“You want to live up to Lin”: Jon M. Chu on the immigrant story and making an In the Heights movie today

Though there’s still no word on when Hamilton might make the leap to the big screen, a movie musical based on In the Heights has been in the works for some time now with director Jon M. Chu possibly at the helm of the adaptation.

Chu’s striking stylistic acumen has been used to give some much-needed dazzle to the Now You See Me franchise… During an interview with our very own Christina Radish for the Blu-ray release of Now You See Me 2, he took time to talk about the challenge of adapting the play for the big screen and making the musical reflective of the Miranda of today.

He also talked about why he thinks the immigrant story of In the Heights is more important than ever. Here’s what he had to say:

You’ve met with Lin-Manuel Miranda about making the In the Heights movie, right?

CHU: Yeah.

Is that going to happen? And what is it about that show that appeals to you and made you want to get involved?

CHU: We’ve been working on it. I love the show. I think the immigrant story is more important than ever, especially now when the immigrant story is under attack.

I come from a family of immigrants. That idea of that weight on your shoulders from your family and what they are giving to you, and the sacrifices they made to give you the opportunities that you have. My parents were the first generation that came here to give everything to us kids. I’m the youngest of five. And then, I was like, “I’m going to go into movies!” And they were like, “Okay!” And it worked.

It’s so weird to be in the most American business in the world and not have resistance to that because other people sacrificed themselves for me. All of that is so important, and the story moved me in that way. So, to be able to tell that in a movie, I’m very excited about. We’re figuring out all the details of the deal, so I can’t necessarily say that I’m on it, but we have been working together for a long time.

Lin-Manuel Miranda has said that he’s not sure if he wants to be in the film, or if somebody else should do [the lead role]. Are you personally rooting for him to be the one to step in and do it?

Ed.: Actually, Lin-Manuel Miranda has definitely said that he does not want to play Usnavi in the film and is “happy for a Latino youngster to get the chance.”

CHU: It’s interesting. He’s evolved. He’s Hamilton. This work, he wrote in college. The challenge that we have been talking a lot about is that it has to be elevated to a level of who he is now. So, we’ll see what his involvement is, at that point. Right now, we’re working on the creative on-the-ground stuff for how we turn a Broadway show that he did in college to elevate it and give it reason to be a movie. Not just doing the movie version, but finding a reason it has to be made as a movie. We’re figuring out all of those things.

Ed.: He wrote the very first draft of what would become the Broadway version in college, then rewrote it for several years after college. Quiara Alegrí­a Hudes was brought in to write the book. Lin has said that literally none of what he wrote in college ended up on Broadway. So while the crucial inspiration for In the Heights–a musical about the Latino immigrant community he knew and loved and has always been a part of–came while he was a sophomore in college, it’s much more accurate to call In the Heights as we know it the work of the artist as a young adult. This is important to understand: Lin spent his young adulthood learning how to write musicals (see also: Bring It On). It was with that experience under his belt that he wrote Hamilton.

Some musicals turned movies have been great, and some have really not been great.

CHU: Yes, and I'e watched those movies and been frustrated, and I’ve been excited when it works really well. It’s all scary, especially with Lin. You want to live up to Lin. But, it’s been great. I’m working with Quiara, who wrote the original book for the Broadway show, and we’re working it out.

August 25, 2016

Ed.: Here is an extensive interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda on the genesis and making of In the Heights, Hamilton, and his musical theater career itself