June 4, 2021 - 5:28 pm
“I fall in love with ideas,” Lin-Manuel Miranda says. “When I’m walking my dog or taking a shower, ideas will say, ‘write me.’ And all of a sudden, there is no other choice because it’s really overwhelming.
“At that point, you just use your brains, heart and courage to make it happen,” adds the visionary behind “Hamilton” and the new film “In the Heights,” opening Friday in theaters and available on HBO Max.
“In the Heights,” with music and lyrics by Miranda, started out as a sophomore project when he was a student at Wesleyan University. When the school’s theater company gave it a green light, Miranda swept in again to add his freestyle rap and salsa numbers. The show morphed into Miranda’s Tony-winning Broadway hit in 2008.
The film, directed by Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians”), tells the story of the close-knit Latinx neighborhood of New York City’s Washington Heights, where everyone has a story to tell and a dream they’re chasing. It stars Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Jimmy Smits and Miranda.
He won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for drama for “Hamilton.” Miranda also has three Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards and an Emmy. The 41-year-old is married to lawyer Vanessa Nadal and they have two sons, Sebastian, 7 and Francisco, 3.
Review-Journal: What was your biggest goal with the film version of “In the Heights?” What did you want to say when it came to Hispanic-driven movies?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Our stories are worth telling. Diversity is what makes the world special. It’s a richer world. This movie is full of stars — some that you’ve heard of and some that you’ve never heard of but it’s time to introduce them to the audience so they can go on and tell other stories. I want to provide a door for new talent to kick open.
Was it always your dream to do a big-screen musical?
Yes. This is a big Hollywood musical in all the best senses of the word. I want people to want to sing along or dance their way out of the theater. I want them to think about their own dreams and the people in their neighborhood who are irreplaceable and teach us some of life’s biggest lessons about making dreams come true.
Is there a difference between writing for stage and screen?
Coming from the theater, the only thing that changes for me is the audience. Audiences are either in front of you at the theater for a live performance or you don’t see them at a movie theater or at home. You think about that for a minute, but it doesn’t change the writing. In each case, you look at a blank page and wait for your energy to go, “OK, let’s go.”
You were a teacher who gave that up to become a writer. How did you make that jump?
I was substitute teaching when I was young, but what I really wanted to do was throw myself into writing full time. I asked my father what I should do. Actually, I wrote him a letter. He wrote back saying that as a parent he should be telling me to keep the teaching job. That’s solid advice. But then he wrote about how life is about taking chances. So, my father told me that, although it made no sense to leave a secure job to become a writer, that is exactly what I should do if I really wanted another life.
What did your father want you to be when you grew up?
How do you balance family life with show business?
The key is you do have to balance all things in your life. After a year of “Hamilton,” I went off to do “Mary Poppins” and jumped into that world. I was able to spend more time with my family and do a project that I loved. You just have to look at what works for everyone. I’ll never forget bringing my son Sebastian, who was 3 at the time, to the set every time we filmed a musical number on “Poppins.” To watch his eyes open like saucers while Daddy danced with what seemed like 500 dancers and the penguins was magical. I’ll never forget the look on his face as long as I live.
What is the oddest thing that happened while doing “Hamilton” on stage?
There was a performance when Seth Stewart sat on a chair like any other show and it splintered underneath him. It was like out of a cartoon. He was supposed to be watching a Cabinet battle and the chair literally exploded underneath him. All of us just kept going. I will cherish that memory for the rest of my life.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Pay your rent. Get health insurance. At the same time, do what you love and don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do it.
What motivates you to spend years on a topic like “Hamilton” or “In the Heights?”
When you write a show, you have to be in love with the idea itself. You can’t think about the money or the time involved or if it will top your last thing. You can’t control how the public will react. You just have to love it.
What is your idea of an ideal Sunday?
I’m in New York City in my Washington Heights neighborhood with my family. The day starts early with coffee or maybe even Dunkin’ Donuts or me making eggs and sausage. We’ll go to Central Park for a few hours, and then if I missed “SNL,” I’ll put it on from the night before. I will do a little work on my music right after breakfast, which has always been a really creative time for me. I’ll read, watch a movie or read a book. Play with the kids. That’s a perfect Sunday.