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11 things we learned from Lin-Manuel Miranda's Desert Island Discs

Lin-Manuel Miranda is best known as the composer, lyricist and original star of the multi-award-winning Broadway musical, Hamilton. It won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, 11 Tony Awards and Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album. The London production won seven Olivier Awards in 2018.

Here are 11 things we learned from his interview with Lauren Laverne…

1. Music moved him to tears from a very early age

Lin-Manuel’s musical sensitivity was obvious from the start: “It manifested itself as me making an ass of myself in all kinds of situations because I would tear up and get very emotional. And I now realise it is a strength and a superpower but as a kid when your classroom is listening to Bridge Over Troubled Water and you’re struggling to hold it together because you think that this song is just so sad… My parents tell a story of me as an infant that I’d just start crying if it was a minor chord song. I just couldn’t bear it.”

2. Growing up, his video camera was constantly at his side

“Dad had a camcorder that he brought home and that became my life.“ Lin-Manuel made stop motion films with his toys and he lived “a life of the mind”. Why? “It’s easier. It’s easier to film something than to be a part of it. And it really became a crutch for me in high school; I was the kid who brought the camera everywhere.”

3. A school show inspired a lifelong love of performing

“I think I was 14 going on 15, to steal from the Von Trapps, and I got cast as the Pirate King [in The Pirates of Penzance] as my first time auditioning for the school musical and to get one of the lead roles was an enormous vote of confidence, it just felt like ‘Oh, OK I could be good at this’ and I just remember working so hard… I just remember the applause at the end of that thing feeling like the most gratifying sound I had ever heard and I’ve been chasing that ever since.”

He starts writing under a pseudonym and what’s more hip hop than writing under a pseudonym?
Lin-Manuel on Alexander Hamilton

4. What’s the Hamilton and hip hop connection for him?

Soon after he started reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Lin-Manuel knew he would be the perfect subject for a hip hop musical. “This guy (Hamilton) is a wordsmith and he used words to get himself out of his circumstances.” As a teenager, Hamilton wrote an account of a hurricane striking the Caribbean island of St Croix: “It is so good that it is published in, I think, the Danish American Gazette and his cousin starts to take up a collection to get him off the island and in that moment I thought ‘Well that’s hip hop!’ — that notion of writing about your struggle so specifically that you transcend it and that you elicit a response in others. He starts writing under a pseudonym and what’s more hip hop than writing under a pseudonym?”

5. What was it like rapping with President Obama in the White House Rose Garden?

“That was a not unstressful experience,” he says. “It was surreal, it was their idea actually…and I remember talking to the President at the time and saying ‘If you could start slow and speed up that would sort of make it more dynamic’ and he cut me off mid-sentence: ‘I know, I know! We’re just going to do what we’re going to do!’ and I was like ‘OK…’ So it was scary and probably not my best freestyle but the best I could do in that moment with the leader of the free world!”

6. What has helped him most as a writer?

“The best recipe for being a writer is being a little out of place everywhere. When I was five years old I got into this elite public school called Hunter and so I was shuttling from New York’s 200th Street to the Upper East Side. So I’m the kid who goes to the fancy school in my neighbourhood, I’m the kid who speaks Spanish with a kind of messed up gringo accent in Puerto Rico and at school I’m the kid who lives all the way uptown. That’s a great recipe for making a writer because you’re always thinking about which part of yourself you’re bringing into the conversation, which part of me is most applicable to the people I’m around.”

(Images: Matthew Murphy)

7. It was seeing Rent on his 17th birthday that pushed him to start writing musicals

“It’s about as personal as a musical ever felt to me. I started writing musicals then and there because I loved them, but I thought musicals were written by old white people and that was the first time I saw a truly contemporary musical that was about people who wanted to be artists, were scared or selling out, were scared of dying – I was scared of all those things. That’s when my career as a musical writer began.”

8. He experienced death of a loved one early in life

“My best friend I went to kindergarten with died very young. It’s one of those terrible stories where each of the parents thought she was with someone else and she drowned in the lake behind their home. I have this memory of nursery school of just like six months of grey, of just like my friend who used to go to this class didn’t go anymore. I remember the morning my mother told me — when that hits you early you’re aware of the ticking clock earlier.”

9. How does he feel about being described as a ‘genius’?

“I’ve known too many actual geniuses to count myself among them. I think I work very hard. I think I’m talented. I do not think that’s the same thing… I try to knock that pedestal out from under myself as often as I can, because if you try to live up to that kind of word you’re setting yourself and others up for disappointment, because I’m human and I mess up all the time.”

10. What do his parents think of what he’s achieved?

“My mother will tell you ‘I knew since he was in the womb that he was brilliant!’ She tells this story about me kicking her in time to the music in utero. It gets younger in the pregnancy every time she tells it.” He says his parents were always there when they it mattered. “For all they worked and for as little as I saw them in my home growing up, they were always at the show if I was in the show.”

11. What’s it been like living in Cardiff while filming His Dark Materials?

Lin-Manuel plays Lee Scoresby, a skilled balloonist, in His Dark Materials, the upcoming BBC series based on Philip Pullman’s fantastic novels. “Life in Cardiff is wonderful. I think it’s beautiful there. I’ve the advantage of having a four-and –a- half year-old son who’s into knights and dragons and there’s a castle every 50 feet. You guys have got them like we have rest-stops in New Jersey!”