As a child, Lin-Manuel Miranda could not finish watching the original Mary Poppins. Because as soon as he heard Julie Andrews sing the melancholic “Feed the Birds”, he would cry. Miranda’s family would stop the movie. “Something about the minor key melody of that song made it emotionally devastating to me as a child,” explained Miranda to the HFPA. Ironically, he stars opposite Emily Blunt’s magical nanny in Mary Poppins Returns, the reboot of the beloved movie musical that he could not watch all the way to the end.
“I only saw the first two-thirds of the movie as a child,” he recalled in amusement. “Feed the Birds would start, and I would burst into tears. That would make them turn off the movie.” He finally watched the 1964 classic musical all the way to the ending when he was a grown-up. “I was always very sensitive to music,” explained the native New Yorker. “I started writing songs seriously when I was about 10 or 11 years old, or at least taking it seriously and not just making up words to other songs. I started writing musicals because I desperately wanted a life in musical theater. I don’t have the ballet training to play Bernardo in West Side Story. If you are a Puerto Rican dude, it’s that or Paul in A Chorus Line. That’s all we get in the canon.”
On his way to pursuing his dream in musicals, Miranda worked various jobs, from manning the cash register and doing deliveries at McDonald’s to teaching English in his former high school.
The boy who cried just hearing certain songs, including I Just Called to Say I Love You and Bridge Over Troubled Water, would grow up to compose, sing and act in musicals that would earn him a Pulitzer Prize, three Tony Awards, three Grammys, an Emmy, a MacArthur genius grant and two Olivier Awards. His most popular work, of course, is Hamilton, the musical phenomenon which is hailed for changing the face of the Broadway musical.
And now, Miranda earned his second Golden Globe nomination, Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy, for his portrayal of Jack, a lamplighter who was an apprentice of Bert, the chimney sweep, memorably played by Dick Van Dyke in the original movie. He bagged his first Golden Globe nod for Best Original Song for How Far I’ll Go from Moana.
Miranda gushed about watching Van Dyke, who makes a cameo appearance in Mary Poppins Returns, on the UK set. “Dick Van Dyke has more energy at 91 years old than I will ever have in my life. He’s human caffeine.” Miranda also reveled in being directed by Rob Marshall who put the cast through nine weeks of rehearsal. “That level of rigor and the training were such great training wheels for me. This is my first big motion picture on this scale and movies don’t get much bigger than this if your name isn’t Thanos. This is my film school and I’m going to be directing my first musical in a year. I cannot have asked for a better film school than watching a master of his craft at work every day.”
That directing debut will be a film adaptation of Tick, Tick…Boom!, a musical by the late Jonathan Larson, who wrote Rent. As if directing a movie for the first time is not time-consuming enough, Miranda has many other projects on his plate. He is producing a movie adaptation of In the Heights, the musical whose draft he began when he studied at Wesleyan University. Jon M. Chu of Crazy Rich Asians will direct.
He’s also collaborating on new music with Alan Menken in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. In addition, he’s bringing back, as a producer, Freestyle Love Supreme, an off-Broadway improvisatory hip-hop show where he hopes to also occasionally perform. For three weeks in January, he will reprise his Alexander Hamilton role and bring Hamilton to Puerto Rico, where his parents were born, to raise funds for the arts on the island devastated by Hurricane Maria.
Even for a 38-year-old like Miranda, all these projects make people marvel at his energy. “I swear I’m the lazy one in the Miranda family,” he quipped. “But even in that, it’s pretty energetic. Listen, my first job was at McDonald’s where I ran the cash register. This beats that any day of the week. So, I’m just very grateful to be where I am. That is a big energy source as well because I know where I could still be. I could still be grading papers and teaching seventh grade English. So, I like this better.”