A REAL SONG AND DANCE MAN
Meet the genius behind Mary Poppins Returns.
The first rule of celebrity interviews is not to ask the same old questions everyone asks. But when it comes to Lin-manuel Miranda, it’s hard to hold back. So, when is Hamilton coming to Australia? The answer is “at some point,” which is vague but hopeful. It’s also extremely polite, given that this interview isn’t about Miranda’s Tony Award-winning, record-breaking, cultural atom bomb of a musical. No. It’s about what comes next, when you take the life story of one of the US founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, turn it into a smash hit hip-hop Broadway musical, blow everybody clean away, and turn your sights to other things. Specifically: Mary Poppins Returns.
The film is a sequel to the 1964 Julie Andrews classic; Emily Blunt plays the titular Mary, and Miranda is Jack, a lamplighter and Mary’s love interest. “It’s daunting to remake a beloved film like
Mary Poppins,” he says. “I think it’s very smart not to do a reboot, it’s following on from the story.” Miranda, who one imagines could have his pick of roles, was drawn to the project for the chance to work with director Rob Marshall (Chicago) and co-star Blunt, who he says is “so generous with every member of the cast and crew”.
Miranda says he was one of those lucky kids who “always knew” what he wanted to do. His a-ha moment? Watching The Little Mermaid. “When Sebastian the crab sang ‘Under The Sea’, it was like my life before then was black and white and my life after that was in colour. I don’t know what it is about that song and that moment but it was the most transported I have ever felt in a movie theatre.” At university, he started a hip-hop troupe, Freestyle Love Supreme (more on this later) and wrote a draft of In The Heights, the musical which would first bring him popular and critical acclaim.
Nearly 10 years later, in 2008, it opened on Broadway and went on to win 13 Tony Awards. From there he worked on Bring It
On: The Musical and in 2012, he began performing a show then known as The Hamilton Mixtape. Three years later it was born again as Hamilton, and the modern musical changed forever. Since Miranda left the production in 2016, he’s won a Pulitzer for it, been nominated for an Academy Award (for the songs he wrote for Moana), written music for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, been nominated for an Emmy for hosting Saturday Night Live and, in an almost too-perfect full-circle moment, is now composing music for The Little Mermaid reboot. “My job is to be the biggest fan of The Little Mermaid. Done.”
Married since 2010 to his high school sweetheart, lawyer Vanessa Nadal, and a father of two, Miranda says getting the work-life balance is just as tricky for Broadway royalty as it is for the rest of us. “We struggle with that just as much as anybody on earth, really. When you have two kids it’s sort of divide and conquer – like I’ll run after that one, you take that one.” He laughs. “We’re figuring it out every day.” I ask him what the secret is to being with one person for such a long time – how do you keep the romance alive? “I have no idea. Take holidays? Actually, that’s where I started writing Hamilton, on vacation one year. My wife made me go, we hadn’t been on holiday for such a long time. But then I got this idea for
Hamilton, and I had to run with it. So maybe that’s not right. That was not very romantic for my wife.”
Miranda is known for his work promoting charitable causes. He released the song “Almost Like Praying” to aid Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria, and next year Hamilton will open on the island to promote tourism there and hopefully raise “millions”. He also recently fought to reclaim the film rights to
In The Heights, which were owned by The Weinstein Company. “It was important, as a man, to stand up and say I wanted the movie out of those hands. And now we’re back on track, and Warner Brothers have the rights. The hope is to film next summer.”
Miranda reassures us once more that Hamilton will definitely make it down under. “I love Australia,” he says. “I was there about 10 years ago, maybe more. I got my first tattoo in Melbourne.” More than getting his first ink, Australia is a reminder of how far he’s come, he says. “I don’t think I’ve ever told this story before. When I was in Freestyle Love Supreme, we were in this comedy relief show in Melbourne. Nobody knew who we were, we were literally filler. And I’ll never forget it because as they did the live promo for the next ad break, the announcer says something like, ‘Coming up next… Eddie Perfect! Tim Minchin!’ And then the camera pans to us and the announcer clearly doesn’t recognise us at all, so he says, ‘And… shitloads more!’ So that’s who we were for a long time: Shitloads More.” He laughs. “I love the history of being unacknowledged and unappreciated in Australia. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!” E
Mary Poppins Returns is in cinemas January 1
“It’s daunting to remake a beloved film like Mary Poppins. I think it’s very smart not to do a reboot”