With a major role in Broadway's "Be More Chill," native New Yorker Will Roland is on a roll. The star, who was previously cast in the original production of the smash-hit show "Dear Evan Hansen," has been delighting crowds as the quirky theater kid Jeremy Heere. Roland chatted with us about his latest role, his first Broadway show at age 10 and if he keeps in touch with the cast of "Dear Evan Hansen."
Congrats on scoring the lead in "Be More Chill"! Tell us about your character. WILL ROLAND: I play Jeremy Heere who is a high school junior. He’s a sort of an unremarkable, uninteresting, uncool young man. He pines desperately for the affections of this beautiful theater nerd named Christine. Basically, at some point he discovers this pill he can take that’s a super computer. It will implant in his brain and instruct him how to be more chill. He takes the pill and it changes his life. Throughout the story he becomes someone he’s not and learns a lot about friendship and being yourself and the things that sound corny on the surface, but they’re delivered in a heartful, thoughtful and very fun way.
Why do you think Be More Chill is so relatable? WR: The high school experience is something we’ve all lived, are living or about to live. What I think really gets people is that it has a subversive way of telling a story. On the surface it’s this retro sci-fi musical about high schoolers and it’s got all this crazy, zany stuff that happens. What it’s really about is the incredible, high-stakes, emotional experiences we have on a daily basis in otherwise pedestrian situations. It’s about how these things don’t go away, we just get better at dealing with them. We’re not selling these kids a bill of goods like you’re going to kiss the person you like at the end and everything’s going to be fine. That’s not the case and not the story that we want to tell.
Have you pulled from some of your own experiences for your role? WR: I was shoved and locked inside of a locker at one point in sixth grade. It led to a reaction in my behavior where I became something of a bully. I had this intervention when I was in 10th grade with a theater teacher. They sat me down and asked if I knew I was being mean a lot. I said I was just being clever and funny. That was a bit of a wake-up call for me. I’ve been on this journey that Jeremy is on. I’ve tried to become someone I’m not in an effort to protect myself. In terms of specific behaviors, I taught at a summer camp and a theater camp for a long time. I worked with a lot of kids dealing with general shyness and anxiety, but also many with social disorders, Asperger’s, things like that. I definitely draw from struggles I saw some of my students go through with their lack of ability to connect to those around them.
G: How does it feel scoring parts in two buzzy Broadway shows, with Dear Evan Hansen and now Be More Chill? WR: I truly feel like the luckiest guy in the history of actors. What was amazing about the "Dear Evan Hansen" process was that I got to spend years developing that show. I did all the readings and workshops. I spent hundreds of hours creating my character. To have that show receive the degree of commercial and critical success that it did is something that many talented actors go through their whole careers and never experience. It’s not lost on me how incredible and rare that experience was. To go immediately into "Be More Chill," where I am surrounded by friends and collaborators, many of whom I’ve known for a decade, feels like we sort of cheated the system and brought our family to Broadway. You can sense the love and history and collaboration that exists on stage. I think that’s part of what people react to.
Do you still keep in touch with anyone from "Dear Evan Hansen"? You recently got engaged–do you see your wedding as a Broadway show in itself with all the cast members from Evan Hansen and Be More Chill? WR: I keep in touch with a lot of the "Dear Evan Hansen" folks. I met Ben Platt doing a musical in Massachusetts when he was 18 and I had just left college. I keep in touch with a lot of them, especially Michael Park and Mike Faist. Mike bought an apartment right near mine. It’s going to be a very fun wedding filled with lots of Broadway people and family and friends too.
As a lifelong New Yorker, how does it feel to have achieved the ultimate New York dream? WR: It’s insane! My first Broadway show was "Cats" in fourth grade. A year and a half ago, I found the playbill. I looked through the credits and what astounded me was 20 years after seeing the show, how many of those people listed in the playbill I now knew. It’s unbelievable. I have such a love affair with New York City. I love the way that the city constantly reimagines itself and keeps growing. I just love my identity as a New Yorker and being a part of this city.
Any upcoming projects we should know about? WR: Look out for me on season four of Billions on Showtime. Also, perceptive readers who listen to the radio might catch me in a series of Geico ads I did earlier this year.