YEM spoke with Dear Evan Hansen’s Liz Kate about the DEH role and how the people who supported her motivated her to keep acting

Liz Kate is a singer/songwriter and actress. Liz made her feature film debut in Dear Evan Hansen. In the film she portrays the character of Gemma who is Zoe’s (Katlyn Dever) best friend. Liz’s recently graduated from the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business in the songwriting program at Nashville’s Belmont University. YEM was able to speak with Liz about her song writing process, her most memorable moment filming Dear Evan Hansen, and about her character in the film.

Young Entertainment Mag: What has inspired your music style of Folk and Americana? 

Liz Kate: There have been a lot of different people and life experiences that have shaped my music style and it has shifted and formed beautifully over the years. I would say that my music style now would be Singer-Songwriter, Americana with a Jazz influence. People such as Norah Jones, Sara Bareilles, and Maggie Rogers have inspired my writing and melodic choices. The way a songwriter sees the world directly reflects the way they create their music, I always try to see the world through an honest lens with a calm, enchanting approach.

YEM: What is the process of writing songs like for you? 

Liz: The process of writing songs for me is dependent on what feels right at the time, I try to tap into the emotional pull coming from the original inspiration. In general, it usually starts with me thinking of a melody in my head or a line and recording it in my voice memos on my phone. From that, I usually sit down with my guitar and approach the song with the element that seems the most fitting at the time, whether that is working on the melody of the chorus, or writing the verse lyrics first, sometimes I write down the background of the song before I start. I always consider the song’s strongest elements and sometimes it’s hard to eliminate ideas I’ve worked on. In the end, it is what’s in the best interest of the song itself. I really love to write about topics that are particularly hard to talk about or look at a different perspective through a generalized idea! I love making ideas my own and telling stories that need to be told to pursue healing, laughter, and love. Music is a way to help people feel emotions and process them in ways they may not have considered before. 

YEM: Your role in “Dear Evan Hansen” will be your first major supporting role, but it won’t be your first time on screen. How did you first get into acting? 

Liz: I booked my first film when I was 6 years old. My mother was already heavily involved in the industry as an actor and dancer and always encouraged me to try new things. I am so appreciative now of the way my family supported me in my desire to be artistically expressive. My childhood was filled with film sets, dance rehearsals, art studios and shows, music lessons, and the overall ability to be free with creativity. I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t being creative in some way – my Grandparents who are master’s in art instilled early on that there are no limits when it comes to art. As I grew and matured, I realized that acting was something that I wanted to heavily pursue along with my music. It takes time to form your own style and tend to your craft. I focused energy on training, workshops, acting classes, mentorships, and careful selection of influence over my art. I hope to continue to grow and evolve as an artist over the years and bring a fresh approach to future performances.

YEM: How did you react when you got your role for “Dear Evan Hansen?”

Liz: After the Director’s callback, I waited a few weeks. I’ve always tried to audition and put the work behind me – I will say it was hard with this opportunity being inclusive with acting and such dynamic music involved. This was the kind of role that anyone would genuinely cry happy tears at having the opportunity to perform, and that is what happened. When I received my call from my agent, she asked my mom and I if we were sitting down. I sat down on the couch in our studio and waited, she dropped the news. I had booked the supporting role of Gemma in the new film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen! There were tears, hugs, and screams of joy. It was one of the most exciting moments in my life. I prayed for the opportunity to share in this special film and message of hope. It was such a lovely moment to have with my mom as well, she was over the moon and is always there to cheer me on. I knew the Dear Evan Hansen experience would change my life in many ways. From that moment on, I pushed forward, continued to train with my acting and music coaches, and focused on bringing depth to who Gemma was as a friend to Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever) during this difficult time in her life. I could not be more excited for it to come out on September 24th, the entire cast of DEH is ridiculously talented – Ben Platt’s performance under Steven Chbosky’s direction is undoubtedly the rawest and real emotion I’ve had seen to date in my career.

YEM: What is the role you’re playing in Dear Evan Hansen and how does your character fit into the story?

Liz: My character’s name is Gemma in Dear Evan Hansen, and she is Zoe Murphy’s best friend. Gemma is a new character introduced specifically for the film adaptation. 

YEM: Did you get to see the show live and what was that experience like for you and if so how did that experience help you in this role?

Liz: I was not fortunate to see the show live prior to the pandemic, I did read the book, however, and was familiar with the storyline and soundtrack. Reading the book between my senior and freshman year of college really put perspective on my life and allowed me to truly feel the sense of “being found” during such a lonely transitional period. I was happy that they included more background and insight into the community for the film adaptation, I believe it added a deeper sense of who the original characters are and the environment that surrounds them daily. Having the knowledge of the book and storyline helped me with this role by really seeing the moments where Zoe would have looked to a friend for support. Whether she needed a shoulder to cry on, a friend to just sit beside her in silence, a friend to laugh with, or a friend to vent to, the original plotline was taken into heavy consideration when my coach and I built some of the elements of Gemma.

YEM: What is your encouragement for college-aged adults like yourself who want to get into the entertainment industry? 

