CHAZELLE Do you feel like you have to convert skeptics as much [on stage]?
MIRANDA Not so much convert the skeptics, but it is certainly true that when you’ve got a camera and the subject is this close, there’s a bigger threshold you have to cross to break into song.
CHAZELLE Yeah. It’s because people assume the camera is telling you the truth.
MIRANDA I had an interesting thing with Hamilton. We start with heightened language — this heightened hip-hop speech. And there was a version of Act 1 of Hamilton where we’d have songs and then we would break into scenes and there’d be like, “Hey, I’ll see you at the dinner” dialogue. We realized it didn’t work with Hamilton because when you have an opening number that is this intense, heightened speech, to go back to, “Oh, I’m going to have some water,” you can’t drop the ball.
FAVREAU But what was so cool about that is, when I saw Hamilton with my daughter, I was like, “This is like Shakespeare.” We look at Shakespeare now like it’s classic and it’s old-fashioned, but at the time, the iambic pentameter, blank verse, all that was very current, and I would say the equivalent of the poetry of your show. And they were telling stories about characters that were hundreds of years old then.
FAVREAU So there’s a way to bring the audience in. Whether you knew the stories or not, you were going to get entertained. I thought it was a really good idiom for our time, whether it was conscious or otherwise. [Hamilton] draws you in, there’s always a beat going, and there’s an engine driving through the whole piece. And I went in there being a little skeptical, as you always are when somebody says how awesome something is.
GLOVER Everything now is like, “This is the best thing!”
RAE It’s a rush to be able to say, “This is the best thing I’ve ever seen, and if you don’t agree, you’re an idiot and everybody get on board.” And there’s such a pressure to live up to that. I don’t ever want that for my own work. No matter what it is, I don’t want everyone to be on board or everyone to exclaim that it’s the best thing they’ve ever seen. The goal is to make people feel and to make people talk about it. But there’s such a hype culture right now.
GLOVER You can only be like, “This is the worst” or “This is [the best]” because there’s no room for discussion.
GLOVER I just did a concert and there were no phones allowed, and people enjoy it differently.
MIRANDA Theater is one of the last bastions of that.
CHAZELLE Yeah, it’s true.
MIRANDA I work in the art form where you’re in the room with the people who are performing, and that’s something you can’t replace. Especially talking about online stuff, I think we curate our reality so much. We block that friend on Facebook who is talking about politics constantly or putting up videos you’re not ready to see at 9 in the morning. But in the theater, you’re all watching the same thing.
FAVREAU And going from obscurity to being drilled down by the limelight, how did that affect things?
MIRANDA It happened in stages. First, YouTube weirdly is tied into Hamilton too because I performed at the White House.
FAVREAU For Obama, yeah.
MIRANDA 2009. I had only written the opening song.
RAE That’s crazy.
MIRANDA And so that went online. And then this is where good luck comes into it because it didn’t look like a C-SPAN event. HBO filmed the night because they were filming their poets who had performed. So the footage of it looks like a movie. It took me six years to write the show, but I had a bunch of social studies teachers who were ready. They were like, “I’ve been showing this one clip to my kids for six years.” Like, “There’s a whole show coming?” So I knew we’d get school groups. It’s the rest of it that was really overwhelming. And doing the show is what kept me sane. We’re more like chefs when we’re actors onstage. We’ve got to make it from scratch that night.
FAVREAU The night I went, that was a particularly good night, you said.
MIRANDA That was a really great crowd. You went the night Bernie Sanders was there. And it was at the peak of his campaign.
FAVREAU I’m glad I can’t look back at a copy of that. Whereas when you look at something that’s filmed, you could always go back to that movie.
MIRANDA We ran six months off-Broadway and everyone is experiencing the thing in real time and they don’t know what they’re coming in for. And when the cast album [came out], you get the whole show. It’s the entire plot of the show.
FAVREAU And everybody knew it.
MIRANDA We shifted from, “I’m experiencing this” to, “This is Rocky Horror, I know all the words and I want to sing along in the front row.”
CHAZELLE But you must have had to bury yourself for a while just to create Hamilton. Did you feel like the outside world was going, “What the hell are you doing?”
MIRANDA Everyone goes through this, whether you’re even in the arts or not. What are the things you do to support your family and keep going while you’re doubling down on the passion project? I was on a TV show [Do No Harm] that made the record of the lowest-rated debut in the history of NBC.
RAE Oh yeah.
MIRANDA But I took that job because they told me they were going to kill me off at the end of the first season, and it shot in Philly, not L.A., so I could stay home. I was No. 5 on the call sheet. It was a lot of great theater actors, like Phylicia Rashad and Steve Pasquale and Mike Esper.
CHAZELLE I’ve got to watch this now.
MIRANDA It was notorious because it had one of the worst advertising [campaigns], it was like a Jekyll-and-Hyde doctor plot. And it was a guy who had his hands and there was a face on his hands.
GLOVER Oh yeah. I remember those posters.
MIRANDA Paul F. Tompkins used to call him Dr. Facehands because the sign was up all over L.A. But to me, that was my Hamilton residency. I was making a living, I was only working two days a week, and I was going to historical Philly where I would go do research on Hamilton. I wrote “Satisfied” in my trailer. So everyone, you balance those things out. […]
Aight, I know this is a long video, but if you have some time to kill sometime soon, I reeeaaaalllllyyy recommend watching this.
It’s Jon Favreau (Elf, The Jungle Book) interviewing an insanely talented panel consisting of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Donald Glover, Issa Rae, and Damien Chazelle about the current state of creativity, media and art. There’s a fantastic amount of stuff to learn in the interview. Hoping you guys give it a chance.