Before American Horror Story, or American Crime Story, or Scream Queens, or Pose, there was Glee, Ryan Murphy‘s first little show that could. In 2015, as the series entered its sixth and final season, the world was in full-on Glee-mania and the show’s stars— Lea Michele, Darren Criss, Dianna Agron, et al.—were some of the most famous faces in Hollywood. So, no sweat for a newly graduated theater kid who had never even appeared on camera to suddenly find herself with an audition to become a cast regular, right?
“It was insane,” recalls Laura Dreyfuss.”It seemed like such an impossible job to have. I randomly went in to the casting office and did a tape and, like all auditions, assumed I didn’t get it.” At the time, the actress, now 31-years-old, was still a burgeoning Broadway star, then in workshop for another musical called Dear Evan Hansen. Little did she know, that play would go on to be a phenomenon in its own right. “I had to go on a redeye [for the Glee audition], and only missed one rehearsal [for the show], and then flew back that night,” she said. “It was the nuttiest time. I just remember being a zombie.”
Dreyfuss ended up landing a regular role on Glee, and the female lead for Dear Evan Hansen‘s Broadway run. And now, by some act of Hollywood kismet, she’s combining a little bit of both, starring alongside Ben Platt, aka Evan Hansen himself, in Ryan Murphy’s new show, The Poltician, which debuts today on Netflix.
The Politician marks Dreyfuss’s first return as a series regular (she appeared in two episodes of the second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) since Glee, and also signaled the end of her tenure as Zoe Murphy in Dear Evan Hansen, a role she played for three years. “I didn’t have time to process it,” she said of that departure. “I left immediately to go film. When I got back to New York, it was hard to process it. I still have a hard time watching sad shows. I know that sounds crazy, but my empathy levels are very high. I cried every night [on stage], which is something you don’t think about, but your body doesn’t know you are acting.”
While The Politician does have its emotional moments, in true Ryan Murphy form, the main genre is wicked satire with a heightened sense of drama. The show follows Platt’s Payton Hobart, a class president hopeful who aspires to one day be President of the United States. Dreyfuss plays one of his political advisors (and a high school classmate), alongside a staggering supporting cast that includes Jessica Lange, Gwenyth Paltrow, Zoey Deutch, and Lucy Boynton. “It’s almost a soap opera, but it makes fun of itself,” Dreyfuss said. “That first day was wild. We shot a scene that I don’t think is even in the pilot anymore where we are lying at a pool and saying these ridiculous things and drinking green juices. It was all very heightened and at the same time looked like this Wes Anderson thing. It’s very stylized.”
Still, Dreyfuss understood her character, McAfee, on a core level. “It felt so obvious to me who this person is,” she said. “She’s just so strange, but at the same time has such a heart. She really feels for people and has this drive to make the world a better place but she’s such an analytical thinker that her social skills are maybe not there.”
A major component of the character, as with all other characters on the show, is, of course, the wardrobe. Despite being a 17-year-old in 2019, McAfee exclusively wears brightly colored suits, much to the delight of Dreyfuss. “Our costume designers are amazing,” she said. “They are those girls that you look at and think, ‘God, I wish I was as cool as you.’ They were like, ‘We just see you in ‘70s power suits.’ I’m like, ‘Yep, bring it on.’ I’ve fully integrated that style into my life now.”
But perhaps the greatest joy of doing the show? Filming the first season’s final episode. (Spoilers ahead, obviously). In what essentially serves as a pilot for season two, we get a glimpse of Payton’s future political rivals: Judith Light and Bette Midler. “When we found out that Bette Midler was going to be part of it, we all freaked out,” she said. “It was just the coolest. That day on set we were just all looking around making eye contact at each other because she is such a legend. It’s amazing to watch her work. She has this twinkle in her eye about everything she does.”
As for what else is to come in season two? “We have no information,” she said, “But that will be very fun.”