Lin-Manuel Miranda is indeed a Jack of all trades.
The award-winning Hamilton star recently made his directorial debut for the Netflix film adaptation of tick, tick... BOOM! – a biographical drama telling the story of late playwright Jonathan Larson.
Set in the 1990s, the film chronicles Larson's journey in pursuing his dream in musical theatre, right up to the very first performance of his play. Oscar nominee and Tony Award winner Andrew Garfield plays Larson, while Love Simon's Alexandra Shipp plays his girlfriend, Susan. Also part of the cast are actors Robin De Jesús and Vanessa Hudgens.
With Miranda also previously starring as Larson in New York City Center's Encores! Off-Center production of tick, tick…BOOM!, there was no better person to direct the movie. The artist was approached personally to direct the Netflix film adaptation by producer Julie Oh.
“Julie emailed me out of the blue and said, I just got the rights to tick, tick... BOOM! Would you be interested in directing it? And I wrote her back and said your search is over!” exclaimed Miranda. "I was so excited about the cinematic possibilities in telling the story,” he revealed. “I thought it had even more possibility cinematically than it did theatrically.”
Talking about his previous experience of having played Larson, Miranda shared, "One of the things that was magical about playing Jonathan was growing a deeper relationship with Jonathan Larson's family. And also, realizing that anytime tick, tick... BOOM! is performed in a way that's even different from Rent, Jonathan Larson is alive again."
Larson is best known for having produced Rent, a critically-acclaimed production that has clinched numerous Tony and Drama Desk Awards, a Grammy nomination, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
"Jonathan's the guy who made me feel like I could write musicals in the first place. When I saw Rent for my 17th birthday, I saw the most diverse cast I'd ever seen. In a musical, I heard contemporary-sounding music that didn't feel out of place with the rest of my rock albums from the mid-90s. It was about New York, and being an artist and trying to survive at this thing that I knew I wanted to do someday. I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker, or I wanted to write songs. It just totally changed my worldview."
When asked what his favorite scene in the film was, the director struggled to give a definitive answer.
"Oh, that's impossible. You know, it really is such a labor of love. It's very rare that you see a musical theatre writer of Jonathan Larson's caliber, write a self-portrait. It's so honest and real, and relatable. Our job the entire time was to ask ourselves, 'what would Jonathan Larson do?'"
"I guess, the moment I would pick [would be] the moments where I felt like, we were really kind of in the room with him. So many times, we were on location and places Jonathan actually lived, you know, to the entire performance. The frame of the movie was filmed at the New York Theatre Workshop. That is where Rent debuted off-Broadway. It was an artistic home for him. There was magic in that place anytime we filmed there," reminisced Miranda.
The multifaceted artist had one main takeaway from his first time hopping into the director's seat, and that was his love for making musicals.
"I just think musicals are like real life but better. There were so many times where I would turn to Alice [Brooks] (Director of Photography) and be like, 'Why do people make movies that aren't musicals?' This is so much more fun," he shared. "It's harder in every way. But when those moments when all cylinders are right, and all departments have coalesced to make something bigger than any of us could make alone, it's the most rewarding feeling in the world. So I hope I get a chance to direct more movies. And I'm pretty sure they'll be musicals."
According to Miranda, this experience also allowed him to step foot into the realm of editing, something he had never tried before.
"Editing is exactly like building a musical score, and I didn't know that. But when you are editing a movie, you're making the same decisions you do when you are writing a score. You're playing with time, you're playing with tension and release, you're playing with tempo, you're playing with when to speed through a moment, and when to really sit in a moment. It's all the same decisions. It's just your tools are the footage you've shot, not the twelve tones on a keyboard," he explained.
"That was a wonderful discovery that I love editing. That's something I didn't know until I got there."
The film also focuses on the message of how important it is to set out to do what you're passionate about, regardless of what others around you think. Similar to how Larson was set on pursuing his dream as a playwright and seeing his production come to life, Miranda emphasized that it's crucial to reconnect with your aspirations regardless of how out of reach they may seem.
"Most of us are not lucky enough to do what we love for a living. That's just the fact. But if you can make space to do what you love for a living, you will have a very full life. Because we know how time speeds by when you're doing something you love. And it's important to make space for that no matter where you're at."
tick, tick... BOOM! premieres on Netflix on 19 November. Catch the trailer below:
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