TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Lin-Manuel Miranda, created the hip-hop musical "Hamilton," the Broadway phenomenon about the Founding Fathers. He wrote the book, music and lyrics and starred as Alexander Hamilton in the original production. If you haven't been able to see it onstage or were hoping to see it again, starting this Friday, July 3, you can see a filmed version of the original Broadway production shot in June 2016. It will be streaming on Disney+. The film was supposed to be released in theaters in October 2021. But it was pushed up because of the pandemic. After all, who knows when theaters will fully reopen? And we all need good things to watch now.
"Hamilton" set records for ticket sales. It just passed a billion dollars in global revenue. It won 11 Tonys, a Pulitzer Prize for drama. And the cast recording won a Grammy. Miranda's first musical, "In The Heights," has been adapted into a film. But because of the pandemic, its release has been postponed. Miranda is in the process of directing his first film, an adaptation of "Tick, Tick... Boom," the first musical by Jonathan Larson, who became posthumously famous for his musical "Rent." Production was halted on that because of the pandemic. A documentary about the improv music group that Miranda co-founded in 2005, Freestyle Love Supreme, will start streaming on Hulu July 17.
Let's start with a song from the original cast recording of "Hamilton." The song is "The Room Where It Happens." And it appears to have inspired the title of John Bolton's new memoir, "The Room Where It Happened," in which Bolton lays out all the reasons beyond Ukraine why Trump should have been impeached. Here's Leslie Odom, Jr., as Aaron Burr and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS")
LESLIE ODOM JR: (As Burr, rapping) Ah, Mr. Secretary.
LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, rapping) Mr. Burr, sir.
ODOM: (As Burr, rapping) Did you hear the news about good old General Mercer?
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, rapping) No.
ODOM: (As Burr, rapping) You know Clermont Street?
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, rapping) Yeah.
ODOM: (As Burr, rapping) They renamed it after him. The Mercer legacy is secure.
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, rapping) Sure.
ODOM: (As Burr, rapping) And all he had to do is die.
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, rapping) Yeah, that's a lot less work.
ODOM: (As Burr, rapping) We ought to give it a try.
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton) Ha.
ODOM: (As Burr, rapping) Now, how are you going to get your debt plan through?
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, rapping) I guess I'm going to finally have to listen to you.
ODOM: (As Burr) Really?
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, singing) Talk less. Smile more.
ODOM: (As Burr, laughter).
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, singing) Do whatever it takes to get my plan on the Congress floor.
ODOM: (As Burr, rapping) Now, Madison and Jefferson are merciless.
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, singing) Well, hate the sin, love the sinner.
OKIERIETE ONAODOWAN: (As Madison) Hamilton.
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, rapping) I'm sorry, Burr. I got to go.
ODOM: (As Burr) But...
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, rapping) Decisions are happening over dinner.
ODOM: (As Burr, rapping) Two Virginians and an immigrant walk into a room, diametrically opposed, foes. They emerge with a compromise, having opened doors that were previously closed, bros. The immigrant emerges with unprecedented financial power, a system he can shape however he wants. The Virginians emerge with the nation's capital. And here's the piece de resistance, (singing) no one else was in the room where it happened, the room where it happened, the room where it happened. No one else was in the room where it happened, the room where it happened, the room where it happened. No one really knows how the game is played, the art of the trade, how the sausage gets made. We just assume that it happens. But no one else is in the room where it happens.
GROSS: Lin-Manuel Miranda, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It is really a pleasure to have you back on our show.
MIRANDA: Thank you, great to be back.
GROSS: So "The Room Where It Happens" is about Hamilton kind of compromising with the South. He gets to put some of his financial plans into effect. And the South gets to choose where the capital is going to be. How did you find out that "The Room Where It Happens" inspired the title of John Bolton's memoir?
MIRANDA: Well, listen; I'm not 100% certain that it did. I'm certainly not the first person to put those words in that order. Although, I would argue that I made it a song you could dance to pretty nicely. You know, but I think I learned about it when it was leaked that he was writing a memoir, you know? As far as I'm concerned, the room where it happened for Bolton should have been in front of Congress, when all of the things in this book would have been a lot more useful. But here we are.
GROSS: I'm thinking, what are your other most-quoted lines from the show? I'm thinking, talk less, smile more. Dying is easy, living is harder. What else?
