American singer-songwriter Liz Kate is the icing of the cake of a star-studded cast, that of Universal’s “Dear Evan Hansen” film adaptation of the homonymous Broadway musical, coming soon in worldwide theaters. Director Stephen Chbosky chose Liz to join Kaitlyn Dever, a perfect pairing to play the power friend duo, Gemma and Zoe. Together with the overall experience, the match couldn’t have been more inspiring and exciting, as Liz herself told us in a very interesting chat about the movie.
Between the promise of a unique perspective on the story and the forecast of a very strong transmission, Liz unveiled a couple of juicy details about “Dear Evan Hansen,” her approach to (and journey towards) the character, her experience on set, and the message that she thinks and hopes the movie will send out, loud and clear. Plus, a couple of hot revelations: an upcoming debut album and a special shout-out to music goddesses Stevie Nicks and June Carter Cash.
What is your earliest cinema memory?
I vividly remember watching classic films with my grandfather as a child. One film, in particular, is “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” (1951) starring Patricia Neal. When I was little, I was told stories about her within the family (she is my distant cousin), I always aspired to be as dynamic of an actress as she was. I also always admired her character work as Alma in “Hud” (1963). I was able to get to know her in her later years and value the conversations we shared together. It’s important to me to continue acting so many have left behind such amazing stories on film. My mother is an actress as well as my youngest sister, it’s fun to share this art with them.
You’re going to make your feature film debut in “Dear Evan Hansen:” were you a fan of the musical before being cast?
Yes, I was a fan of “Dear Evan Hansen” before being cast in the film adaptation as Gemma. I read the book going into my freshman year at Belmont and put it on my bucket list to go see it on Broadway. Now that theatre is coming back, I am excited to make plans to go in person.
How did you approach your character, Gemma? And how did you build the relationship between Gemma and her best friend Zoe, played by Kaitlyn Dever?
When we received the call securing the role, I was excited to dive deeper into character development for Gemma. I auditioned for a different character originally and during my callback, the director, Steven Chbosky asked me to read for Gemma instead. At the point of booking this new character, my acting coach and I switched gears and started bringing all of the elements of her together. We had a great time creating who this supportive best friend Zoe was, especially during this extremely difficult time of loss in her life. Kaitlyn is very easygoing; we have a lot in common and we jumped right into where we needed to be. I honestly can’t imagine anyone else bringing Zoe to life on film the way she did, it was beautiful to experience.
What should we expect from this adaptation of “Dear Evan Hansen”?
The entire team surrounding “Dear Evan Hansen” did a phenomenal job of including the popular and important elements of the original story that everyone loves. On the music side, it is very exciting to look forward to the new music created specifically for the film adaptation. Pasek & Paul always impress with their creativity and execution. This is going to be a whole new “Dear Evan Hansen” experience not to replace any past performances but adds to the amazing bank of stories “Dear Evan Hansen” as a whole hold.
“This is going to be a whole new “Dear Evan Hansen” experience.”
The musical addresses some important issues such as mental health, suicide, depression, and anxiety. What’s your hope for the audience when they will see it, the message you would love them to exit the cinemas with?
The one hope I have for the overall message in this film is for conversations to open up more when it comes to mental health. We need to normalize being honest and vocalizing the need for help. You are never alone in this world, there is always someone else out there who has walked a similar path. Listen when someone speaks out about their mental health needs, take them seriously, help connect them with resources for professional help. These are just a few ways we can appropriately assist others who are struggling.
“Have you ever felt like nobody was there?”: that’s the first line of one of the most famous songs from the musical, “You Will Be Found.” Have you ever felt like that before? And what was helpful for you to remind you that “You are not alone”?
That line, “Have you ever felt like nobody was there,” gets me every time. I don’t think there is one person out there in the world that can safely say they haven’t felt that way at one point in their life, this is what makes this message so special. When I was introduced to “Dear Evan Hansen,” I didn’t realize what a huge impact it would have on me. My senior year in high school really put things into perspective for me, I started to grow into the next season of my life and found a deeper faith in God. I realized I was surrounded by people who weren’t supportive of who I wanted to be. I had to make some hard decisions to honor who I was evolving into and learning how to navigate loneliness was a big part of that. Freshman year of college was a hard transitional period, but it all helped me grow into the person I am today. I no longer tolerate bullying or relationships that are hindering. Reminding myself that I am worthy of friendships that respect and support my values and goals keeps me on track to stay true to who I am in my heart.
