[…] When did “Moana” come to you?
I can trace the journey of “Moana” in the journey of my son’s life. I found out I got the job on “Moana” the same day I found out I was going to be a father. My wife was going on a business trip and she was leaving first thing in the morning. She turned to me and said, “You’re gonna be a father. I gotta go catch a plane.”
And I went, “What? That’s great.” And fell back asleep. I had to call her back for confirmation. Then I got the call later that afternoon that I got the job. They called me again and said, “We’re all going to New Zealand this weekend; you’re leaving first thing in the morning.” It was pre-“Hamilton.” So I’ve been working on this for two years and seven months. My son [just] turned 2.
It was really kind of an incredible journey. And the “Hamilton” phenomenon happened while I was writing it.
How did you split the time?
I had to really protect my writing time. In one sense it was really great, because, you know, when something is as successful as “Hamilton” everyone wants a piece of you. Everyone wants 10 minutes to talk about their pitch, or press, or what have you. The things that come with the success of a thing.
I got the luxury of having to say no to a ton because I was like, “Tuesdays and Thursdays are full-time ‘Moana’ writing days.” I would meet via Skype with the creative writing team at 5 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, then I would go to the chiropractor, then I would get into costume for a 7 p.m. show. It was built into my performance schedule.
I also had the luxury of amazing singers in the building — so a lot of my early demos for “Moana” is [the “Hamilton” cast]. Pippa [Phillipa] Soo, who played my wife, singing Moana’s tunes, and Chris Jackson, who played George Washington, singing Maui’s tunes. He’s actually in the movie: He’s the singing voice of Moana’s dad.
What was the key that unlocked the character of Moana for you?
The thing that resonated for me with Moana is she is not someone who hates where she is. Moana loves her family, she loves her island. She knows she’s got responsibilities and she’s ready to embrace them. And yet there is this voice inside her that says you’re not supposed to be here, you’re supposed to be somewhere else.
I can relate to that. I was a kid who was always making stuff. I didn’t know whether I wanted to make action movies or animated cartoons or musicals, but I was always just making stuff. My parents were like, “This is not practical. You’ll be a great lawyer.” And it was never gonna happen. I loved my parents and I loved where I lived, but I also had this voice that was, what’s the distance between me and what I want. That’s what I tried to imbue her with without villainizing the things around her. It’s not “there must be more than this provincial life,” it’s “I love it here and yet; and yet every time I absentmindedly walk I find myself at the water again.”
Given the love for “Hamilton” in the world, given that its journey is not over by a long shot, there is going to be some high school in Kansas that wants to mount a production of “Hamilton” and all of the roles are gonna be played by white kids. Is that missing the point? Or is that the point?
When it comes to kids, I relax all of my rules. When I think from my perspective I got to be a son in “Fiddler,” I got to be Conrad Birdie, I got to play roles that I’ll never get to play as an adult. Once you’re an adult, the world puts you in a box and you’re cast by type and ethnicity. I directed “West Side Story” my senior year in high school. I was one of the only Latino kinds in my school, so my Sharks were white and Asian. At the same time, I was able to flip that into a teaching moment. I brought my dad in to do dialect coaching so it wasn’t [bad] Hollywood accents, it was authentic Puerto Rico accents that these kids were attempting.
I hope there’s enough in “Hamilton” that if you go to a school where there are literally no kids of color — and that is increasingly rare in our country, which is a good thing — your job is to honor the story. For me “In the Heights” has been this. I get joy from both sides of it. I get joy that kids who go to schools that are largely white suddenly are waving Dominican flags around and having to learn Spanish to understand what they’re singing. So they’re getting a dose of cultural education by virtue of doing this show they like. Whether or not they have quote unquote permission to do it. They’re getting it. The medicine is going in. You now have empathy for a group of people that have never been in your school.
I’m grateful for that. Then when a school in the South Bronx does it and it’s all black and Latino kids and the sense of ownership and pride they feel — like this is ours, this is about our families — there’s no quantifying the joy I get from seeing a production like that.
I think keeping kids from art is not something that’s interesting to me. Now, regional productions are a whole different thing. When you’re in a professional production it’s like, cast [it] right. Save yourself the headache of everything that comes with a very important conversation about cultural appropriation.
Is there somebody who has the ‘How to be a Celebrity’ playbook that you’re cribbing from? You’ve navigated the pre-“Hamilton” to post-“Hamilton” transition better than most.
You learn very quickly that the trappings of it is how much you bring to it. If you surround yourself with three security guards and an entourage, people are gonna look at you. As opposed to my friend Josh Groban, who takes the train to work. And he’s Josh Groban. He’s got millions of fans. He wears it lightly. He’s still just a guy. I’m inspired by that. I refuse to sit on a pedestal that people want to put you on. I’ll write a dumb tweet in the morning and someone will be like, “Pulitzer Prize winner. Can’t get his coffee right.”
You can’t stop being the person you were just because more people are looking at you. […]
The ask about Victor/Chris reminded me, can Yuuri/Victor/Chris threesome fics where vVictor is pining after Chris just stop? and Yuuri like a dutiful fucking wife is all, "of course you can have sex with him, he's so important to you and you miss him! is it okay if I watch?" like. no.