MIRANDA: That's another one that politicians seem to really relate to or gets thrown at politicians - talk less, smile more. I've been heartened in seeing sort of the Black Lives Matter protests all over the country. I'm pass patiently waiting. History has its eyes on you. You know, it's - what I've learned is that when you write a musical - it's a musical - that brushes against sort of the origins of this country, like, it's always going to be relevant because the only real insight of the show is that the fights we had at the origin are the fights we're still having.
And so the contradictions inherent in our country are always going to be relevant. And so different lyrics resonate in different ways. I remember going to see the show in London in the grip of Brexit. And when King George sang "What Comes Next," it hit different.
MIRANDA: It just landed on that audience with an oof in a way that it didn't. And I feel like the show continues to do that because it is about - because the past isn't done with us ever, ever, ever.
GROSS: So when you see the 2016 production now, the one that's filmed, what does it make you think about seeing the original cast and a slightly younger version of yourself, a younger version of the production?
MIRANDA: It's a weird bit of double vision for me, to be honest. One, I'm so intensely proud of this company and all the things they've gone on to do since. I don't - when you watch this movie, you'll see it's not an accident that so many of our original cast have gone on to greater success in film and television, because they are acting to fill the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
And it works in a close-up, two-inch - with the camera two inches from your face. Like, they just - they all have that incredible skillset. And the movie captures what it felt - you know, it's not a definitive production of live "Hamilton." But it is a snapshot of what it felt like with that company at the end of June of 2016. And then, when it comes to looking at myself, I see me at, maybe, my most tired I've ever been.
MIRANDA: We're literally shooting an independent movie in between our eight-show-a-week schedule. We filmed a Sunday matinee, filmed all night Sunday, filmed all day Monday, filmed all day Tuesday morning and then filmed - put the cameras in different positions and filmed the Tuesday-night show. It was a three-day film shoot. But I'm so grateful we have it. And the other thing I'll say is that it's probably the best-rehearsed movie cast of all time...
MIRANDA: ...Because we'd been doing our roles for a year. And I think it honors and captures their work in the macro and in the micro.
GROSS: You look at yourself and see how tired you were, that's what you're saying (laughter)?
MIRANDA: Yeah. I think I look more rested now on the other side of 40 than I did in 2016, when I had a newborn child, was still doing, like, live Ham4Ham shows - they were these live shows we used to do outside the theater for the folks who were trying to get lottery tickets to the two front rows - and the seven-show-a-week schedule and, you know, life. It was a - I still don't know how I came out on the other side of that year intact. Actually, I do know. My incredible wife holding down the fort is how I came out on the other side of that stuff intact.
GROSS: (Laughter). So "Hamilton" is, in part, about who gets to tell the story because the person telling the story decides who are the major characters, who are the heroes, who are the villains. Why did you want to be the person telling Hamilton's story?
MIRANDA: When I picked up Ron Chernow's book, I simply didn't know that Hamilton alone among the Founders was the one who came from somewhere else. He grew up in the Caribbean with a Dickensian childhood and then wrote his way to the mainland, wrote his way into the American Revolutionary War, wrote his way into the first cabinet, wrote his way into trouble, wrote his way into his duel. So this is an immigrant narrative. And I understood that because I'd written about that a bit with my first show, "In The Heights." And I grew up in an immigrant community. And we know that the deal is, if we come to this country, we've got to work three times as hard just to get a foothold. And so I suddenly understood his story in a kishkes kind of way, in my gut...
MIRANDA: ...Because I know that story well. It's not just that he wrote The Federalist Papers - and the vast majority of The Federalist Papers - with James Madison and John Jay, which are the closest we have to, like, a Kabbalah about the Constitution. It's what - the intent was, it was a defense of it so that the states would ratify it. So it is the legalistic - the first legalistic interpretation of our founding documents. He founds the Coast Guard. He founds the New York Post. He founds, you know, so many things. And I think my feeling when I was reading his biography was, like, why is the only thing I know about him is that he died in a duel?
So, again, what I keyed in on was the relentlessness, was how is there three lifetimes of work coming from this one guy who died in his 40s? And I'm drawn to those. I mean, I'm drawn to the Jonathan Larsons of the world who hear the ticking clock louder than other folks.
GROSS: Does this relate to how hard you work? I mean, you were just talking about all the things you were doing when the - when "Hamilton" was filmed and how exhausted you were. Do you feel that ticking clock, too?
MIRANDA: I think I feel that ticking clock very acutely, and I think that part of that's just being a New Yorker. I think part of that is an early awareness of mortality, which, you know, I had a pretty at a pretty young age. And in a lot of ways - it's funny. I was talking to someone else about how when you start writing something, you think it's about one thing, and then it starts telling you what it's really about. And my sensation - and that happens on everything I've written that's any good.
