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Having risen to fame on “Glee” and in the Broadway smash hit “Dear Evan Hansen,” Laura Dreyfuss makes a scene-stealing return to the small screen as McAfee Westbrook on Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix series “The Politician.” Despite having previously worked with Murphy and “Evan Hansen” Tony winner-turned-“Politician” star Ben Platt, this high school–set streaming series proved to be a whole new adventure for Dreyfuss. She sat down with Backstage to discuss the show, the differences between acting for screen versus stage, and how her musical theater training gave her the tools she needed to thrive in her career.
“The Politician” gave her room to play.
“It’s about this guy, Payton, who’s always wanted to be president of the United States. He’s known from a very young age that’s what he wants to do. He’s very ambitious, very driven, and he will stop at nothing to become the president. So, his first step is to basically be president of the student body in high school. We all play his campaign team, and we help him get there and do everything we can to make it happen. It is a lot of fun. It’s an amazing group of people—from the crew, the creators, the actors. We all really enjoy one another. And to be able to do a show that’s so fun, so heightened, there’s a lot of room to play.”
Creating with Murphy from the ground up was an all-new experience.
“It was cool because during ‘Glee,’ I came in on the last season. The creation of it was kind of finished and they were wrapping up everything, so I didn’t really get the opportunity to work on a creative process with Ryan. I was just involved in that last little bit of it, which was a privilege and [it was] amazing to watch everyone say goodbye to these characters and these people that they had spent so much time investing in. And so to be now working with him in this new environment where we’re all collaborating and creating a new show is really cool. He’s a genius, so it’s really amazing to see how his mind works.”
Despite her connections to Murphy and Platt, Dreyfuss still had to hit the audition room for Netflix.
“It was a full [audition] process. It was intense! I had the initial audition, which was here in New York with [casting director] Alexa Fogel, and then I had the screen test with Ryan [and co-creators] Ian [Brennan] and Brad [Falchuk], and that was really fun and nerve-racking. It was also cool because I already knew that Ben was attached to the project, so we were texting while I was auditioning, and we couldn’t wrap our minds around the possibility of me actually being in it. He was like, ‘That would just be too crazy!’ The fact that it actually happened was such a dream.”
Training at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee prepared her for a career in the arts.
“It was a really intense school and a really amazing program. I arrived at that school an actor, and I did music growing up. Music was always a part of my life, but I didn’t understand the art of musical theater the way I should’ve. It was a great program because we had actual dancers teaching us dance, actual actors teaching us how to act, and actual singers teaching us voice. So it was our job to kind of figure out how to put that all together and become musical theater performers, which was really amazing. It allowed us to learn what it was like to be extremely prepared. They threw so much at us, and I always feel like I’m very prepared now for anything professionally because of that rigorous education.”
Her background in musical theater lent itself to working on “The Politician.”
“I think the writing—you’ll see in the first few episodes, I have this crazy-long speech I have to say when I’m walking through this library with Ben. I’m giving him all this information and I’m just rattling it off really fast and the words are really big. And so the preparation required for that was really important. You obviously can’t show up to set without your lines memorized, and with that kind of training, we would be given a lot of things and we would have to learn them with only three days, so the memorization skills are important and necessary, and that really prepared me. And also, just the fact that Ryan loves anything theatrical—the show is very theatrical. It’s very fun. You don’t have to dial it back for the camera. You can be big and you can have fun. The expansiveness of that is really exciting.”
Connecting with another actor is what makes a great scene partner.
“The reason why Ben and I love working with one another is that it sort of becomes like you have this unspoken language. The fact that someone is so willing to connect and be vulnerable, and also just be willing to work with whatever’s happening in the moment, because I think the moment anything feels contrived, it’s dishonest. Especially when you’re doing a show eight times a week, you really learn what makes somebody…I don’t know—the rhythms you can get into, but then also understanding how to be fully present and how an actor can be present. We had a really great rhythm and presence with each other. I’ve always felt very safe around him for that reason.”
Control is a large difference between TV and theater.
“The most obvious difference is the audience. I think with theater, the audience is such a character in the work, in the show itself. So having that is really different, and not having it in TV is very interesting to figure out, especially when you’re doing comedy, because so much of comedy depends on the audience’s reaction. When it’s you and three camerapeople and the director and some hair and makeup people watching and you don’t really get laughter because no one can really ruin the scene, it’s a little strange, especially for someone based in theater. You’re used to that reaction when you know something is working. And then also just knowing that you don’t have any control over what you do on TV. You can do your work and then they can edit it however they feel they need to. With theater, you have so much more control because you have an entire story, you have the actors onstage, and once the show is frozen, it’s really just you doing the work. It’s different. Everything’s so much smaller [onscreen], and so figuring out how you can communicate by doing so much less than you would do in theater is challenging, but also really cool. You can figure out how to express yourself in different ways.”
Ready to get to work? Check out Backstage’s musicals audition listings!