Broadway and movie star, writer, singer, dancer, rapper, producer, composer and lyricist, Lin-Manuel Miranda has a lot on his plate right now. The creator of the phenomenally successful musical Hamilton has the movie of his first Tony Award winning musical, In the Heights premiering next summer. He’s working on the live action version of The Little Mermaid with iconic composer Alan Menken. He’s directing the musical Tick, Tick…Boom for Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. And with all this, he still has time to make guest appearances with the improvisational rap sensation Freestyle Love Supreme at the Booth Theatre on Broadway.
On top of that, he is also starring in the new series of Philip Pullman’s award winning trilogy, His Dark Materials.
The fantasy chronicles the saga of Lyra (Dafne Keen), who moves between parallel worlds in search of her friend. During her adventures she encounters Texan balloonist Lee Scorseby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) who helps her on her treacherous journey.
This summer the mega-talented Miranda went on a publicity tour with his fellow actors from His Dark Materials, which included appearances at Comic-Con and the TV Critics tour. The series premieres on HBO on November 4th, 2019.
How did you decide to do this, because you’re not sitting at home twiddling your thumbs?
I was in London working on Mary Poppins Returns and Jane (Tranter) and Jack (Thorne, two of the executive producers of the series) took me out for a drink. I didn’t know what it was about. I was a huge fan of the Harry Potter play (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which Jack Thorne wrote) so I said yes.
They said, His Dark Materials and I said, ‘Yes.’ I didn’t even know what the part was. I would have sharpened pencils for this.
I’m a huge fan of the books. When my wife and I started dating we read these book together. This is part of our falling in love story. They’re in a very special place in my heart.
They said Lee Scorseby and I said, ‘Yes.’ I figured if they saw it, I could find my way to seeing it. I’m just thrilled I got to play in the world.
The characters have dæmons (pronounced demon), their inner-self manifesting as an animal. Why would Lee’s dæmon be a bunny named Hester?
First of all, it’s an Arctic hare, which are about knee-high. This ain’t Thumper. I think why an Arctic hare suits Lee is they survive in really tough conditions; they’re totally scrappy survivors and so is Lee Scorseby.
I love my dæmon. I’ve been lucky enough to work at Sesame Street for many years. I write songs for (them). And when you bring kids to the set they don’t look at the Muppeteers. They’re just talking to Elmo or Grover. And that’s how it was for us with our dæmons.
I had this amazing Arctic hare in Hester. And the puppeteer who I worked with was so brilliant that I would just be talking to Hester. We’re our own buddy cop movie in the middle of this show.
Did you learn a lot about the character from reading the books?
I had the great good fortune that Philip wrote a separate novella just about Lee. He was like, ‘I wanna go write a western starring Lee Scoresby.’ And so that gave me lots of great flavor and really specific character that isn’t necessarily in the larger Lyra story that I could then bring into the show.
What was the scariest or coolest thing you got to do in this?
I don’t think there was anything that was particularly scary. It was a checklist of things I’ve always wanted to do.
I literally come into this thing singing a duet with my dæmon in a big-ass hot air balloon, which was a pretty fun way to enter the world. But every day was a different challenge.
What was your biggest challenge?
What’s so fun about this world is you’ll be doing a scene with someone and you’re not just looking them in the eye to find their motives, you’re looking at what their daemon is doing. So every scene is like 3D chess. That was a particular acting challenge. And it was joyous, because everyone in our company is such a high caliber that I learned a lot. I think that’s all you can ask of any project. You cannot control the failure or success of anything. All you can hope to do is get some more tools for your toolbox for the next one.
I remember when we were finishing filming at the end of last fall. One of the crew guys said, ‘Are you going to go on a long holiday after all this work?’ And I was like, ‘No. My being a cowboy who flies a balloon and fights in bars was the holiday. I have to go back to real life now and write and do other things. This was the vacation.’
Recently you have supported TV shows that were cancelled and your voice helped bring them back.
An interesting side mission in my life is tweeting like a disgruntled fan for One Day at a Time or Brooklyn Nine-Nine. As you can see, I really watch a lot of sitcoms.
I’m a fan of these things. Thanks (to) the success of Hamilton. I only get involved in things I’m really passionate about. And I have the incredible privilege to get to do that.
What animal would your dæmon be in real life?
Pizza Rat. Have you ever seen the footage of the rat taking pizza down into the subway platform where it lives? That’s my dæmon. That dæmon’s got it all figured out.
Lin-Manuel Miranda Soundbyte
I asked Lin about his first time at Comic-Con and what surprised him.