If you could describe “Dear Evan Hansen” in just one word, what would it be?
If I had to describe “Dear Evan Hansen” in just one word, it would be “life-changing.”
Speaking about musicals, what is your favorite one?
Picking my favorite musicals would be a hard decision between “Mamma Mia” and “Waitress.” Not to say that it may not change after I see “Dear Evan Hansen” in person.
What are the top 3 songs on your playlist? And the top 3 songs to sing?
My playlist is constantly changing and has a wide variety of genres. This is probably the hardest question you’ve asked me so far! Right now, if you were currently riding around with me on a Saturday you would hear me playing Billie Holiday “She’s Funny That Way,” Remi Wolf “Monte Carlo,” Lianne La Havas’s “Bittersweet.” My top three songs to sing would have to include some of my original music. My new album is set to come out in the Fall, I will have to circle back with you and tell you some of the new favorite titles once they are released. I always love to play Andrea Bocelli during the holidays, it’s a tradition for us.
If you could play a person from the music scenario, both from the past and present, who would you choose and why?
If I could play a person from the music scene in a film of my first initial thought, I think it would be so cool to be able to portray Stevie Nicks. I really admire her style and her story of persevering through hard times. Another person I would love to have the opportunity to portray when it comes to music and film would be June Carter Cash. June was unbelievably well versed in so many performance aspects, it would be so fun to portray her many different talents.
The favorite movie soundtrack of all time?
My favorite movie soundtrack of all time is “The Greatest Showman.”
The latest TV series you’ve binge-watched?
“Manifest” on Netflix is so good. The first night I watched it I stayed up until 3 am (which is not normal for me). I love getting a good night’s sleep, but the story really pulled me in, I had to keep watching.
What stories do you dream to tell?
I am really looking forward to telling more stories that include healing, happiness, and honesty.
“Healing, happiness, and honesty”
You are afraid of…
I am not afraid of much, but I can do without the unexpected spider inside that gets away before you can catch it. I’m sure they get a bad rap, but have you ever seen a photo of a star-nosed mole? Pretty strange!
The latest film or TV series that made you discover something about yourself?
I recently watched “About Time.” I love a film that puts things into perspective, and when I watched this, it reaffirmed what is important in life to me. Time spent with family and close friends is my favorite past-time. We can get so wrapped up with tasks and the hamster wheel of life, and it’s crucial to realize what the bigger things are and refocus our attention.
The film you know by heart.
One of my favorite films of all time is “Forrest Gump.”
Your must-have on set.
An absolute must-have on set for me would be Limoncello La Croix and a really good book.
An epic fail on the job.
The best and most epic fail on the job would have to be when we had rehearsal for “Dear Evan Hansen” on Halloween. I showed up dressed up as a Sanderson Sister from “Hocus Pocus” and no one else – I mean no one was dressed up. I tend to be festive on holidays, it was a big hit – but just envision Sarah Sanderson singing “You Will Be Found.” Have you ever done music rehearsal/choreography in a witch costume? It was wild.
What’s the bravest thing you have ever done?
Stand up for what is right. I’ve done it several times in my life, and I’ll do it again. The hardest thing and the right thing are almost always the same.
“The hardest thing and the right thing are almost always the same.”
What’s your happy place?
My happiest place is when I am reflecting on past experiences evaluating things in my life that I am willing to keep pursuing or even those I am letting go of. I am thankful for all of the experiences God puts before me and I enjoy growing and learning about myself around every turn of life.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got a few things brewing right now. I am finishing up my debut album and I am so excited to share it with the world. I’ve been songwriting since I was about 10 or 11 and I feel the selection we have procured is very special and relevant to what a lot of people can relate to right now. It will be fun to see what the favorites are after the release. I am writing a few things currently and I hope to direct my own projects one day. Of course, as an actor, we are always auditioning and looking towards diving into new film and television projects.
I am excited about what’s to come.
Photos by Tyler Krippaehne