You pretty much needed to be living in a far away land in a cave to have not heard about Lin-Manuel Miranda. He is the Man of the Moment and is in line to possibly win the famous PEGOT. (Pulitzer Prize, Emmy, Oscar, Grammy, and a Tony) He’s one of the most talented people of our generation and it looks like he is not stopping anytime soon. Even the kiddos have the Hamilton soundtrack and my oldest has the book. His entire high school thinks broadway is cool once more. I sat down with Mr. Miranda last week during the MOANA press junket. Here’s a bit from that interview:
Q: You’re such a huge Disney fan. What is it like to be a part of the Disney family now?
LIN-MANUEL: It’s pretty dope. [LAUGHTER] I’m waiting ‘til 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. 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. 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, [LAUGHTER] are the ones who are kicking the tires on your story, and making it better. 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. [LAUGHTER]That was my way into the room. So it, it’s been a real joy.
Q: What, what was the timeline as far as working on Hamilton, and Moana? Were you working on them at the same time?
LIN-MANUEL: Yeah. [LAUGHS] 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. [LAUGHTER] 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 offer — ‘cause I interviewed for the job. 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. 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.
He’s been the marker of time for me. And I’ve been writing. It was a great oasis, during the writing of Hamilton, because any time I was sick of the founders, I’d go sail across the sea, [LAUGHTER] over to Maui and Moana. And then, we just built it into my crazy schedule. Like, Tuesdays and Thursdays, I didn’t do any press, I didn’t do any meetings, I just wrote all day, ‘cause I meet via Skype, with the creative team, at five p.m. Then I would have my seven o’clock curtain. I did a lot of writing in the theater. A lot of the early demos are Pippa Soo and Chris Jackson singing, Maui and Moana, ‘cause they were my in-house band. I have a ton of Pippa demos, and sort of calling on my friends, like, I think you’ll hear on the deluxe edition, when it comes out, you’ll hear Marcy Harriell singing a cut Moana song that was called “More”. Marcy was my Vanessa in The Heights for many years. So, you know, it was sort of all hands on deck to help me demonstrate these songs.
I think 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. [LAUGHTER] They’re like, this cannot stand. That was the process. But it was happening concurrently. Then weirdly, like, my work finished just about the time my run ended. So I was having Tuesday and Thursday meetings all the way up to my last show.
Q: Had I not known that you’d written those songs, I could’ve said, hey, that sounds like a lot like Lin-Manuel Miranda, that’s amazing. So what was your favorite song to write?
LIN-MANUEL: Well isn’t that crazy, first of all? I feel like, style is like accent. You don’t hear it on yourself, and then everyone’s like, man, you got a strong accent. [LAUGHTER] 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 parents’ house, to write those lyrics. I wanted to get to my angstiest possible place. So I went method on that. 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. I think finding that notion of listening to that little voice inside you, and that being who you are, once I wrote that lyric, it first appears when Gramma Tala tells it to her, in the opening number. It then had huge story repercussions. The screenwriters took that ball and ran with it, and 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. I related to that. You know, 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.
Q: So you’re a musical genius. Is there someone you look up to?
LIN-MANUEL: It’s so many. I mean, if I were to limit it just to Disney, I could talk to you for three hours about it. I think that’s how you figure out who you are, is you chase your heroes. You know, I chased Alan 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. With Disney in particular, for me, Howard Ashman is sort of the master of the lyric that is both iconic, and conversational.
I think of, part of your world, and, look at this stuff, as she’s stumbling, and trying to find the words, you know? Dancing around on those, what do you call ‘em? Feet. [LAUGHTER] Or Belle in Beauty and the Beast, saying, it’s my favorite part, because you’ll see — you know, interrupting her thought to say something else, because she’s so excited. Those are the moments you chase, as a songwriter, because they’re the ones that really feel real. I chase that in Hamilton, when pardon me, are you Aaron Burr, sir, that depends who’s asking — oh, well, sure.
It just feels like the way people talk. That’s always what I’m chasing in a really good lyric. Because it just feels like the way people actually speak. And then helps you bridge that divide of these people bursting into song. That’s an impossible leap for a lot of people. People who don’t like musicals, like, why are they singing? Why aren’t they just talking? [LAUGHTER] If you make the lyric feel really conversational, it’s much easier for them to bridge that gap.
Q: The song “You’re Welcome” is super catchy, and we can’t stop singing it. What was it like writing for Dwayne Johnson?
LIN-MANUEL: Exactly that fun. He’s one of the few. There were only two vocalists that I knew who I was writing for when I was writing. We did a worldwide search for MOANA. So those songs were pretty much in place by the time he came aboard. I knew The Rock was involved, and I knew when he had the meeting, he said, oh, Lin’s writing it, can I rap? I wasn’t planning to write a patter section but, you know, I serve at the pleasure of the president. [LAUGHTER] That was fun. It allows us to get a lot of information in about Maui. Maui plays a different role in almost every island. In some, he’s more of a trickster god, in some, he’s a really super-serious demigod. In some, he’s Bugs Bunny. We got to write our version of him. And also, like, who else can pull off the lyric, you’re welcome, and still have you like him?
In Theaters Nov. 23
For centuries, the greatest sailors in the world masterfully navigated the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, 3,000 years ago, their voyages stopped for a millennium – and no one knows exactly why.
From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who is inspired to leave the safety and security of her island on a daring journey to save her people. Inexplicably drawn to the ocean, Moana (voice of Auliʻi Cravalho) convinces the mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson) to join her mission, and he reluctantly helps her become a wayfinder like her ancestors who sailed before her. Together, they voyage across the open ocean on an action-packed adventure, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills her quest 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”), produced by Osnat Shurer (“Lifted,” “One Man Band”), and featuring music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa‘i, “Moana” sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.
***Disclosure: I attended the #MOANAEvent My flight, lodgings, and expenses were covered by Disney All opinions are 100% mine. ***