And my sensation on "Hamilton" with that was, as I began to write "Hamilton" and I began to write Burr, they have fundamentally different approaches to the ticking clock. Burr, for the most part, is paralyzed by it because he comes from a legacy. He came from very accomplished parents, famous grandfather. And he's paralyzed with what to do with that time. And Hamilton hears the ticking clock as, I got to get as much done as I can - good, bad or indifferent.
And Burr learns from Hamilton, in my version of the show - I don't - I can't speak to reality. In my version of the show, Burr learns to put himself in the arena from Hamilton. Hamilton steps away from the arena in the face of loss. And at the moment when they least act like themselves, when Hamilton is cautious and Burr is reckless, one kills the other, and that's how they're remembered forever.
GROSS: You mentioned your early awareness of mortality. What were you referring to?
MIRANDA: Oh. Well, when I was about 3 or 4 years old, my best friend drowned - one of those sort of horrible stories that is no one's fault. And - but, you know, I have, like, a - I have, like, this sort of six months of gray in my childhood memories that is just, you know, her being absent at the nursery school uptown that we both attended. And so I think that weirdly works its way into everything, like, that notion of what do we leave behind and what do we do with the time we're given? I think that incident probably works its way into a lot of my subconscious.
GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the musical "Hamilton." A film version of the original Broadway production will start streaming on Disney+ July 3. We'll talk more after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Lin-Manuel Miranda. He wrote the book, the music and lyrics for "Hamilton." A film version of the original Broadway production will start streaming on Disney+ July 3.
I mean, one of the great things that "Hamilton" accomplished is giving great parts to African American actors and other people of color who might not have gotten major roles in other productions. A lot of productions don't have opportunities for people of color. And even with colorblind casting, it doesn't mean it's going to be equal in the casting. Was that an issue for you when you were trying to find a place for yourself on Broadway? I mean, you found your place through writing "In The Heights," you know, and then giving (laughter) yourself a big part in it.
MIRANDA: Listen - I'm a musical theater composer because I couldn't be just a musical theater actor. If I'd settled for being a musical theater actor, I'd be hopefully auditioning for a bus-and-truck of "West Side Story" somewhere. And just like the mortality landed on me early, like, at the end of high school, the realization landed on me early. Like, there's no life for you in musical theater because there are no parts.
And "In The Heights" really came out of a result of seeing, writing what I saw as missing in the musical theater canon for Latinos, just - and, really, as simple as, can we not be holding knives in a gang in the '50s? Because that exists. And, like, what do we have to show for it nearly 50 years later? Every time I write a piece of theater, I'm trying to get us on the board, and that continued with "Hamilton," of how can we write the parts that I didn't see existing?
Really, the only thing I saw that really gave me permission to write musicals was "Rent," which was an incredibly diverse cast. And I went from being a fan of musicals to writing musicals when I saw that show because it was the thing that gave me permission and gave - and it was contemporary, and it had Latino actors and Black actors. And it told me you're allowed to write what you know into a show. No other musical had told me that. By the time I'm in my teens - remember, Terry - "Chorus Line's" already a period piece.
MIRANDA: So it was truly the first contemporary musical I'd seen and and, I think, got me from being a kid who was in school musicals and loved them but just thought they were written by other people, like, by, like, old white people on the Upper East Side, to giving me permission. And it's been gratifying to see how these shows, "Heights" and "Hamilton" in particular, like, not only provide employment but also provide, like, permission and amplification of a lot of other voices.
GROSS: Yeah. And "Rent," it also spoke to very contemporary issues - the AIDS epidemic, there were gay characters and trans characters and young people trying to be artists and not sure if they were going to make it or not. You've said that the character in "Rent" that you most related to was Mark. And he's the character who went around with his video camera shooting everything. He wanted to be a filmmaker. Why did you identify with that?
MIRANDA: Because I was the guy who went around with my camera shooting everything.
MIRANDA: It was an old VHS camcorder and then, later, like, a VHS-C, which were the littler ones. But it was easier for me, in that painful awkwardness of high school, to be the guy documenting than, you know, being the guy just hanging out. And, again, knowing my father's work ethic, I'm not a guy who's comfortable just hanging out. I don't know what to do, to sit - I don't know what it means to sit on the steps all weekend (laughter). And so I was the self-appointed documenter among my group of friends.
So imagine my shock (laughter) when Jonathan Larson has these lyrics where he goes, (singing) Mark lives for his work. Mark hides in his work. You pretend to create and - you know, when you really detach from feeling alive.
