The sun continued to shine in Santa Monica as we started our interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda. I didn’t care about the weather, I was in the ROOM where it was about to happen. The Tweet. Read on to find out more.
Working with Disney
The interview started with a great question about what it was like to be part of the Disney family now. Lin-Manuel’s response was perfect – “It’s pretty dope.” He was informed that he go the job working with Disney the same day that his wife told him that he was pregnant.
He said that for a Disney geek like himself, it was story meetings that he enjoyed the most. The notes that were received back about Moana were not from Disney Executives, but from Jen Lee, the co-director of Frozen, from Pete Docter, who was working on Inside Out, and did Big Hero 6. These people are the ones who actually make the films and they are helping make Moana better. It was exciting for Lin-Manuel to raise his hand and say “I think a song could do that better.”
Writing Like he’s Running Out of Time
Lin-Manuel was working on Hamilton and Moana, at the same time. Yes, it’s true! That’s what a genius does, they work all of the time on things they are passionate about.
When he grew tired of the Founding Fathers he transported himself across the ocean to be with Moana and Maui. Working on Moana was his Oasis for when the world of Hamilton started to get insane.
Tuesday and Thursday were reserved for Moana, with no press or meetings for Hamilton. At 5:00 pm he had a Skype meeting with Disney followed by a curtain call for Hamilton at 7:00 pm. He used the talents of Phillipa Soo (Elizabeth Schuyler in Hamilton) and Chris Jackson (George Washington in Hamilton) on the Moana demos. Chris Jackson is also the singing voice of Moana’s father Tui.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s favorite song to write was “How Far I’ll Go,” which is known as Moana’s song, He said that went method during the process of writing the song. He visited his parents house and locked himself in his childhood bedroom. “I was 16 years old and lived on 200th Street in New York. I knew what I wanted to do for a living. I knew where I was and everything just seems so far when you’re that age. So that’s what I sort of tapped into to write that tune.”
He knew the song would be challenging because Moana is not saying that she hates where she is but she wants to be out there. It’s not like “there must be more than this provincial life.” She loves her island, she loves her parents, she loves her people and there’s still this voice inside. He said that finding that notion of listening to that little voice inside you and that being who you are was the key to unlocking Moana.
I can lead with pride, I can make us strong
I’ll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me?
When he was writing the song “How Far I’ll Go” he felt it was a calling for Moana. It’s a calling in the way he felt a calling to write music.
It’s a calling to see what’s on the other side of that horizon line and looking around it. But then seeing everyone else content where they are and wondering “how are you content?” (I feel this way a lot too) He said that he very much related to that and so that’s sort of what he just tried to imbue Moana with.
Howard Ashman was the master of the lyric that is both iconic and conversational. In referring to “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, when Ariel is singing “look at this stuff,” as she’s stumbling, and trying to find the words, “dancing around on those, what do you call ‘em? feet.”
Or like Belle in, in Beauty and the Beast, saying, “it’s my favorite part, because you’ll see” you know, interrupting her thought to say something else, because she’s so excited. Those are the moments you chase, as a songwriter, because they’re the ones that really feel real.
He said that he chased that in Hamilton,
– Hamilton: “Pardon me, are you Aaron Burr, sir,”
– Burr: “that depends who’s asking”
– Hamilton: “oh, well, sure.”
To Lin-Manuel that feels like the way people talk and that’s always what he’s chasing in a really good lyric. He feels that it helps bridge that divide of characters bursting into song. That’s an impossible leap for a lot of people. People who don’t like musicals usually say “why are they singing? Why aren’t they just talking?” If you make the lyric feel really conversational, it’s much easier for them to bridge that gap
There were only two vocalists that Lin-Manuel knew who he was writing for when he started on the project, one of which was Dwayne Johnson. As soon as Dwayne know that Lin-Manuel was writing he asked if he could rap. Lin-Manuel said he wasn’t planning to write a patter section but it was fun. The song Dwayne Johnson sings is called “You’re Welcome.”
Maui plays a different role in almost every island. In some he’s more of a trickster God, in some, he’s a really super-serious demigod. In some, he’s Bugs Bunny. They were able to write their own version of him in the film Who else can pull off the lyric, “you’re welcome” and still have you like him? If you cast the wrong actor, it’s Gaston and that guy’s a jerk. But Maui sings it, and he arches his eyebrow and he grins, and you’re like, “I love this guy. ” Lin-Manuel said that was also the joy of getting to write this really healthy sense of self song that’s going to win people over.
A Mermaid Influences Lin-Manuel
When Lin-Manuel was nine years old he saw The Little Mermaid in the theater. When he saw Sebastian singing a Caribbean calypso tune he was never the same again, he credits the movie for his desire to start writing. His son’s name is Sebastian and is a nod to The Little Mermaid and the name is also a very versatile name in any language.
Lin-Manuel loved the movie so much that he remembers calling in sick from school, on March 19th. That was the day The Little Mermaid came out on VHS, and he didn’t want to wait until school ended to see it again. He went to go to the drug store that morning and got the movie and watched it at 10:00 am!! (that’s a Disney nerd moment right there!)
What’s Next for Lin-Manuel
Lin-Manuel he has a lot of ideas to still develop even some that were rattling around his head before Hamilton. His next immediate project is the sequel to Mary Poppins titled Mary Poppins Returns with Emily Blunt. He is going to live in London for six months and who knows what that will inspire. He said “I just really try to trust my gut on all that stuff.” Very much like the feelings that Moana is feeling, just listen to that voice inside you.
At the end of our interview he snapped this photo of us and posted to Twitter. “Amazing”
My first interview was all these delightful women. Tag yourselves! pic.twitter.com/UXv8pf5Nl6
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) November 13, 2016
I loved every minute of the interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda. It was a treat to hear him talk about how much of a Disney nerd he is. He was also very animated and full of energy during the interview. I was able to jump in and ask a question, he had to look me in the eye and answer it!! Fantastic moment of my life for sure!
Check out these other Moana posts from the press junket.
- The Spirit of Polynesia Sails into Hollywood for the Moana Premiere
- Go on an Adventure with Moana – Film review of MOANA
- Interview with Dwayne Johnson (Maui)
- Interview with Auli’i Carvalho (Moana)
“Moana,” is about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) meets the once-mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master wayfinder.
Maui is voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, he is a demigod—half god, half mortal that wields a magical fishhook that allows him to shapeshift into all kinds of animals and pull up islands from the sea.
Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.
MOANA reaches the shores on November 23rd!
Visit the official MOANA website
Disclaimer: Disney invited 5 Minutes for Mom (and me) to Los Angeles to attend the Moana Press Junket. All expenses have been paid by Disney, but all opinions are always 100% my own.
All photos credit to Louise Bishop.
Check out this Lin-Manuel Miranda collection on Amazon. By clicking these links you will be using my affiliate code and I will receive a small kick back on your purchase which helps with the cost of running my blog.