2:38pm PT by Scott Feinberg
'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Lin-Manuel Miranda ('Hamilton' & 'Moana')
"I could not have had a happier place to go when I wasn't in the midst of the tsunami — the wonderful tsunami — that was Hamilton," says the actor/playwright/composer/songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda of writing seven original songs for the Disney animated film Moana while simultaneously appearing in the biggest Broadway phenomenon in history. Hamilton, which Miranda created and starred in through last July, won 11 Tony Awards, two of which went to him personally, as did a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur 'Genius Grant' and a Grammy Award. For Moana, meanwhile, he is nominated for the best original song Oscar, for his tune "How Far I'll Go" — and if he wins, he will become only the 13th — and, at just 36, the youngest — EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner) in history. But, as we sit down to record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's 'Awards Chatter' podcast at Line 204 Studios in Hollywood, Miranda is taking it all in stride. "I'm just excited to go to the party," he says with a smile.
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Born in New York to a psychologist and a political operative who both enjoyed Broadway cast albums, Miranda has been consistently involved with musical theater ever since elementary school. "Pivotal" figures on his journey, he reveals during our conversation, included an encouraging elementary school teacher Ms. Ames, a rapping bus driver Billy Baker, Jr., and a fellow participant in his high school's theater group, Brick Prison, who grew up to become MSNBC's Chris Hayes. It was in eighth grade that Miranda, for the first time, not only acted in but wrote a show, which sparked a passion that continued through his years at Wesleyan University, where he began writing what would ultimately become his first Broadway production, In the Heights. A week after graduating from Wesleyan in 2002, he connected with a fellow alum, Thomas Kail, with whom he formed a hip-hop improv comedy troupe, Freestyle Love Supreme, and who became the director of both In the Heights and, years later, Hamilton.
In 2008, In the Heights, a show about three days in the largely Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights, debuted on Broadway, and quickly put Miranda firmly on the map — it won the best musical Tony and ran for three years. Ahead of his first vacation from it in 2009, Miranda visited the Borders bookstore that used to be in the Time Warner Center and bought Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton biography to bring with him. At an all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, he began reading it while laying in a hammock over a pool, and by the end of the second chapter, he says, "I realized this was a very compelling story and this was a hip-hop story" that could and should be told with color-blind casting to illustrate who we were then with artists who reflect who we are now. "I was never picturing the literal founders, even as I was reading the book for the first time," he adds. "Even then, I'm thinking, 'Who's the best rapper to play George Washington?' It was the good idea that kept proving me right over the course of the book in lots of different interesting ways."
In May 2009, Miranda received an invitation to perform a song at the White House, and decided that, rather than doing something from In the Heights, he would sing the first number he had composed for what he then envisioned solely as an album, to be called The Hamilton Mixtape. The footage went viral and, by 2012, when he was invited to be the focus of an American Songbook evening at Lincoln Center, he had written 10 more Hamilton-related songs to go with it. Soon thereafter, he secured financial backing to turn it into a full-fledged musical off-Broadway at The Public Theater, and he and Kail began readying it for that format. Meanwhile, seven months before rehearsals were to begin at The Public, Miranda was offered — and accepted — a chance to realize his lifelong dream of writing music for a Disney animated movie when the studio hired him to write seven songs for Moana, the story of a Polynesian princess, one of which became "How Far I'll Go," for which he received best original song Critics' Choice and Golden Globe noms en route to his Oscar nom.
For most of the last two years, Moana and Hamilton have dominated Miranda's time away from his wife and son, who was born three weeks before Hamilton first was mounted — not just writing music for Moana and performing seven times a week during Hamilton's off-Broadway run at The Public (January through May of 2015) and its Broadway run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre (August 2015 through July 2016), but also promoting both and, since his departure from Hamilton, constantly keeping a finger on the pulse of the show as it prepares to spread around the globe. (He still was part of the Broadway company during a "really tough" conversation about castmembers' desire for profit-sharing, which he recalls as "tricky for me," but which ultimately was resolved amicably.) Only recently has he been able to shift part of his focus to other things, as well, including temporarily moving to London in order to act for Disney opposite Emily Blunt in a sequel to the 1964 movie musical classic Mary Poppins.
But, Miranda insists, Hamilton and Hamilton are not altogether in his rearview mirror. He just read In the Heights playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes' first draft of a script for a film version of that show, and says a Hamilton film will happen one day, too — but not for years, so that people have ample time to see the stage version first. "I don't think I'm done with that role, by any stretch," he says emphatically. "It's just a meal of a role. In other shows, maybe you have a part where you get to fall in love, maybe you have a part where you get to fight in a gun duel, maybe you get a part where you get to have an affair, maybe you get a part where you lose a loved one and get to explore all that. In Hamilton, you do all of that! You do everything you do in life in two hours and 45 minutes. You live your fullest life. So that never gets old."