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Tick, Tick... Boom! true story: Andrew Garfield, Lin-Manuel Miranda on translating Jonathan Larson's life to screen

"Even in his original drafts, they were always semi-autobiographical."

Tick Tick Boom
Published: Friday, 19th November 2021 at 9:52 am

Tick, tick… Boom! – the semi-autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson – has been adapted into a new movie starring Andrew Garfield, detailing Larson's attempts to break into musical theatre with a sci-fi musical named Superbia.

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Songs from the Superbia soundtrack make it into the film, which also documents how Larson passed away the night before the debut of his hit musical Rent after suffering an aortic dissection, believed to have been caused by undiagnosed Marfan syndrome. In short, Tick, tick… Boom! is both an adaptation of the original musical and a biopic and the film – directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda – is streaming now on Netflix.

On adapting the source material, Miranda told RadioTimes.com: "Jonathan gave us several gifts in writing Tick, tick… Boom! Even in his original drafts, they were always semi-autobiographical. Susan's not really the name of his girlfriend, Michael is not really the name of his best friend. He even had a pseudonym for [composter Stephen] Sondheim in the original version. And in doing so, he gave us licence to play with that semi-autobiographical nature.

"There are many drafts of the rock monologue he performed in 1990. And in the early '90s, there's the Off Broadway version that I fell in love with when I saw it my senior year university, and [Tick, tick… Boom!] Steven Levenson and I worked really hard to create... alright, if Jonathan Larson ever had the chance to make this into a film, what would he pick and choose? What songs work better on screen? What don't? We really try to think of him as a collaborator in this and so we cut two songs from the Off Broadway version, we put back into that stuff he used to perform in the monologue, we grabbed some sections of Superbia that no one has ever heard, because he spent his twenties writing this musical and the guiding principle was sort of always... what would Jonathan Larson want to see up on that screen?”

Playing Larson, Andrew Garfield said his challenge was to channel the man's passion. "What is the ticking? Is it about turning 30? Is it Susan's biological clock? Is it that 'I haven't achieved all this'? Or is it the thing that Lin was saying about himself, which is, it's not about arbitrary goals, or the external success, for Jon, it's like.. I have all of this music to give. And I'm pregnant with it. And it hurts to hold it in.

"I think there was an awareness that he had, for whatever mysterious reason, that he knew he wasn't going to be here for as long as he would like. There was an original line in the original version of Tick, tick… Boom! which they cut afterwards, because it felt too on the nose and maybe insensitive to Jon, which was 'sometimes I feel like my heart is going to explode'. And then what we find out and what we know is that, you know, he did die of an aortic aneurysm. And he lived like his heart was going to explode – his heart was constantly exploding forth with art, music, love, longing, anger, revolutionary outrage.

"I think for whatever reason for me that ticking is that mysterious thing of the muses, the gods of theatre going 'get it out, get it out' because you really don't have a lot of time. And of course, he was witnessing his friends of his in his community getting sick and in lots of cases dying very young from AIDS, which of course was combined with his own inner anxiety, or all of these things just created this whirlwind of an elemental kind of human being that was having to be alive for this very brief kind of comet like moment in time. And thank God, he devoted himself so much in the face of all that rejection, in the face of all of that resistance. Because otherwise the world would be far less rich."

Joshua Henry, who plays Roger in the film, added that Larson's "tremendous legacy" was something that the cast and crew of Tick, tick… Boom! "wanted to honour and really lift up".

"I mean, this is one of the most passionate, authentic, unique voices of our generation, who taught us that we can tell our own stories about our community and really put that out there," Henry said, while Vanessa Hudgens – playing Karessa Johnson – highlighted Larson’s courage in promoting under-represented communities.

"I think that this is just a really beautiful peek behind the curtain as to what it actually looks like to live in the '90s as an artist in the midst of the AIDS crisis, and how scary that was, and the fact that he put those characters, the LGBTQ community in the front and centre is something that was not socially acceptable, you know, but he did it anyways, because he fought for what he knew was right. And I think that standing by someone like that is a win-win scenario."

Touching on the movie's decision to focus on Larson's struggle to bring Superbia – a project he worked on for eight years – to the stage, Henry said "I have to say, it's important to see the thing that led up to Rent. We always hear about the success, right? But you don't hear about the 50 other start-up things that never saw the light of day, and the growth process, you know? He had to fail, he had to fail for us to see Rent. And now we get to see what that stepping stone is."

Additional reporting by Patrick Cremona.

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Tick, tick… Boom! is out now on Netflix and in select cinemas – read our guides to the best series on Netflix and the best movies on Netflix, visit our Movies hub for more news and features, or find something to watch with our TV Guide.

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