Special thanks to Disney for the magical trip to Los Angeles to cover the World Premiere of Moana and its press events.
You know, I wish I could tell you that I was able to tell Lin-Manuel Miranda how much Hamilton: An American Musical means to me, but as soon as he entered the room, I was incapable of breathing, let alone talking. I wanted so desperately to tell him about how my fifteen year old, Styles and I went from being completely unable to relate to one another, to having a really solid relationship thanks to the Hamilton Soundtrack, and that my younger kids and older son finally have something in common other than meal time. I couldn’t do it. Even when we finally made eye contact, all I could do was smile sheepishly. I did it. I threw away my shot.
I don’t get star struck often, they’re just people like us, but meeting Lin-Manuel Miranda was right up there with meeting Michael Jackson back in 2000. I find this pretty extraordinary considering the fact that at least 20 people have asked me who the heck Lin-Manuel even is since I got back from Los Angeles. Don’t worry, they’re all dead to me.
Even more people have asked how he was. Was he cool? Was he nice? And honestly, I couldn’t answer the question until I went back and looked at pictures and heard the interview again, because all I could focus on while I was sitting rightfreakingnexttohim was the fact that I was feeling the world tilt beneath my chair as I struggled to catch my breath and just sit upright.
The honest answer is, he’s totally freaking cool. He walked into the room with a “yo!” which really set my heart aflame, and then took his seat next to me. He was super cool in that “probably wasn’t hip in high school but is absolutely brilliant and doing amazing, super cool things now” kind of way. And he was nice. He was very nice. He didn’t hide any interview insanity or how he felt about it from his adoring Twitter fans at all, but he didn’t make it obvious that he didn’t want to be there, so kudos to you, sir!
As a matter of fact, he sat down and said:
This is like a really nice version of that scene in The Godfather. You’re all just so happy and smiling. Alright, how does this work? I’m an open book.
He was immediately asked about his enormous love for Disney and what it was like to be part of the Disney family now.
It’s. Pretty. Dope. I’m waiting until my son gets a little older to, you know, cash the one-time, like, here’s your guided tour, go to the front of the lines at Disneyland, thing. But, it’s amazing. I mean, from the first moment, I think the most exciting part, for a Disney geek like me, was the story meetings. You know, I’ve had a little Hollywood experience, and there’s nothing like the Disney story experience. You sit at a table, a lot like this, except it’s perfectly round, and the notes are not from execs, the notes are from Jen Lee, the co-director of Frozen, from Pete Docter, who’s working on Inside Out, and did Big Hero 6. Like, everyone who actually makes the thing, are the ones who are kicking the tires on your story, and making it better. And that was my favorite part of the process. And getting to meekly raise my hand, and being like, I think a song could do that better. You know, that was my way into the room. So it’s been a real joy.
Did he just say “that was my way into the room”? As in the room where it happens? I think he did.
(I’m trying so hard to write this in my own voice and not use a litany of “Hamilton” or “In the Heights” lines, but it’s hard. I want this to sound more like me and less like Lin-Manuel Miranda. If you ever read this, do you go by Lin? And also, my middle name’s Len, so we’re kind of the same. Basically.)
Sorry for the interruption, back to our regularly scheduled interview.
Lin-Manuel Miranda really is non-stop. He found out that he was going to be a father the same day that he got the job for Moana, and boarded a plane to New Zealand to do music research at a music conference there with the rest of the creative team.
Yeah. This is the weird day that changed my life. I woke up one Wednesday, and my wife’s a lawyer, she was off to get on a plane, to go to a business meeting somewhere else, and she said, “I think you might be a father. I have to go to the airport.” It was like, six in the morning, and I was like, “that’s great — what?” I called her at noon once her flight landed, to confirm that I hadn’t dreamt the thing she told me, and then I got the Moana offer that afternoon. That offer came with a plane ticket to New Zealand, where the rest of the creative team was already doing music research at this specific music conference, in New Zealand. So I didn’t see my wife, and then I got on a plane to New Zealand, and I’m sitting with this secret that we’re five weeks pregnant. So, it was one of those really, like, insane, life-changing weeks. That was two years and seven months ago. I can remember it, because my son turned two last week. And so, he’s been the marker of time for me.
