It was only supposed to be a 20-minute virtual meeting with director Stephen Chbosky and screenwriter Steven Levenson about the possibility of landing a role in their new musical. But actor Danny Pino had a lot to talk about – and Chbosky and Levenson liked what they were hearing.
That film was Dear Evan Hansen, a coming-of-age drama adapted from the stage musical of the same name, which debuted on Broadway in 2016 and won the Tony Award for Best Musical the following year.
“I connected to it very personally being a father of two teenage sons,” Pino told Remezcla during a recent interview. “It hit home very quickly.”
Pino was ultimately cast as Larry Mora, the stepfather of a teenager named Connor who dies by suicide. After a major misunderstanding, Larry, his wife Cynthia Murphy (Amy Adams), and his stepdaughter Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever) believe that Conner’s classmate Evan (Ben Platt) was actually a best friend they never knew about. Not wanting to disappoint Conner’s parents, Evan goes along with their assumption and creates a fictional story about their friendship.
In the original stage production, Larry Mora’s name is Larry Murphy. He is Conner’s white biological father. When Pino came on board, there was no question that his character would reflect him. So, Chbosky and Levenson decided to rewrite Larry as Conner’s Latino stepfather.
“The creative team’s interest to make the musical more representative of what we look like as a country is something I welcomed,” Pino said. “I expressed to them…that I was of Cuban-American heritage and [talked about] what was important to me as an artist and what I could express as Larry.”
Chbosky had never met Pino before but was open to making changes to the original musical. He spoke to several actors for the role but said he felt a connection with Pino right away. He and Levenson agreed that he was “the best guy” for the part and wanted to make the character feel authentic.
“Danny is 100 percent Cuban American, so [we said], ‘Let’s tell the truth about this part,’ [and created] the wonderful backstory of the blended family,” Chbosky told Remezcla. “It added so many layers to what was already there. It just felt great.”
Pino feels that casting him in a role that wasn’t initially written for a Latino actor is not only a step in the right direction for the story, but it’s also something he hopes to see more of in the film industry moving forward. Chbosky and Levenson were open-minded about the character from the start and didn’t put restrictions on who might be cast to portray him.
“There’s definitely some improvement and a push in that direction,” Pino said. “Where I think we’re somewhat lagging is in the support of… our writers, directors, and producers – the people who make the decisions to greenlight what gets made. We have made strides, but we still have a long way to go.”
Dear Evan Hansen debuts in theaters on September 24, 2021.