It's all about - stop sitting on the sidelines and live your life. So that's another way "Rent" called me out, like, very specifically.
GROSS: Yes, but living your life is creating art for you (laughter). That is your life.
MIRANDA: Yes, but that's different from - your friends are all hanging out having conversation, and you're the one filming the conversation (laughter).
GROSS: So was that your way of engaging? I mean, would you have been uncomfortable...
MIRANDA: It was. It was my way of engaging.
GROSS: ...Having that conversation?
MIRANDA: It was like, I don't feel comfortable making everyone hang out, but, hey, I wrote this script; can we all make this movie on this thing I made? It was - art's always been my way of engaging. It's easier for me sometimes than - let's all just hang out this weekend at my house (laughter). If we're making something, I understand my role and understand what we're supposed to do. But in high school, I felt that really acutely. I've relaxed a lot (laughter), but I really felt that in high school.
GROSS: Are you, like, a combination of, like, shy and withdrawn and, like, very extroverted?
MIRANDA: Yeah, I'm pretty comfortable in - I'm more comfortable in front of a crowd of 200 people than a roomful of eight people.
GROSS: And why is that, do you think?
MIRANDA: I don't know. I'm sure there's, like - what's the...
GROSS: I'm sure we can get to the bottom of it here.
GROSS: Let's figure it out.
MIRANDA: But it is, like, weirdly, like, introverted. Like, it is - it's not that I just - I'm not someone who goes to parties and, like, loves being at - like, I'm, you know, most - again, pandemic has changed all the rules on everything. But, like, I am more comfortable with, like, hanging out with a small group of friends than I am, like, going to a party. I was - even in my 20s, I was never someone who went, like, to a club to dance with strangers. Like, I don't understand that. I like understanding my role and the people I know, and I'm pretty much a homebody.
GROSS: So as somebody who likes being home, do you think it's making it just a little easier in this horrible time to have no choice but to be home?
MIRANDA: Yeah. In one sense it is, and one sense it isn't. It's been a joy to watch my kids bond as they never have before because they're just - they're all they've got for the most part. I have a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old boy. But I also feed so much on the energy of the city, and I miss that.
One of my favorite writing spots is, actually, taking the train because you kind of choose your level of engagement. I can sit in a corner of the A train. I can absorb the energy from the folks around me, whatever mariachi or break dancing group might be happening, whatever folks are getting on and whatever lives are coming on and off the train, and still have my headphones on and still be in my bubble and write. It's, like, all of the energy of interaction without, you know, necessarily being drawn out of the writing trance. So I think I miss that the most.
GROSS: Well, we need to take a short break here, so let me reintroduce you. If you're just joining us, my guest is Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the musical "Hamilton." A film version of the original Broadway production, filmed in June of 2016, will start streaming on Disney+ July 3. We'll be right back after a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AARON BURR, SIR")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) 1776. New York City.
MIRANDA: (As Alexander Hamilton, singing) Pardon me. Are you Aaron Burr, sir?
ODOM: (As Aaron Burr, singing) That depends. Who's asking?
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, singing) Oh, sure. Sir, I'm Alexander Hamilton. I'm at your service, sir. I have been looking for you.
ODOM: (As Burr, singing) I'm getting nervous.
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, singing) Sir, I heard your name at Princeton. I was seeking an accelerated course of study when I got sort of out of sorts with a buddy of yours. I may have punched him. It's a blur, sir. He handles the financials.
ODOM: (As Burr, singing) You punched the bursar.
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, singing) Yes. I wanted to do what you did - graduate into and join the revolution. He looked at me like I was stupid. I'm not stupid. So how'd you do it? How'd you graduate so fast?
ODOM: (As Burr, singing) It was my parents' dying wish before they passed.
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, singing) You were an orphan. Of course. I'm an orphan. God, I wish there was a war...
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda. He wrote the book, the music and lyrics for "Hamilton." A filmed version of the original Broadway production with Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton will start streaming on Disney+ July 3. So if you missed it or want to see it again, this will be an opportunity.
The context of every story we hear kind of depends on when we hear it. And you were getting to that a little bit earlier and talking about seeing "Hamilton" in London during the whole Brexit debate. So looking at "Hamilton," like, right now, where we're in the middle of a pandemic, and also, it's a period of protest against racial inequality in the justice system, systemic racial inequality in the police and how people of color are treated, there's, like, a growing discussion about slavery as being, like, the original sin in the United States, so when you look at "Hamilton" through the perspective of, like, right now, are there any things that you see different in it? Are there any aspects of "Hamilton" that come to the fore?
