Lin-Manuel Miranda interview: ‘Encanto’ songwriter
“It invited me to participate more fully in my own life,” Lin-Manuel Miranda reveals about the impact of composer Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” on him as a teenager. As a budding filmmaker and songwriter, Miranda saw a lot of himself in Larson’s characters of Mark and Roger, played in the original Broadway cast by Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal, respectively. In Netflix’s “tick, tick… Boom!,” Miranda adapts an earlier Larson musical to the screen, one he also saw Off-Broadway as a senior in college which he says “hit me like a ton of bricks” because it served as “a sneak preview of what my twenties would look like as a struggle songwriter with revolving door roommates of my own.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
The Netflix film marks Miranda’s feature directorial debut, a fitting project given that he shares Larson’s background as a musical theatre composer. “I understand what that pressure feels like when you’ve got a whole show in your head, and the gulf between it existing in your head and it existing in any form on a stage where an audience can see it,” Miranda explains about how he empathizes with Larson’s professional struggles early in his career. Miranda adds that he wanted the film to also serve as an “interrogation and investigation of Jon’s songwriting process,” which differs quite vastly from his own. Andrew Garfield portrays Larson in the film, which chronicles a pivotal week in his life as he prepares for a workshop of his first musical “Superbia” and frets about his imminent thirtieth birthday.
Miranda has cited Rob Marshall’s Academy Award-winning movie “Chicago” as the gold standard of stage-to-screen musical adaptations. He had the chance to collaborate with Marshall as an actor in “Mary Poppins Returns” and learned valuable lessons during that experience that he brought to “tick, tick… Boom!.” “What he does better than anyone is he brings the rigor of theatre and rehearsal to the screen,” Miranda says of Marshall’s intensive prep work on “Mary Poppins.” He mentions that his own cast and crew “did a year and a half of workshops” inspired by Marshall’s process. Miranda also learned from director Jon M. Chu, who helmed the screen adaptation of Miranda’s first musical “In The Heights.” Describing Chu as “the biggest dreamer I’ve ever met,” Miranda says, “He’s able to rigorously prepare for an elaborate sequence and keep his eyes open for where the magic is coming from on a given day.”
One of the sequences Miranda discusses in detail is musical number “Sunday,” Larson’s tribute to his mentor Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George.” “It’s two homages at once, right?,” Miranda notes, explaining, “There’s Jon honoring Steve, and then there’s me honoring Jon, but I can’t honor Jon without also honoring Steve.” Miranda’s inspired idea for the number was to transform what Larson wrote as a solo and “turn it into a choir” complete with an all-star Broadway cast that includes original “Sunday in the Park” cast member Bernadette Peters. Despite the cameos, Miranda says of the number, “This is not inside baseball, it just needs to work as a sequence, full stop.”
“tick, tick… Boom!” also features a cameo from the late Sondheim, who recorded and sent Miranda a voice message that Larson hears in the film. “To be perfectly honest, I haven’t rewatched it since his passing. It will be tough,” Miranda reveals about revisiting that special moment of the film. The gift of Sondheim’s message, he says, is that “it’s an encouragement to all of us to keep going and be proud.” Miranda also recalls a similar moment of mentorship from Sondheim from his own life when he mentioned his early idea for “Hamilton.” In a loving Sondheim impersonation, Miranda remembers how he “threw back his head and roared,” saying, “‘That’s exactly what you should be doing.’” “He was so emphatic and he was happy to be surprised,” he continues, adding, “That laugh powered three years of writing ‘Hamilton.’”
Beyond “tick, tick… Boom!,” Miranda worked on three other films released this year. In addition to “In The Heights,” which he produced and for which he penned one new song, he wrote original songs for Disney’s “Encanto” and Sony Pictures Animation’s “Vivo.” “I had such a joyous time on ‘Moana’ that I raised my hand for ‘Encanto,’” Miranda mentions, noting that what drew him to work with Disney again was that he “saw how seriously Disney took their responsibility of representing a part of the world when they set the movie there, they know that’s gonna be in the minds of millions of children.” He thinks of “Encanto” as his “most sophisticated writing so far in terms of balancing themes.” On “Vivo,” Miranda talks about its protracted development, saying that when the project was reborn, “We realized pretty quickly that I’m a much better writer than I was in 2009, so I don’t think there was one song from that original development process that I didn’t completely rewrite.”
Since he has already won at the Emmys, Grammys and Tonys, any one of those projects could bring him an Oscar and complete his EGOT.