BWW Blog: DEAR EVAN HANSEN's Will Roland on Playing Jared, Passion for Acting, & Exiting the Show
Dear Evan Hansen's Jared Kleinman is the mastermind partly responsible for the web of lies Evan Hansen weaves about being friends with his departed classmate, Connor Murphy. Equipped with digital savvy and verbal barbs, Jared provides the levity in the show, allowing audiences to view from a comedic standpoint the absurdity and heartbreak of Evan's situation. Actor Will Roland shares many things in common with his character-his humor, word play, quick wit-but one thing he thankfully no longer has in common is Jared's mean streak.
Roland is open about his high-school self, admitting that he used to be a bully. Making people laugh was a talent that he wielded in the wrong way. Playing Jared is a constant reminder of who he might have become, had he not realized his mistakes.
"I often say that Jared is a bizarre-o universe Will Roland," said Roland. "I very well could have become this very repressed self-hating bully."
Thankfully, Roland turned his life around when he had a serious sit-down with a mentor who ran his school's theater department. Instead of punishing him, however, she did something unexpected.
"She knew at that moment what I needed was to be complimented, even though what I was doing was bad," reflected Roland. "She appealed to my ego and recognized in front of me my inclination towards being quick-witted and clever. She said, I need you to start doing that in a positive and helpful way... That led to me being a little more conscious and self-aware of what I was saying to people and how it might affect them."
As the show starts off with a letter which incites Evan's life spinning out of control, Roland especially understands the power that words can have.
"The words that can build someone up or knock them down are much closer than you might think and stem from the same place-it's in recognizing people's strengths and vulnerabilities, and choosing which to point out and in which settings," he said. "You can do it in a way that is selfish and self-serving, or you can do it in a way that is tactful and thoughtful and perhaps can be of aid to people."
Roland himself found the words that built him up in the theater community. Growing up, he sought validation and found it by participating in his school's theater program. Though it was the community that attracted him at first, he soon began to appreciate the craft of theater, and also recognized that this was something he was good at. Like the wand chooses the wizard, theater had chosen him.
"For me I talk a lot about how often times the thing that you want to do discovers you rather than the other way around. It will present itself," he said.
And present itself it did. Now Roland is an award-winning Broadway actor starring in a 6-time Tony-Award winning show that's nearly impossible to get tickets to. His run as Jared has lasted for three years. As time has gone on, he has actually found it easier to slip in and out of character, almost like flipping a switch.
"When we were earlier in the process I'd spend more time preparing, more time thinking about my actions and intentions and goals in the character, now those things are just there and at my fingertips," he said. "It takes less time for me to drop in and drop out."
One thing that has never changed, however, is Roland's ability to completely lose himself in a scene. Any worries or distractions from his personal or professional life immediately fall away when he is performing.
"That's a part of what's great about this job for me. I do acting for the same reason people do drugs. It's totally a high for me, it's an escape, it's all-consuming. I might be worried about what's happening in my life until the moment I step on stage, but once I get out there there's so much to think about and do-it is fully immersing," he said. "I feel the same way in rehearsals and in readings and workshops and concerts-once you've crossed the threshold, you will never succeed unless you enter a sort of pseudo meditative state of transporting yourself into the work."
And in theater, you never step into the same river twice. Roland still grows as an artist with each performance, especially working with Taylor Trensch, who took over the role of Evan Hansen in February (previously played and originated by Ben Platt).
"Being on stage with him is an incredibly rewarding experience," said Roland. "What he does is look you in the eyes and give you a very real action to take in and react to. I've enjoyed it immensely because my performance has evolved as much in the last couple months as it did in the three years prior."
As new cast members are being welcomed into the DEH community, others are also approaching the dates of their goodbyes-co-star Mike Faist leaves on May 13, while Roland himself is set to exit on June 10 (he'll be starring as Jeremy Heere in an off-Broadway production of Be More Chill from August 9 - September 23). Roland will miss the community of artists he is surrounded by, as well as Jared's dialogue.
"[Playwright] Steven Levenson has written some of the most honest delightful dialogue that I've ever had the privilege of speaking," said Roland. "I will miss the wordplay, and the mastery of casual text that Steven has. Every um and ah and like and man and dude is scripted. I will definitely miss that great ammunition that Steven has given me to fire."