(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Episode 101 of “The Politician.”)
David Corenswet had a Tom Sawyer-like experience while shooting Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix series “The Politician” when he attended a memorial service for his character River, a Santa Barbara, California, teenager who commits suicide in the show’s very first episode.
During the high school’s service for River, Payton Hobart (played by Ben Platt) sings Joni Mitchell’s “River” as a tribute to Corenswet’s character, a boy Payton was publicly running against for student body president and with whom he privately had a very complicated, intimate relationship.
And as morbid as it might be to see a portrait of yourself on stage, covered in flowers, as actors in the audience mourn your fictional passing, Corenswet wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to hear Platt sing and counts the experience as one of his favorites from making Season 1, which launched Friday on Netflix.
“I came and visited the set for when they shot my memorial service, when Ben sings ‘River’ by Joni Mitchell,” Corenswet told TheWrap. “And when you’re shooting a song, the person who is singing sings the song 12, 15, maybe even 20 times. And so to hear Ben sing that beautiful song again and again and again.”
There is one additional scene where Payton sings at the end of the season — which Corenswet told us he also came to set to watch — but we won’t spoil that bit here for viewers who are just finished watching Episode 1.
“I could just listen to Ben sing — especially watching him sing in-character, act and sing at the same time… those were really fun days,” Corenswet added. “Any days filled with Ben’s music are great days.”
River’s suicide at the start of the series is a very early twist that obviously puts his character out of the running in the election, but doesn’t keep him far from Payton, as he continues to appear in flashbacks and in Payton’s mind.
“The big plus of that is I got to build the long and fruitful relationship with Ben, since most of my scenes are with him and it was lovely,” Corenswet said. “He was working every day, really busy days, working with everybody in the cast left and right. And then when our scenes came up, it sort of got quiet and it was just the two of us and it would be sort of intimate and quiet scenes. I think he really liked that and I really enjoyed being that presence for him. The calm and compassionate and connected presence, where in the rest of the show he’s conniving and squirreling and all the crazy things he’s doing.”
Payton and River’s time together begins when Payton’s mother, Georgina (Gwyneth Paltrow) hires River as a Mandarin tutor for her son. They quickly bond and develop a relationship with romantic overtones that doesn’t get fully explored due to River’s suicide just at the start of the election, which he entered at the urging of his girlfriend Astrid (Lucy Boynton).
“It’s this serendipitous moment where in the chaos of it all, they connect,” Corenswet said. “I think it’s beautiful and sad that there is so much potential and it gets cut short. That’s another reason I think it’s good that River gets to come back in flashbacks and in Payton’s mind, or however you think about it, because in real life when someone dies, commits suicide, so much is left unanswered permanently. And that’s one of the tragedies of suicide especially, the finality and the lack of closure and the questions it leaves. And it’s nice in a piece of art, in a piece of fiction, to be able to explore the possibilities of hearing from that person or connecting with them about what was going on.”
“The Politician” Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.