“That is very thorough. Almost too thorough,” Hollywood star David Corenswet says over the phone on a recent sunny L.A. morning. In a few days, his Netflix series — a lavish “love letter” to Hollywood’s Golden Age, courtesy of the Ryan Murphy machine — will premiere on Friday, May 1. But the topic at hand isn’t Corenswet’s wildly glamorous streaming series. At least not yet.
Instead, I’m admitting I’ve watched Corsenswet’s mid-2010s YouTube web series, Moe and Jerryweather. In a highlight of a particular August 2014 video, Corsenswet directs his co-star, fellow Juilliard grad Adam Langdon, to “cheat just a little bit out, just like in theater.” The statement sounds like the kind of advice Corenswet’s Hollywood character Jack Costello would politely suggest to a scene partner during rehearsals for Hollywood’s movie-within-a-TV show, Meg. But Corenswet is wearing a blue striped V-neck tee, sporting light 5 o’clock shadow, and clearly standing in someone’s New York City backyard.
We’re definitely not in Hollywood (or, Hollywood).
Although the scrappy sketch comedy aesthetics of Moe and Jerry feel miles away from the unmitigated grandeur of Hollywood, Corenswet himself swears the two aren’t that different. It’s that attitude that has taken him from giggling in front of a camera during his Juilliard days to a surprise starring role in Murphy’s first Netflix show, The Politician to a facsimile of the 1948 Oscars in Hollywood’s emotional, high-stakes finale.
“I was heartbroken at the end of the first season of The Politician because I thought for sure there was no way there were going to be able to bring me back for season 2,” Corenswet explains in between sips of his coffee and homemade whipped cream (his father and sister taught him how to make the latter from scratch). Corenswet’s assumption makes sense, since — eight-month-old mild spoiler alert — Politician antihero Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) grows past needing his touchstone of emotion, the memory of Corenswet’s late dreamboat River Barkley, by the season 1 finale. “I went back to New York by myself feeling like, Ah, well that was just the best thing that could have ever happened. And that will be it for me,” Corenswet recalls.
It wasn’t the end. First, the 26-year-old started hearing “vague” rumblings that he could join a different Murphy project in Politician’s wake. Then he learned about Hollywood like the rest of us: through Ryan Murphy’s February 2019 Instagram announcement. “I was at home in Philadelphia with my dad and my sister and I showed it to them,” Corenswet says. “We all kinda went, This would be too good to be true. It couldn’t possibly be what he wants me for.”
After all, Corenswet — who grew up without television — was raised on classic old movie rentals from the video store (remember video stores?). “All we watched growing up were the Astaire and Rogers movies and the Marx brothers movies. Singin’ In The Rain was a regular in our rotation,” he says. Speculation about Corenswet’s Hollywood prospects ran rampant in his family home until Murphy, who co-wrote Politician and helmed the premiere, officially called.
“I loved how he works as a director and being on set with him. But I didn’t feel like we really had gotten to know each other particularly well,” Corenswet admits. “But over the phone, he talked like we had been friends for years … Then at the end, he said, So when are you going to be in L.A. next?”
With that very Hollywood question, Corenswert was pulled aboard the series’ fast-moving train. It’s impossible not to feel like Murphy noticed a spark in Corenswet as deep-dimpled, clinically depressed B-plot character River and decided to give him more space to grow into a full-blown star as Hollywood’s leading man Jack. Corensweet agrees.
“Ryan loves when he sees people who he wants to stretch … or sees something in them that other people don’t see. He loves throwing that challenge to them and seeing them run with it. Hollywood definitely felt like that for me,” Corenswet says. “The world was everything I had always wanted to play around in — the clothes and the cars and the turns of phrase. It was something like a second language to me having grown up on all those movies.”
While the world of Hollywood was dazzling, it was also hectic. Corenswet says that although the cast knew “a couple things” about their characters’ destinies at the beginning of filming, “we really learned things script by script … and running right into shooting.” Corenswet’s co-star Darren Criss — a 10-year Murphyverse veteran — supplied an air of calm on set.
“He had a great kind of relaxed smile and a ‘Just go with the flow, don’t worry about it, it’s all going to be good. We’ll take care of each other and in the end Ryan and his team will take care of us’ attitude,” Corenswet says. “He set a great model of how to deal with the uncertainty in a playful, laid-back way.”
Criss’ zen in the face of daunting Peak TV-making extravagance seems to have rubbed off on Corenswet. “The best thing is, our director on Moe and Jerryweather, Max Woertendyke, came and visited me on set when I started Hollywood,” Corenswet begins, name-checking his Juilliard pal (who had a bit part in Succession season 2). “He just says, You know, it’s just bigger kids with bigger toys. It’s true. When you’re actually on set making these things, it’s all the same. It’s a bunch of imaginative kids grown up to make imaginative adults who are making their silly ideas into a reality.”
“It's fun to recognize that just a few years ago, I was the silly kid making the silly things with very small silly toys — and I still am.”