Aside from thinking about breathing, I remember thinking “OH my gosh, I can’t imagine telling my husband while he’s coming out of REM that I’m pregnant, peace out!” which solidified my secret love for Vanessa Nadal.
While Lin was writing Hamilton, he was concurrently writing tunes for Moana. He says that when he would tire of the Founders, he would take a break and sail across the sea to Moana and Maui.
Once Hamilton: An American Musical opened off and then on Broadway, Lin-Manuel would take Tuesdays and Thursdays off from press and meetings and write all day, then Skype with the creative team of Moana at five before taking a 7:00pm curtain call on the stage of the Richard Rogers theater on 42nd in Manhattan. A lot of the early demos are of Pippa Soo and Chris Jackson singing. I know I’m not the only person who would like to get their hands on THOSE demos! Luckily, you can hear Marcy Harriell from In the Heights singing a cut song called “More” on the Moana soundtrack Deluxe Edition.
Not all of his demos were so fantastic.
I turned in my first demo, and I would just sing into my headphones. And like, the next day, a representative from Disney sent me a better microphone. They’re like, this cannot stand.
We were all in agreement that upon hearing the music within Moana, you could kind of tell that Lin-Manuel had written them. I love what he had to say about that.
Well isn’t that crazy, first of all? I feel like style is like accent. Like, you don’t hear it on yourself, and then everyone’s like, man, you got a strong accent, and so, that’s just a very funny quirk. I think, there’s a couple of songs. I’m really proud of. “How Far I’ll Go”. I literally locked myself up in my childhood bedroom at my parent’s house to write those lyrics. I wanted to get to my angstiest possible place.
Couple things. 1. He’s right, the music has his accent all over it. 2. I’m glad I’m not the only writer who has to get all angsty to come up with my very best stuff. That’s evident on my other blog where I only write angst-ridden material.
But then he talked a bit about why he had to go method on that particular song.
It’s a challenging song. It’s not, “I hate it here, I want to be out there.” It’s not, “There Must be More Than This Provincial Life”. She loves her island, she loves her parents, she loves her people. And there’s still this voice inside.
That lyric wound up having serious story repercussions and in our interview, Lin-Manuel talked about exactly how that song helped shape the unlocking of Moana.
It then had huge story repercussions, like, sort of, are, the screenwriters took that ball and ran with it, and that was exciting to see, the sort of give and take between the songs, and the story at large. That was a real key to unlocking her. Really nailing that moment of it’s not about being miserable where you are, you know, I related to that. I was 16 years old, and I lived in, on 200th Street in New York, and I knew what I wanted to do for a living, and I knew where I was, and the gulf just seemed impossible. I mean, everything just seems so far when you’re that age. So that’s what I sort of tapped into to write that tune.
He completely nailed it, and answered my question about how he drew inspiration for writing the song without my even having to ask it. He went on to explain how the template was set by the Moana creative team and the first thing they animated was the water test where a young Moana interacts with the water, water as a character, not just a thing.
That’s so reflective of Pacific culture, that really treats the ocean as a living thing. And two, I think it taps into a really primal chord of any little kid who goes to the beach, who punches back at the waves, or builds a moat to protect their castle. You’re talking to the water. It feels that individual. That’s a thing we forget when we grow up, that we had this relationship with the water when we were kids. And that sequence is such a powerful reminder of it.
When asked about his musical influences, he mentioned the people he used to chase and, well, Lin-Manuel was there, I’ll let him tell it…
It’s so many. You know, I mean, if I were to limit it just to Disney, I could talk to you for three hours about it.
I would not, by the way, be even slightly opposed to that.