MIRANDA: I do think that there are things that hit differently. I've always sort of said that slavery is the original sin of this country. It's in the third line of our show. It's a system in which every character in our show is complicit in some way or another. And again, I think different things resonate differently. Hamilton, although he voiced anti-slavery beliefs, remained complicit in the system and, other than calling out Jefferson on his hypocrisy with regards to slavery in Act 2, doesn't really say much else over the course of Act 2.
And I think that's actually pretty honest. Like, he didn't really do much about it. None of them did. None of them did enough. And we say that, too, in the final moments of the song. So that hits differently now because we are having a conversation - we're having a real reckoning - of, how do you uproot an original sin? And that's the conversation that I feel like is happening right now.
GROSS: So one of the key things about "Hamilton" is the whole cast is - that they're African American or other people of color. And so it's a really, like, different twist on the white Founding Fathers, who were slave holders - or at least mostly were slave holders. So why did you want to give it that twist? And what meaning does that give to the American origin story?
MIRANDA: Yeah, well, it's - you say twist, but it was also caught up in the initial impulse of the idea itself, the notion that hip-hop was uniquely suited to telling the story, to telling Hamilton's immigrant narrative. I never pictured the literal founders - we're having so many conversation about the iconography of the founders. I'm not interested in statues. I'm not interested in how they look on our money. I was picturing Hamilton as a hip-hop artist. And then as a result, as I'm reading Ron's book, my brain is mining it for, who are the hip-hop and R&B voices that can sort of tell these strands of the story?
And then I think it's incredibly meaningful to then populate our live show with Black and brown artists, one, because hip-hop is a Black art form. It was created by Blacks and Latinos in the South Bronx in the '70s. And it's a love letter to that art form, just as much as it's a love letter to musical theater. And also, it's our country, too. You know, the line we've always said is this is a story of America then told by America now. But to dig deeper and interrogate that a bit more, like, we have to reckon with the origins of this because we inherit it.
And we're having a really big conversation right now about what we want that to be going forward. When there is such systemic racism and such systemic police brutality and the world is stopped, it's a good time to have that conversation because nothing about the world right now is business as usual.
GROSS: I'm thinking how strange it must be for you - you know, when you were in the process of writing "Hamilton," the Obamas had you to the White House. And you performed it. You performed, like, part of the opening song. And then, you know, you're still working with the Obamas on various, you know, like, fundraising initiatives.
MIRANDA: The voter initiative, yeah.
GROSS: Yeah. And now you are so opposed to the president. This is the president who threw paper towels at people after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where your family is from. So it's just this, like, whiplash, I'm thinking, for you of going through - you're a friend of the president's - to now, like, you so oppose the president.
MIRANDA: Yeah, and you know what's even crazier? Our show is about that, too. You know, Hamilton dies, and every single one of his opponents becomes president for, like, the next 20-some-odd years. It's...
GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah.
MIRANDA: ...Well, Adams, who he was never a fan of and didn't like him, either. It was Jefferson, then Madison, then James Monroe, who he almost got into a duel with, but we didn't have time to get into it in the show. So, you know, that whiplash is also part of the reckoning that we're having as a country.
But I also - you know, I never bought into the illusion that the Obamas being in the White House ended racial issues in our country just the same way - I used to get the question all the time in that first year of, now that "Hamilton's" here, do you feel like Broadway will be more diverse? And I was like, no, because shows take years to develop. And I know what's in the pipeline. And it's not. Next year's going to be even whiter than this year was.
You know, we landed in an incredible year that included "Shuffle Along" and "Allegiance," lots of different types of representation in that particular season. But again, you know, I gird myself for the whiplash in both the country and the particular corner of the world that is theater.
GROSS: So your father has been or maybe still is in politics. He worked with three New York mayors, including Ed Koch. So you grew up with a very active political father. So did you grow up with a sense of how politics is productive - it's good - it's a great process? Or did you grow up with a much more cynical sense of it, where it's about power - it's about ego (laughter)? Like, which version?
MIRANDA: I don't think that those are exclusive (laughter)...
MIRANDA: ...Those are mutually exclusive versions of politics. Certainly, my dad represented a lot of Latino officials. I think the work he was proudest of was trying to get Freddy Ferrer elected. You know, we think a lot about alternate timelines, right? And, you know, I think my dad still mourns the alternate timeline when, you know, the events of September 11 happened. That was primary day. And Borough President Ferrer had the momentum to win that primary. And it didn't happen. Who knows how it would have turned out?
