In his career so far, Lin-Manuel Miranda has been many things: a writer, a performer, a musician, and much more. But now, for the first time, he’s also a feature film director, having brought Jonathan Larson’s semi-autobiographical stage musical Tick, Tick… Boom! to the big screen.
It’s an ambitious project and one that might seem like quite a tricky undertaking for a directorial debut but, speaking to RadioTimes.com and other press, Miranda said that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I think that the innate Jonathan Larson-ness in me always feels like maybe they’ll only ever let me direct one movie in my life,” he explained. “And I felt like if it would be any movie, it was this one – because Jonathan Larson was the artist who made me feel like I had permission to write a musical one day.
“I feel I owe him a great debt,” he added. “The work he did spoke to me in a really arresting and human way. And when the possibility showed up of possibly directing Tick, Tick…Boom!, which was the portrait of a musical theatre composer trying to make it, I was like, I understand that story; I understand that story on a bone-deep level and if they only let me make one, let it be this one. ”
Larson is best known as the writer of hit stage musical Rent, and Miranda revealed that he can remember the experience of seeing that show for the first in high school “like it was yesterday”.
He explained that, while he had always been a fan of musicals, they always felt like things that other people wrote – “handed down from stone tablets to rich white guys on the Upper East Side” as he put it.
But watching Rent changed all that, with Miranda describing it as the most contemporary musical he’d ever seen at that point in his life.
“It was the most diverse cast I’d ever seen on a Broadway stage, ” he said. “And it felt homemade. Like there were references to Café Bustelo and Kurosawa and Sondheim in the musical itself, and the other thing that really kind of hit me on a deep level was, you know, in addition to it just being about the thing I wanted to do, it was about artists trying to be artists in New York City and trying to survive amidst the AIDS crisis we were all going through.
“There’s a character named Mark in that show, and he is filming everyone, he’s always working on his movie about his friends. And at a certain point in Act 2, he gets called out for it. He says it’s easier for you to film us than to actually be here and live with us. And, as someone who carried around a VHS camcorder through much of high school, I felt personally attacked in the back row of the mezzanine! And that’s the day I went from just loving musicals and admiring them to thinking I could write one someday: I never felt something so personal from a piece of musical theatre.”
- Read more: Tick, Tick… Boom! true story: Andrew Garfield, Lin-Manuel Miranda on translating Jonathan Larson’s life to screen
As for Miranda’s directorial approach, several of the film’s stars revealed that he did not feel like a first-time director at all, and took to the job very naturally.
“I’ve known Lin since 2006, we did In The Heights together,” explained Joshua Henry, who plays Roger. “But I was surprised at his confidence. Like, he has a natural swagger about him, but seeing him confidently move through space to try to get a shot –something that seems impossible or something that just comes into his head – he’s like, ‘Yeah, let’s try this.’
“He had a fearlessness to him that I think, as Andrew [Garfield] so very appropriately says, is like a three-year-old jumping across a fire. He’s just like, ‘I’m gonna make it.’ That’s what it was like working with him.”
“His directing approach was like, ‘Want to have fun?'” added Robin de Jesus, who plays Larson’s best friend in the film. “It was always just fun and silly. We rehearsed so much, and we went through those scenes like we were trying to comb through everything and find all the beats and all the moments, but prepare ourselves in a way that would allow us to find new discoveries when we got to set – and so when we got to set, you know, sometimes Lin would just let us do our thing.
“And then there would also be days where we’d get to set and he’d say, ‘You know what, let’s go completely different.’ And what was cool about that is I think sometimes you don’t always feel safe doing that with certain people. But you knew with him, he had your back. And you knew that if he needed to say like, ‘Yo, that sucks,’ he wouldn’t say that but he would communicate it.”
“He has really great ways of giving you constructive criticism and not making it feel like criticism,” added Alexandra Shipp, who plays Larson’s girlfriend Susan. “It just feels constructive – he’s like a hype man!”