You know, I think that’s how you figure out who you are, is you chase your heroes. You know, I chased Ashman and Menken, I chased Sondheim. I chased Jonathan Larson, I chased Biggie, I chased Tupac. And in falling short of all of those, I end up with that style that is an accent I can’t hear.
Uh. No. You fall short of exactly NONE of those. You are a master in your own right, with that accent you cannot hear.
He talked about how Howard Ashman is the master of the lyric that is both iconic and conversational and how it just feels like the way people talk and really bridges the divide of these people just bursting into song.
And then he did the thing that almost made me pass out for realz. He literally sang some lyrics from different movies, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and then – AND THEN – he said,
“Pardon me, are you Aaron Burr, sir? That depends, who’s asking – OH, well sure, sir!”
And in another dimension I fell out of my chair, in this one I managed to stay in my chair, but barely.
As a creative person, I find it nearly impossible to keep my ish straight, and I wondered how Lin-Manuel managed to do it. He’s now promoting this movie and getting ready to begin filming Mary Poppins Returns in London, where I’m certain he’ll continue to write like crazy (if only I had an ounce of that time-management ability). How does he do it? According to him, his kid gets him out of bed in the morning, and before that, his dog got him out of bed in the morning. And then he said some things that I think are going to change my life for the better. Things that fully resonated with me, a person whose brain is a graveyard of great ideas. Perhaps no more.
Honestly, I think you balance the things you’ve been dying to do all your life, and the opportunities that come along, that you didn’t maybe think of, that are so amazing, that you’d kick yourself if you didn’t try to be a part of them. And so, to that end, is Mary Poppins Returns. You know, did you dream that there’d be a sequel to Mary Poppins, much less, you get to go and sing and dance with Mary Poppins all day. And then there’s the ideas that are still in my head, that were around before Hamilton, that are like, “Hey, we were here before you were cool! Don’t forget to write us!” So, you know, I will continue to sort of balance those things.
I’m going to live in London for six months. Who knows what that will inspire? And so, staying open to changing the plan, if that’s what’s nagging at me. And by nagging at me, I think, you know, I very much subscribe to the Moana feeling of, like, listening to that voice inside you. Like, if you’re thinking about the idea in the shower if you’re thinking about the idea while you’re walking your dog, there’s probably something to it. I take the same approach to criticism. I’ll, I read reviews, I’m not going to lie to y’all. I’ll read ‘em, but then, the next day, I’m able to sort of shrug them off. But if something sort of sticks the next day, there’s probably something to it. I just sort of really try to trust my gut on, on all that stuff.
He went on to talk about how much fun it was to write for Dwayne Johnson. Maui was supposed to be a lovable character, so casting played a very important role in making Maui lovable and not a Gaston-like vanity parade, and the song, “You’re Welcome” had to reflect that kind of brash attitude while maintaining a sort of honest, lovable quality to the character.
Lin’s favorite Disney movie is The Little Mermaid and his son, Sebastian’s name is, in part, a nod to the movie, but that’s not the only reason he got the name. It is also because Sebastian one of the great bilingual names.
It’s mainly my son’s name, because Sebastian is one of the great bilingual names. Like, Sebastian, en Español, is a bad ass name. It helps that I already had great affection for the name, since my youth.
He ended the interview by taking a picture of us all and posting it to Twitter, where my friend Amy, our friend Jana’s shirt, my shirt, and my laptop all became Twitter memes for the day. It was beyond.
My first interview was all these delightful women. Tag yourselves! pic.twitter.com/UXv8pf5Nl6
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) November 13, 2016
I still keep simultaneously pinching and kicking myself for not talking while he was in the room, but with any luck, I’ll have the opportunity to talk to him when Mary Poppins Returns hits the press circuit.
You can buy the Moana soundtrack now and make SURE you go see Moana in theaters on November 23rd!
From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes Moana, a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) meets the once-mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master wayfinder. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity. Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess & the Frog) and produced by Osnat Shurer (Lifted, One Man Band), Moana sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.