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Tick, Tick… Boom!, the Netflix musical following Rent playwright Jonathan Larson in the years before he wrote the Broadway hit, premiered at Los Angeles’ AFI Fest on Wednesday, officially unveiling Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut.
The Hamilton creator, who in his early theater days played the starring role in the show, said that he chose to step behind the camera for this one as the stage musical “really clarified whether I wanted to do this for a living or not” after seeing it in college, as well as Larson being the one “who made me want to write musicals in the first place, and it felt like a message in a bottle just for me.” The film covers the week leading up to Larson’s 30th birthday in 1990, as he fears he’s running out of time to achieve his creative dreams and the success of Rent still a few years off.
“I was really emboldened by the fact that I knew the material so well,” Miranda told The Hollywood Reporter on the carpet. “I was like there are things I don’t know about directing a movie, but I know what Jonathan’s experience is; I know what I want this movie to feel like and sound like and look like.”
Andrew Garfield stars as Larson in the film, entering new singing, dancing and piano-playing territory after months of training in what he says was a career-long dream. And on top of that, to play “an incredibly moving figure and inspiring figure, always turned up to an 11, always living each moment as if this may be his last.” Larson died in 1996 of an aortic aneurysm at 35 years old, the night before Rent‘s first off-Broadway preview performance.
And of collaborating with Manuel, Garfield says, “the story’s in his blood. This character means so much to him and it’s just such a beautiful thing to witness this come to fruition in the way that it has. This is a love letter to Jon. This is a thank you letter to Jon, from all of us and especially Lin.”
Robin de Jesús, Alexandra Shipp, Vanessa Hudgens, Joshua Henry and Judith Light also costar in the film, as Larson’s friends and collaborators, all navigating life in New York City amid the AIDS crisis.
After the screening at TCL Chinese theater, serving as the opening night film for AFI Fest, Rian Johnson hosted a Q&A with Miranda, writer Steven Levenson and the cast, where they discussed overcoming COVID-19 challenges and Miranda’s instant reaction to producer Julie Oh when asked if he’d be interested in directing: “It was the fastest email response — ‘I’m the only person who can direct this movie. If they only let me make one, this is the one I understand,'” he recalled.
Miranda also reflected on seeing Rent for the first time when he was 17, and how after seeing the diversity onstage, the contemporary music and Larson’s personal touch, “I went from loving musicals to thinking I could maybe write one one day.”
Garfield spoke about getting the call from Miranda to star with essentially no musical background, starting with “Lin being a fool and thinking that I could do something that I at that point couldn’t do.” But one day when rehearsing opening number “30/90,” Lin “had snuck in, we did one phrase and then his shoe came flying past. It felt loving. And he screams at me, ‘Andrew Garfield, you can sing!’ And then he comes up to me very quietly and he says, ‘Whoever gave you the idea that there are certain things that you couldn’t do, I’m going to sit them down and have a stern word.'”
The star admitted that in taking on the role he was “freaking out, because not only it’s Lin and Lin’s a hero of mine creatively. It’s like he asked me to do something, it’s a yes — and then I figure out how to do it.”
“I got to do something I’ve wanted to do all my life, and I got to learn how to do it through Jonathan Larson’s songs,” Garfield added. “I am the luckiest boy alive, it’s official.”
Tick, Tick… Boom! hits theaters on Friday and starts streaming on Netflix Nov. 19.
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