But, you know, my - even before my dad got work in politics, he was a community organizer. He was very involved with the school boards in our neighborhood because he really wanted to make sure my sister, who is six years older, could get a good education in our neighborhood. And so my experience of politics was, like, kind of being dragged to meetings (laughter), you know? It's like, when it's Take Your Kid to Work Day, I'm coloring in the corner while strategy is being discussed. So, you know, it's sort of a mix of all of it. It's more mundane to me than anything else.
I love "The West Wing." It's one of my favorite shows. But that is, like, such a, like, wish that the best and the brightest are working in that building. And they're falling short, but they have these ideals that they're fighting for and the compromises that result. You know, but, like, my experience in politics is, like, a lot of waiting around for my dad to be done either having a meeting or yelling at someone.
GROSS: Well, let's take another break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the musical "Hamilton." A film version of the original Broadway production will start streaming on Disney+ July 3. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda. He wrote the book, the music and lyrics for "Hamilton" and starred in the original production as Alexander Hamilton. A filmed version of the original Broadway production with Lin-Manuel Miranda will start streaming on Disney+ July 3.
You know, I think for anybody who is the child or grandchild of immigrants, there's always this question of, like, how did they have the courage to leave? Or were they forced to leave and then come to America? And did they know English? And if they didn't know English, how did they get by? It's so much harder to learn a new language when you're an adult, as opposed to when you're a child. And when your father left Puerto Rico, my understanding is he didn't really know much or any English. Do you know what it was like for him to come here and try to find a place for himself without the language?
MIRANDA: Yeah. And listen. My dad had it better than most. My dad came here on a scholarship. He was a prodigy. He had graduated the University of Puerto Rico by the time he was 18 years old because he'd skipped grades. And he got a scholarship to NYU. He moved in with an aunt, who lived in the Village. He remembers practicing English with her, with his cousins, who were 6 and 8 years old. And he felt like that was the level at which he could practice his English and not get made fun of. He was very grateful for that 6- and 8-year-old.
And the resonance of it back in my life is amazing because I have three cousins who grew up in Puerto Rico who I adore more than anything in the world, and they are 12 years younger than me. And they are the ones who call me out on my terrible Spanish in the other direction. But I think I'm - I think a part of me is always in awe of the immigrant experience. I'm a living testament to the fact that - and a beneficiary of my dad on my dad's side and my grandparents on my mom's side coming to this country and making a better life for themselves.
And that to me is one of the things at our founding that is worth celebrating, that people come from all over the world. And when they give this country their energy and their focus and their work, our country is richer for it. And there's - you know, there's a lot at - present at the founding that is not worth celebrating. But that promise to me is one of the things that is.
GROSS: What did it mean to you to be Puerto Rican when you were growing up?
MIRANDA: It meant - well, it's funny because, you know, I went to a school with not a lot of other Latino kids - I think one other Puerto Rican kid in my grade. And so it was this - you know, for me, it was this fantastic secret. And my parents were so proudly Puerto Rican and so pro, like, learning your heritage that, you know, I was proud that I got extra Three Kings Day on top of Christmas. I may not have the eight days of Hanukkah, but I got Christmas plus one on January 6. That's how you experience it as a kid.
And then I also, you know, would spend my summers on this beautiful island where my grandparents both worked. My grandmother ran a travel agency. And my grandfather was a bank manager. And I bounced between their businesses, eating candy and left to my own devices, exploring town and was sort of spoiled rotten in this incredible landscape. But again, I wasn't going to the beach every day. I was just soaking up small-town life in, you know, my dad's small-town of Vega Alta.
So to me, it just felt - it felt additive. But it also wasn't something I brought to school much. And I think a lot of "In The Heights" was me learning to bring all of myself in the room. I let most folks call me Lin. My parents and my wife call me Lin-Manuel. And a lot of what "In The Heights" was about was bringing Lin-Manuel into the same room where Lin was writing musicals and sort of using all of myself to write.
GROSS: "In The Heights" is set in the same neighborhood that you grew up. Would you describe the neighborhood when you were growing up?
MIRANDA: It was a - and, you know, in many places still is - a little Latin American country at the top of Manhattan with weird Irish signs everywhere because the Irish were in the process of fleeing the neighborhood. And, you know, my dad had a nanny in Puerto Rico named Edmunda Claudio. And when I was born, she moved from Puerto Rico to help take care of my sister and I. And she never spoke a word of English her whole life. But she didn't have to in our neighborhood. And we could go from business to business in English or Spanish, whether it was the candy store or the library or the supermarket. And I was on her arm - or local bodegas. And it was a place where we could all be understood.
