Rachel Bay Jones on Finding Her ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Character

“We always try to find the recognizable thread. The thing that we relate to is always the strongest point to start from.” – Rachel Bay Jones

Dear Evan Hansen star Rachel Bay Jones — who recently won the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for her role — portrays a struggling single mother who finds it difficult to connect with her troubled son. In an interview with The Interval, Jones speaks about finding the character of Heidi Hansen and what influences her portrayal of her.

Jones reveals that since she is also a mother who is faced with challenges, she feels very close to her character and thus more fulfilled by portraying her. She explains, “We always try to find the recognizable thread. The thing that we relate to is always the strongest point to start from. Playing a character that is flawed and who faces a lot of the same challenges as a mother that I do brings all of my questions close to home every day, which makes the exploration of this role that much more rich and fulfilling, and my challenges as a mother are in my face all the time. That’s pretty big.”

The interviewer points out that much is left unsaid in her character’s conversations on-stage with her son. Jones argues that as with life, acting is often about what isn’t said between characters. She says, “I find that in life, our conversations are really about what’s not said more than what’s coming out of our mouths. For me, a very natural part of crafting a scene is why we choose to say the words that we do, even though what we’re feeling or thinking or want to say can be very different. So yes, a lot of that was up to me. The writing is so good and I know Heidi so well and I know these situations—I just know them—so that always felt like a very natural part of it for me. Right away, I knew what she wanted to say and couldn’t, what she means when she says something. It was always very clear to me. But that’s been my job.”

In fact, Jones reveals that developing a character involves constantly turning that character around in her thoughts and drawing influences from everywhere in her everyday life. She continues, “I walk around with her. Once she’s in my heart and in my body, I walk around letting my thoughts about her be influenced by the experiences that I have in my life, the things that I see in the street. Once I start to focus on developing this person, then everything else are building blocks. People I see, interactions I have—I’ll start drawing connections all over the place. That’s one of the interesting things about having to be a parent outside of being an actor is that you don’t leave it in the rehearsal room or on the stage. It’s constantly being worked on 24/7—I dream about these things. To have to have to set aside that brain and focus on another person that you’re raising can be difficult.”

Part of that exploration grows from finding what makes you uncomfortable since there is often honesty there. Jones says, “Always going for the discomfort. Really always going for discomfort, because that’s where the truth is. If there’s something that makes us uncomfortable, you can be damn sure that there’s something inside of that. We’ve got to investigate that. We’ve got to stick our fingers in there and get in there. If there was something awkward, if there was something uncomfortable, if there was something ugly, it feels like my job to show that and to get in there and explore that.”