2020, and finished in December 2020.

“We felt a great responsibility, not only to this movie, of course, but also to this industry that we love,” Chbosky said. “We were the guinea pigs. From what I was told, we were the first movie to ever start from scratch during COVID-19. We were the canary in a coal mine trying to figure it out, so we felt a great responsibility there.”

In addition to directing “Dear Evan Hansen,” Chbosky has also written and directed other productions including “Perks of Being a Wallflower” while also producing “Wonder” and the live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast.”

“In terms of ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ and the musical element, I’m a musical buff,” Chbosky said. “I’m an unabashed theater nerd. I love them. But, I’ve also seen so many ones on stage, and then you see the films, and then they don’t quite work, and you don’t know why. The songs haven’t changed. Some of the tone doesn’t change.”

However, Broadway musicals that have movie adaptations have had both high and low reviews. For example, “Cats,” which released in 2019, scored 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, while “Hamilton,” which released in 2020, scored 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.

“I became obsessed with trying to figure out how do you take a show that just exists in bedrooms and dining rooms, and it’s not fancy in the way that normal musicals are, how do you make a movie where the dialogue is almost totally indistinguishable from the lyrics,” Chbosky said. “I found a great artistic and great emotional challenge to tackle because I also knew that if we did it right, that because of the musical element, millions and millions of people could enjoy this in a way that maybe they couldn’t without it. I wanted to spread this message far and wide, and I was very excited to throw myself into that challenge. It was very unique, but very rewarding.”

Chbosky said that one of his goals while working on “Dear Evan Hansen” was to help teenagers “feel seen.”

I cannot imagine, considering all the mistakes I’ve made as a young person, what it’s like to grow up in a time where making a mistake and having a permanent record of it, you could lose your job for something you thought when you were a child. I can’t imagine the pressures of that. ”

— Stephen Chbosky, Director

“I want every person to see this film, whether you agree with what Evan does — I fairly hope that you find forgiveness for him because I think he deserves it — but, ultimately, I hope that you (teenagers) feel seen by it,” Chbosky said. “And I hope that you feel understood, and that you feel fundamentally respected by this movie.”

Chbosky said he realizes his role as an artist is to create content for his audience that gives them hope.

“Luckily, many people have loving houses, but some people don’t, and we all know that. I hope that whatever you’ve been through in the last year and a half, that you know that there are people that value you and care about you,” Chbosky said. “(People) that understand the struggle, and know and believe that we will do everything in our power as artists to show an example that there is still hope for tomorrow, to not lose sight, to keep going. If you’re struggling with any of these, whether it’s depression, anxiety, social anxiety, isolation, or even a suicidal thought, there are resources to reach out and talk about it.”

 “Dear Evan Hansen” deals with themes of anxiety, depression and suicide. The movie released in September, which is also Suicide Awareness Month.

“I think that there’s so many different ways of coping,” Hope Squad member and junior Mia Kirby said. “But, it’s okay to reach out for help, and there’s, like he quoted, there’s people here for you that understand all the things you’re going through, and there’s always someone there for you, no matter what. It can be a teacher, or a student.”

Junior and Eagle Nation News member Alison Wood also had the opportunity to listen in on Chbosky’s interview.

“This experience is a little more personal for me than related to ENN,” Wood said. “I really like musicals, and I had a ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ phase, and I am interested in creative writing for a career and maybe directing. Hearing this guy’s experiences could be really helpful for me career-wise.”

While she hasn’t seen the movie yet, senior and theatre member Karolina Rubio-Terrezas said she had some doubts about seeing the film.

“I have not seen the movie, but I do plan on seeing it,” Rubio-Terrezas said. “I’m a little hesitant considering Ben Platt looks a little too old to play Evan Hansen. As well as it’s always a major risk when adapting a musical to a movie. If it isn’t done correctly, then the movie ends up coming out poorly, and some of the best parts of the musical end up getting lost in adaptation.”

However, senior and theatre member Sarah Wyatt said she “really liked” the movie, and thought it was well-done.

“The acting was great, and it’s a super-emotional movie, so the actors did a good job of portraying the characters,” Wyatt said. “I saw the musical on Broadway before COVID in 2019, and it was incredible. They did not include three songs in the original Broadway soundtrack in the movie, and instead, added two new ones. I was a little annoyed with that at first, but after watching it, I know why they did it, and I appreciated both songs. The songs they added displayed more personal backstories of the two characters we didn’t know much about in the musical.”

Overall, Chbosky said he wants viewers to realize there is “no stigma” to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

“There is no stigma to these struggles, and there is no stigma to having these feelings,” Chbosky said. “Reach out, and you’re going to be accepted and loved for who you are.”

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