And a lot of "In The Heights" is about writing from that place of love, of, like, of loving the fact that, you know, it was a largely Dominican neighborhood when I was growing up, a huge Dominican influx in the '70s. But you also saw the Puerto Rican and Cuban waves of immigration that came before. And so "In The Heights" is about those stratified waves and how we make a neighborhood special. And we - you know, because gentrification, we sometimes, you know, make it so special that, like, we can't afford to live there anymore.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the musical "Hamilton." A filmed version of the original Broadway production shot in 2016 is going to start streaming on Disney+ July 3. We'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL RELAX CENTER'S "TENSION SOOTHER")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda. He wrote the book, the music and lyrics for "Hamilton." A filmed version of the original Broadway production will start streaming on Disney+ July 3.
So there's a film adaptation of "In The Heights" directed by John M. Chu that is postponed - the release is postponed because of the pandemic. It's going to come out next summer. But was it interesting to see this work in somebody else's hands?
MIRANDA: Yeah. And it couldn't have been in better hands. And, honestly, I have to give John a lot of credit because he had a big vision for it, and it was bigger than even my vision of it. I always sort of pictured it as this little indie musical. And hopefully, we could film it in our neighborhood because I just don't think any other neighborhood looks like Washington Heights. Like, just, like, demographics aside, the hills and the bridge and the literal heights of it I find breathtaking every day. I breathe easier when I'm in it.
But John also was coming off the success of "Crazy Rich Asians." And what he learned on that was we don't get a lot of opportunities like this. So we have to swing big. And he really lobbied for a big movie that is also set in this neighborhood. And so, you know, filming last summer was one of the most joyous experiences of my life because, again, I was writing songs about this neighborhood I loved to be performed on stage. But then to see those songs reinterpreted on the streets when I was writing them was breathtaking.
I'll tell you one story. My wife also grew up in this neighborhood. Her grandmother lived near a 167th Street. And we were setting - they were setting the choreography for a song called "When You're Home," which is a song I wrote shortly after my wife and I began dating because we sort of both realized we'd grown up in this neighborhood. And we showed each other around the parts of our neighborhood that we loved the best. And the song is really - has the contours of that. Like, let's take a walk around the neighborhood.
And as we walked into the park, and she saw where the shot was being framed, she burst into tears and said, that's my grandmother's building. And her grandmother's building is in this movie. And so it's - it just means so much to us. Well, let's hear that song that you just mentioned. And this is from the original cast recording of "In The Heights."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN YOU'RE HOME")
CHRISTOPHER JACKSON: (As Benny, singing) Come with me. We begin July with a stop at my corner fire hydrant.
ARIELLE JACOBS: (As Nina, singing) You would open it every summer.
JACKSON: (As Benny, singing) I would bust it with a wrench 'til my face got drenched, 'til I heard the sirens. And then I ran like hell.
JACOBS: (As Nina, singing) You ran like hell.
JACKSON: (As Benny, singing) Yeah, I ran like hell.
JACOBS: (As Nina, singing) I remember well.
JACKSON: (As Benny, singing) To your father's dispatch window. Hey, let me in, yo. They're coming to get me.
JACOBS: (As Nina, singing) You were always in constant trouble.
JACKSON: (As Benny, singing) And then your dad would act all snide, but he'd let me hide. You'd be there inside.
JACOBS: (As Nina, singing) Life was easier then.
JACKSON: (As Benny, singing) Nina, everything is easier when you're home. The street's a little kinder when you're home. Can't you see that the day seems clearer now that you are here? Or is it me? Maybe it's just me. We gotta go. I wanna show you all I know. The sun is setting, and the light is getting low.
JACOBS: (As Nina, singing) Are we going to Castle Garden?
JACKSON: (As Benny, singing) Maybe, maybe not, but way to take a shot. When the day is hot, I got a perfect shady spot a little ways away that oughta cool us down.
JACOBS: (As Nina, singing) Cool us down.
JACKSON: (As Benny, singing) Welcome back to town.
JACOBS: (As Nina, singing) Now back to high school when it darkened. You'd hang out in Bennett Park and...
JACKSON: (As Benny, singing) And Usnavi would bring his radio.
JACOBS: (As Nina, singing) As I walked home from senior studies, I'd see you rapping with your buddies.
JACKSON: (As Benny, singing) With the volume high.
