When I was told that we would have the opportunity to be in the same room and an Exclusive Interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, it just becomes surreal how amazing my job is. Lin-Manuel Miranda is best known for creating and starring in the Broadway musicals Hamilton and In the Heights. This man is just a genius!
I was invited by Disney to attend the LA Red Carpet Premier and Press Junket for the #MoanaEvent, #TheBFGBluray, #ABCTVEvent and #StuckInTheMiddleEvent. This special invitation is an all expense paid trip, but all magical opinions are mine alone.
Exclusive Interview With Lin-Manuel Miranda #MoanaEvent
Lin-Manuel Miranda has won a Pulitzer Prize, two Grammys, an Emmy, a MacArthur “Genius” Award, and three Tony awards. So, you can bet that Disney knew exactly what they were doing when they ask Lin-Manuel Miranda to be apart of their newest animation, MOANA!
As Lin-Manuel Miranda entered the room you can tell he was ready to answer any questions we had. Telling us he was an “open book”.
Okay, so you’re such a huge Disney fan. What is it like to be a part of the Disney family now?
It’s pretty dope! I’m waiting ‘til my son gets a little older to, you know, cash the one-time,here’s your guided tour, go to the front of the lines, at Disneyland. But it’s amazing. I mean, from the first moment, I think the most exciting part, for a Disney geek like me, was the, 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, 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. That was my way into the room. So it’s been a real joy.
So what, what was the timeline as far as working on Hamilton, and Moana? Were you working on them at the same time?
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 offer. ‘Cause I interviewed for the job. I got the Moana offer that afternoon. Then 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 insane, life-changing weeks.So 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. And I’ve been writing. And then, you know, 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 over to Maui and Moana. And then we just built it into my crazy schedule. 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. and 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. So I have a ton of Pippa demos and sort of calling on my friends. 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, for, in The Heights for many years. So, you know, it was sort of all hands on deck, to help me, demonstrate these songs. ‘Cause I think I turned in my first demo, and I would just sing into my headphones. The next day, a representative from Disney sent me a better microphone. They’re like, this cannot stand. That was the process. But it was happening concurrently. Then weirdly, 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.
What was your favorite song to write?
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. 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 and really, because, 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. And 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 that was exciting to see, the sort of give and take between the songs, and the story at large. But 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. I was 16 years old and I lived 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.
What’s next for you? I know you’re working on, Mary Poppins Returns. But, what motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What, do you like? What’s your end point? What do you want to do?
My kid gets me out of bed in the morning. Before that, my dog got me out of bed in the morning. Honestly, I think for me, it’s a balance of 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.
To that end, is Mary Poppins Returns. You know, who do 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. Then there’s the ideas that are still in my head, that were around before Hamilton, that was like, hey, we were here before you were cool. Don’t forget to write us! I will continue to sort of balance those things. But I also, want to stay open. I think every writer’s had the experience of having a really good idea, waiting to write it, and then once you write it, you’re like, oh. I like, kind of got past the sell by date, on this. I’m not connected to the initial spark that was the idea. You know, I’m going to live in London for six months. Who knows what that will inspire? Staying open to, changing the plan, if that’s what’s nagging at me. I very much subscribe to the Moana feeling of listening to that voice inside you. 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 read reviews, I’m not going to lie to y’all, 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 all that stuff.
The song “You’re Welcome” is super catchy, and we can’t singing it. What was it like writing for Dwayne Johnson?
Exactly that fun. There were only two vocalists that I knew who I was writing for when I was writing. We did a worldwide search for Auli’i and so those songs were pretty much in place by the time she came aboard. But I knew The Rock was involved, and I knew when he had the meeting, he said, “Oh, Lin’s writing it, can I rap?” So, I wasn’t planning to write a patter section, but, serve at the pleasure of the president. That was fun. You know, 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, who else can pull off the lyric, you’re welcome, and still have you like him? You know what I mean? You go cast the wrong actor, it’s Gaston. It’s, that guy’s a jerk. But he sings it, and he arches his eyebrow, and he grins, and you’re like, I love this guy. So that was also the joy of getting to write this really healthy sense of self song and know that it’s going to win people over.
You’ve mentioned a lot of Disney lyrics throughout this morning, this interview. What was your favorite Disney movie or character, growing up?
The Little Mermaid is like, the number one. That movie came out when I was nine years old. I saw it when I was on a play date with my friend. So I went with a friend. It was not with my family. It was my friend, Alex Starland. This crab starts singing a Caribbean calypso tune and I was never the same again. I used to get up on my desk in fourth grade and sing it. I remember calling in sick from school, on March 19th, because that was the day it came out on VHS and I didn’t want to wait ‘til school ended. I wanted to go to the drug store that morning, ‘cause I wanted to get it that day and I wasn’t going to wait. So I was sick and I had a stomach ache! And I saw Little Mermaid at ten a.m. I even remember getting the Disney sing-a-long songs, which came out before the movie. Where they just had “Kiss The Girl” and “Under The Sea”. And then like, nautical themed Disney movies throughout time. So I know all the words to “Whale of a Tale”, from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. ‘Cause it was on my Little Mermaid sing-a-long songs. It’s sort of that level, obsession and really, I think because of that, Sebastian the Crab, that song was unlike any other Disney tune I heard. I was like, that has a Caribbean rhythm to it. I’m from the Caribbean. It just felt like, oh, you can go anywhere. Probably, my desire to sort of start writing stuff, I think, began with that movie.
So is your son’s name an adage to that?
It is a nod to that. It’s not the only reason.I don’t think my wife would let that fly, but it’s mainly my son’s name, because Sebastian’s 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.
As you can tell by the interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda we got to really dive deep with him about his lyrics in MOANA and how it all came together with him. If you noticed he is also working with Disney with May Poppins Returns which is sure to be amazing! Especially with him singing and creating amazing lyrics for it as well.
If you haven’t purchased the MOANA Soundtrack I highly suggest it for the holidays! The music is really incredible and magical!
Take a sneak peak below at “We Know The Way” written and sang by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i.
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MOANA arrives in theatres everywhere on November 23rd!
Have you gotten the MOANA soundtrack yet?