Liz: My encouragement for college-aged adults like myself would be to keep auditioning, training, and pursuing their goals. Nobody is going to do it for you, if you want to succeed in this industry the passion must be rooted deep in your heart – it’s tough out there. There is always someone who wants it just as much as you or who is working just as hard. Being happy for your friends in the industry when they book something is crucial. An acting coach told me early on, if it wasn’t you then it might as well be them! There is no room for jealousy or judgment – you must know that there are a lot of puzzle pieces that fit together and sometimes what’s best for the project might not be a fit for you. Every project is different and there are so many more behind that one. If you aren’t getting close to bookings and seeing results reach out to professionals for help, work on your craft and keep going. Creating your own content is a great way to put yourself out there if you aren’t getting the traction you desire. Most of all acting is a job – don’t allow yourself not to live only that – take time for that work-life balance even though when you are passionate about something it doesn’t always feel like work. You don’t want to look back and say I wish I had carved out more time for love, family, or friends. 

YEM: You’ve been singing since you were very young, but what has been your most memorable performance and why? 

Liz: My most memorable performance would have to be when we sold out two shows at Eddies Attic in Atlanta coming right out of the heat of the pandemic. For a lot of people, it was their first time being out since quarantine and they were longing to hear live music again. Live music is so much more intimate and personal than pre-recorded music, I will always have a love for performing live. One of the members of the audience had lost a lot of family to covid-19 and there were tears as she processed this through the songs played, it was hard for me to get through some of my songs knowing she was hurting. Eddie’s is an intimate sound room, I’ve been playing there since I was young, the venue allows for a personal experience with the artists performing. One thing that was cool was over the pandemic we designed my first line of merchandise and were able to offer it at this show – my grandmother who I mentioned before is an artist and she did some continuous line design for some of the items. I love being able to incorporate their original art into my branding as they are the reason, I am who I am today.

YEM: Who or what motivates and encourages you to keep on acting and singing? 

Liz: For acting and music, I truly believe that my biggest encouragement and motivation comes from the people that support me and of course from my faith. This industry can be very difficult and discouraging at times, I lean into the community when those days come, and of course God to remind me of my worth and purpose on this earth. I truly believe I was born to create without boundaries. I get up each day and put my best foot forward to conquer what’s ahead with the truth, and that is enough for me. 

YEM: What were some of the most important things you learned when you went to school for music? 

Liz: I am currently still attending Belmont University and am a Junior. I am majoring in Songwriting at the college which has been an incredible experience. There are so many important things that I have learned about the music business industry throughout my time at Belmont thus far. It has been very inspiring to learn about various professions within the music and entertainment industry. It’s really helped to expand my knowledge within the different departments from Audio Engineering, Film, Music Business, to the Legal side of things, it’s all assisted on everyday needs as a working performer. I have learned to look at my craft and be confident in the art I create and not look at it in a comparative way towards others. The Belmont community has taught me we are all in this together, and though the industry can feel like a competition at times, we don’t have to treat it like one. I have learned that there is always something you can contribute to a room, as songwriters and creatives, we must be excellent room readers. One person may be better at lyric writing and another person better at melodic writing and you might be best at putting the two together as a result, being able to adapt within the circumstances that you are put in makes people want to work with you and want to continue to work with you. Not only have I learned things like how to work with a DAW program, learning the art behind Foley, how the structure of a studio can drastically and dynamically change the way an artist sounds and the reflections that come along with that, but I have overall learned how to be a better person. I have learned how to adapt to tough situations, and I am forever grateful for the professors and community that continue to support me in what I love to do. 

YEM: Do you have plans to release any albums or EPs anytime soon? 

Liz: Yes! I will be releasing my debut album sometime in the next few months and I am very excited about it! I have been working on it for a while and am finally at the point where I am ready to release it and share my heart and message with those who are willing to listen. You can stay up to date on my album release on @lizkatemusic on all social platforms.

YEM: What has been your most memorable moment filming for “Dear Evan Hansen?”

Liz: There were so many memorable moments while filming it would be hard to pick just one. One of my favorite moments was the roller coaster and amusement park scenes. Riding a roller coaster with Kaitlyn, Ben, and Demarius was so much fun, and it was one of those moments where you completely forget you are at work. I will also never forget filming in the auditorium. Ben and Kaitlyn’s performance is astonishing, there are some very emotional moments throughout the film. I am so excited for everyone to see this work of art. Steven Chbosky is a genius.

YEM: What can you tell us about your character in this movie? Do you relate to her? 

Liz: Yes! My character in the film is Gemma, and she is Zoe’s best friend. She is the type of friend that goes out of her way to make sure others feel loved and supported. Gemma knows how to have fun, but also connects deeper when a friend is in need. I absolutely relate to Gemma and see myself in her supportive ways, I always tried to be there for people who needed a friend and went out of my way to make people feel loved and seen. When my friends went through hardships, I made it my mission to make sure they had everything they needed emotionally and physically. Gemma is a bridge to strengthening Zoe’s story before and after the death of her brother. I am so honored to have been able to portray this character and contribute to this incredible message. I am grateful for Stephen’s direction to build that out through his vision and of course work on the music side of things for the film as well.

YEM: Who are your favorite music artists and why? 

Liz: Some of my favorite artists would have to be Maggie Rogers, Lianne La Havas, Johnnyswim, and Fleetwood Mac. They create beautiful vivid messages through their lyrics and sound creating deep feelings in my heart and soul. I love the messages they send through their music, and that they are not afraid to talk about topics in a gentle expressive tone. If I had the opportunity to work with any of these artists, I’m positive my heart would skip a beat. So many artists inspire me in addition to them it would be hard to mention everyone I admire, but a few others are Boys Club for Girls, Granville Automatic, Kendra Morris, Julia Haltigan, and Von Grey.

Watch Liz Kate in Dear Evan Hansen!