JACOBS: (As Nina, singing) I walked on by.
JACKSON: (As Benny, singing) You walked on by.
GROSS: That's from the original cast recording of "In the Heights." The music was written by my guest, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also starred in the original production.
What are you listening to now? Like, you're - as we record this, you're still at home, sheltering in place with your family. And I don't know if you're composing right now or if you're listening to music. But if you are listening to music, what is giving you what you need from music?
MIRANDA: Wow. That's a great question. I am composing right now. I'm actually writing a new - it'll be public by the time this airs. I'm writing a new - new songs for a new Disney animated musical that will - I don't know when it comes out. But we're in early stages, and I mean on the ground floor. And that's set in the region of Latin America around Colombia, so two years of research into Colombian music, which has been joyous.
But for my own, I'm a kid who fell asleep with the TV on. Like, people talking knocks me right out. So I've actually been listening to a lot more podcasts than music because I'm trying to keep my brain blank to write new things. So I have a friend who does a podcast on finance, which I know nothing about.
MIRANDA: So as soon as he starts talking, I fall asleep.
GROSS: Obviously, you are a very busy person always. And you always have a lot of projects. You're deep into one project. And now that you're at home, you know, because of the pandemic, are you able to have the level of engagement and business that you typically do? And is your mind going in different directions because you are in a quiet space outside of your children, probably?
But like you said earlier, you don't have the hustle and bustle of, like, Manhattan all around you. You're not onstage. You're not flying to different places in America or other countries with productions. You're not on a film set. So is your mind in a different place right now? And is that leading to new ideas or to reframing things?
MIRANDA: I'd love to be able to tell you that I am writing "King Lear" or the sonnets...
MIRANDA: ...Now that the plagues have closed all the playhouses. I'm afraid I can't because I'm as worried about the world as anyone else. I think I wake up with stomach aches more often than I don't because I worry about what's going on. I worry about my city reopening too soon and having a second spike. I worry about the protesters and hoping they're OK. And I worry about all the things everyone is worried about. And I find that because I'm home, it is harder to - because I can't physically distance myself from my particular bubble, like, distance myself from those thoughts either. And I think that's OK.
Like, the world is being remade in a fundamentally different way because of this pandemic and just because of where we are. And artists have to give themselves the latitude to, like, acknowledge that. So give yourself a break if you're not writing right now. I do find that the self-imposed deadlines and even projects of my own where I say, OK, I'm going to write this and I'm going to have it by Friday, allow me to push the world away and do that. But I actually find it harder when you're just sort of sitting with it than, you know, being able to take a train ride and clear your mind or walk with your dog.
GROSS: Lin-Manuel Miranda, it's really been great to have you back on the show. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. I wish you and your family good health.
MIRANDA: Likewise. Great to talk to you.
GROSS: Lin-Manuel Miranda created the musical "Hamilton" and wrote the book, music and lyrics. A filmed version of the original Broadway production with the original cast, including Miranda as Alexander Hamilton, will start streaming Friday, July 3, on Disney+. A documentary about the improv music group that Miranda co-founded in 2005, Freestyle Love Supreme, will start streaming on Hulu July 17.
Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about medical errors, why they're so common and how some medical innovations, like electronic patient records, can make errors more likely. Our guest will be Dr. Danielle Ofri, who's treated patients for two decades at New York's Bellevue Hospital, including COVID-19 patients, and has written a new book called "When We Cause Harm (ph)." I hope you'll join us.
FRESH AIR'S executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Joe Wolfram. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY SHOT")
MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, rapping) I am not throwing away my shot. I am not throwing away my shot. Hey, yo, I'm just like my country. I'm young, scrappy and hungry. And I'm not throwing away my shot. I'm going to get a scholarship to King's College. I probably shouldn't brag. But, dag, I amaze and astonish. The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish. I got to holler just to be heard. With every word, I drop knowledge. I'm a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal, trying to reach my goal. My power of speech, unimpeachable. Only 19, but my mind is older. These New York City streets get colder. I shoulder every burden, every disadvantage I have learned to manage. I don't have a gun to brandish. I walk these streets famished. The plan is to fan this spark into a flame. But, damn, it's getting dark, so let me spell out the name. I am the A-L-E-X-A-N-D-E-R. We are meant to be a colony that runs independently. Meanwhile, Britain keeps sh***ing on us endlessly. Essentially, they tax us relentlessly. Then King George turns around, runs a spending spree. He ain't ever going to set his descendants free, so there will be a revolution in this century. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.