Entertainment & Arts

How Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda got The Rock to sing

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Auli'i Cravalho and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Lin-Manuel Miranda with Auli'i Cravalho - the voice of Moana - and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson

Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and original star of stage musical Hamilton, talks about writing songs for Moana - a Disney animation that features the voice of wrestler turned actor "The Rock".

Having already managed to turn the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton into a Broadway sensation, getting Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to sing a few bars must have posed little challenge for Lin-Manuel Miranda.

In fact, the challenge was more to be found in getting him to stop.

"Everyone has been asking, 'How do you get The Rock to sing?'" laughs Miranda, the Tony-winning writer of Hamilton whose latest project, Disney animation Moana, draws on his strengths as a composer and lyricist.

"As soon as The Rock signed up, he was like, 'Where is my song?' He knew that was one of his favourite parts of the Disney animated musical tradition."

Moana sees Johnson play Maui, a Polynesian demigod whose feats and exploits are part of the mythology of the Pacific islands that provide the film's backdrop.

It is Maui to whom the film's eponymous teenage heroine must turn if she is to lift a curse that has bedevilled her little corner of this Oceanic idyll.

Image copyright Disney
Image caption Johnson voices the role of Maui, a shape-shifting demigod with a magical fish-hook

"The character of Maui is involved in all kinds of creation myths, depending on which island in the Pacific you go to," explains Miranda.

"The fun of that was already knowing the personality of the character I was writing towards, as well as writing something worthy of The Rock."

The result is the tuneful You're Welcome, a brash and humorous exclamation of egotism that includes some of Miranda's trademark rhyming patter.

Other songs in the movie include the uplifting How Far I'll Go, a number Miranda describes as "an 'I want' song" in the tradition of The Little Mermaid's Part Of Your World.

"The first time I sat at my piano to work on it I said, 'Don't think about Let It Go!" laughs Miranda - a reference to the chart-topping earworm from 2013's Frozen.

"But the job is to tell the truth about our characters and really make you feel about where they are in the journey, so you try to treat it as honestly as possible."

The Little Mermaid is something of a touchstone for Miranda, who is part of a team tasked with turning that 1989 animation into a live-action feature.

Image copyright Disney
Image caption Moana breaks with Disney tradition by not giving its heroine a love interest

"My main role is as a super fan of the original movie," the 36-year-old explains. "I'm just on deck to make sure the fans of the original film are happy."

Miranda, indeed, is such a "super fan" he named his son Sebastian after the crab who warbles Under The Sea, perhaps that film's best-known number.

There are plans afoot also for an unnamed Disney animation, though Miranda claims "there will be men in coats" to whisk him away if he says anything about it.

Before that, Lin-Manuel will be seen as "an actor for hire" in Mary Poppins Returns, a belated follow-up to Disney's PL Travers-inspired 1964 classic.

The New York-born performer will be playing a new character called Jack, a street lamplighter who joins Emily Blunt's Mary on her magical adventures.

The original Mary Poppins is perhaps best remembered, on these shores at least, for Dick Van Dyke's lamentable stab at a broad Cockney accent.

Miranda, though, confidently predicts that his London brogue will be even worse.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Miranda (centre) left the Broadway production of Hamilton in July

"I'm going to manage expectations right now and tell you it's the worst accent you've ever heard in your life," he tells the BBC.

"You're not going to know what planet I am from, much less which street in London."

With Hamilton coming to London next year and an all-star Hamilton "mixtape" released this month, these are busy times for a polymath whose prodigious talents have made him very much in demand.

They have also brought him a measure of controversy, evidenced last month when he helped write a message to vice president-elect Mike Pence that was delivered to the politician from the stage of New York's Richard Rodgers Theatre.

That drew a heated response from president-elect Donald Trump, who called on the Hamilton cast to apologise to Mr Pence for their "terrible" behaviour.

Moana too has not been immune from criticism, with some accusing Disney of cultural misappropriation after it offered for sale a child's costume bearing a facsimile of Maui's all-over tattoos.

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Media captionDisney's Moana: Anger over "fat" depiction of Polynesian demigod

There has also been censure over how the character is depicted, with some viewing the Disney version as an obese caricature of Polynesian men.

Yet Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent, insists the film's production was built around "research and empathy" and that its makers "consulted on every decision".

"We wanted to make sure it was something that people of the Pacific Islands could point at with pride, and hopefully that's the case," he continues.

It is certainly a film Miranda takes pride in, if only for having his own vocals feature on the version of You're Welcome that accompanies its end credits.

"It's crazy and overwhelming," he says. "I now know how Phil Collins feels when he sees Tarzan."

Moana is out now in the UK.

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