Mike Faist is full of life. He's charming, funny, and completely candid — all qualities his character in Dear Evan Hansen lacks. Faist's fictional counterpart, Connor Murphy, refuses to share any parts of himself but anger and angst. Then, he's gone.
Faist recently stopped by the MTV News office to discuss his role in Broadway's new hit musical, which features original music from La La Land's Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Faist, who has been with Dear Evan Hansen since the beginning, delivers a poignant performance as Connor eight times a week. Connor's tragic suicide, and his fictional friendship with the show's title character, serve as the emotional core of Dear Evan Hansen's rare and inspiring tale.
Below, Faist opens up to MTV News about what it's like to portray a suicidal character onstage, why you won't find him on the autograph line most nights, and Dear Evan Hansen's mega-success.
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]
MTV News: How have you handled the show's overnight success?
Mike Faist: It’s interesting dealing with that aspect. I very rarely do the autograph line. I just try and keep my head down and show up to work and do my job, and then just go home at the end of the night and wake up and just do that again. I think because the nature of the show, people feel so strongly about it and they feel like they know us, in a way, and it’s really, really — it’s just a lot. And, that’s really amazing and I don’t want to take that away from them, by having them meet who I actually am, so I just kind of distance myself a little bit from all of that.
Is that why you’re not on social media?
Faist: Yeah, I have a Twitter, but I don’t use it, you know what I mean? I’m not on social media for other reasons on top of that, but yeah, it just kind of, I don’t want to — after the show, I feel like the curtain comes down and that’s it, and I just would hate for that illusion to be broken by having interaction with me, that, maybe, [fans] were expecting something else, almost in a way… I’d rather them go home and digest and think about it a little bit. And I do it, maybe twice a week I’ll go out and sign [on the autograph] line because there are [repeat] customers that come, so they’re very, very generous and I want to be sure to thank them for all their support.
Do you feel pressure portraying a character who commits suicide?
Faist: I did at first. When I was in D.C. doing research, I was basically just kind of glossing over and trying to do as much broad-stroke research as possible because Connor is very anonymous and very ambiguous. We don’t really get to know Connor and who he actually was. I couldn’t actually find people who had attempted suicide, failed, survived, and are now in recovery for it. Except for this one website [Live Through This].
Reading all of the stories just provided so much insight, and it was just daunting, I think, to realize how society looks at people with mental health problems, and the stigma that goes along with it. Also, it was daunting to realize that people who do not have a diagnosed mental health disorder are a lot closer to people with them than they actually might realize… But I think because we’ve put a stigma on [people] with a mental health disorder, we just immediately put up a barrier. We say, "No, you’re this."
And I think that's what really clicked for Connor, for me at least, was that here's a kid that they put into a box, clearly. And he comes off as one way and he’s clearly going through something that is way more deep-seated and problematic, because I think the way that the show works [is] with everybody putting up walls and not wanting themselves to be seen, because if they allow themselves to be seen, then they lose. It all just really clicked and made sense, and it seems very human and very honest and very flawed, as we all are, I think.
What’s your favorite thing about Connor?
Faist: [There are] multifaceted layers and levels to him. Obviously, there’s Connor, who is alive and well, who we, as an audience, don’t get to know, who is more complicated. And then there’s Evan’s fixation and imagination of Connor, and his “friendship” that he creates. And that ends up being a very charming relationship between the two of them… It’s equally complex as First-Act Connor, but complex in a way of … more of a gray moral sense in [terms of] what is going on in Evan’s head, and I find it super-fascinating.
Does playing Connor ever take an emotional toll?
Faist: There’s a certain technique that goes along with what we do, [what] any actor does, and you do have to train and be able to do something eight times a week. With this show, I remember… On Broadway, toward the beginning, there were times when I would run offstage, right after my computer-lab scene with Ben [Platt, who plays Evan], and I’d run offstage right after Connor goes and kills himself. And I’d just run upstairs to my dressing room and I would just be on the floor, on my knees, head in my chair just taking a knee, beyond a minute. Realized very quickly that I was a little unhealthy, but it’s gotten easier to deal with that.
Some nights are better than others, that’s life [laughs]. The show is hard to do, and to fake it [would be] doing a disservice on a grander level, but also what we do is technical at the end of the day, and it is just a job and that’s that. What makes it great and not hard is the writing. You can really rest in that, and you can trust that the writing will take care of a lot of it, and at the end of the day, you’re just an actor and you’re standing onstage and you’re just saying the lines — we’re all playing pretend here — and then you go home and wake up and you do it all again. It’s a great job.
Pasek and Paul’s music is phenomenal both in Dear Evan Hansen and in La La Land. What is it about their work that makes such an impact?
Faist: Their storytelling is great — my favorite song in the entire show is “For Forever,” and I think it’s where the play really kind of … where Evan talks about his want in life. And it’s a very simple thing, but it’s a grander emotion that he’s actually feeling. So the way that Pasek and Paul are able to talk about something that is so simple, but have it be so much bigger, I think is huge. And as well with the story in particular, and a perfect musical, in my biased opinion, is that when the writing can’t say enough, the music has to take over. I can’t convey what I have to toward you, so I have to start singing at you, you know what I mean? And hopefully, you’ll sing along [laughs], so I’ll get you on board. That craft and that layering is just what makes them so great.