Lin-Manuel Miranda Interview: Making the Music in Moana
Disclosure: This Lin-Manuel Miranda interview and Moana event and trip to LA was an all expense paid journey sponsored by Disney. All thoughts, opinions and experiences are 100% my own!
UPDATE: Before you read on, have you heard the news?? HAMILTON IS STREAMING ON DISNEY+ right NOW!! If you aren’t yet a Disney+ customer, sign up now for Disney Plus and score the Disney+, HULU and ESPN bundle for just $12.99 per month!! Get more information on the current July 2020 Disney+ offer.
Just last week I was in LA for the red (blue) carpet world premiere of Disney’s MOANA.
I shared with my my review of MOANA here, and in the next few days I will be sharing many more behind the scenes interviews from both cast and filmmakers.
Yesterday I even shared my interview with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who voices Maui in MOANA and also happens to do a little rapping. Rapping that was perfected by Lin-Manuel Miranda and his mad creativity and musical skills. Read on.
I think you will really enjoy this interview and a peek into both his fun and upbeat personality, as well as his fun sense of humor. I especially love his references to his childhood memories of Disney and his absolute love for the creative process.
Upon first entering the room, he declared: “This is like a really nice version of that scene in The Godfather. You’re all just so happy and smiling. Alright, how does this work? I’m an open book. . . “
This Lin-Manuel Miranda interview is going well, don’t you agree?
And from there, we jumped right into a conversation that just flowed. It all started with him sharing with us his excitement about being part of the magical world of Disney.
It’s pretty dope. I’m waiting until my son gets a little older to cash the one-time, here’s your guided tour, go to the front of the lines, at Disneyland thing. But, it’s amazing. I’ve had a little Hollywood experience, and there’s nothing like the Disney story experience. You sit at a table, a lot like this, except it’s perfectly round, and the notes are not from execs, the notes are from Jen Lee, the co-director of Frozen, from Pete Docter, who’s working on Inside Out, and did Big Hero 6.
Like, everyone who actually makes the thing, are the ones who are kicking the tires on your story, and making it better. And that was my favorite part of the process. And getting to meekly raise my hand, and being like, I think a song could do that better. You know, that was my way into the room. So it, it’s been a real joy.
I had read many times that Miranda had been working on the MOANA songs during breaks in his Hamilton rehearsals. It turns out, he had a lot going on all at once, and his timeline is pretty easy to remember based on the fact that it all pretty much started the day that he found out his wife was expecting their first child.
About the day that everything changed.
This is the weird day that changed my life. I woke up one Wednesday, and my wife was off to go to a business meeting somewhere else, and she said, “I think you might be a father, I have to go to the airport.” It was like, six in the morning, and I was like, “…that’s great — what!!?” I called her at noon once her flight landed, to confirm that I hadn’t dreamt the thing she told me.
Then, I got the Moana offer that afternoon, and that offer came with a plane ticket to New Zealand, where the rest of the creative team was already doing music research at this specific music conference in New Zealand. So I went, I didn’t see my wife, I got on a plane to New Zealand and I’m sitting with this secret that we’re five weeks pregnant. So it was one of those really, like, insane, life-changing weeks. So that was two years and seven months ago. I can remember it, because my son turned two last week.
He’s been the marker of time for me. And I’ve been writing. And then, you know, it was a great oasis, during the writing of Hamilton because any time I was sick of the founders, I’d go sail across the sea, over to Maui and Moana. And then we just built it into my crazy schedule. Like, Tuesdays and Thursdays, I didn’t do any press, I didn’t do any meetings, I just wrote all day, because I’d Skype with the creative team, at five p.m. Then I would have my seven o’clock curtain. I did a lot of writing in the theater.
I think I turned in my first demo, and I would just sing into my headphones. The next day, a representative from Disney sent me a better microphone. They’re like, this cannot stand. But it was happening concurrently. Then weirdly, my work finished just about the time my run ended.
If you are familiar with Manuel’s work at all, you will recognize his influence instantly when you hear the MOANA soundtrack. (It’s fantastic, by the way) We shared with him that we definitely can hear his style in the music, he shared more about this “accent” and how he specifically went to his safe place to write the lyrics to “How Far I’ll Go”.
Well isn’t that crazy, first of all? I feel like style is like accent. You don’t hear it on yourself, and then everyone’s like, man, you’ve got a strong accent. That’s just a, a very funny quirk. There’s a couple of songs, I’m really proud of “How Far I’ll Go”. I literally locked myself up in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house, to write those lyrics.
On getting the music just right, the feelings and emotions.
She loves her island, she loves her parents, she loves her people. And there’s still this voice inside. And I think it’s about finding that notion of listening to that little voice inside you, and that being who you are.
Really nailing that moment of — it’s not about being miserable where you are, it’s about being who you are. You know, I was 16 years old, and I lived in, on 200th Street, in New York, and I knew what I wanted to do for a living, and I knew where I was, and the gulf just seemed impossible. I mean, everything just seems so far when you’re that age. So that’s what I sort of tapped into to write that tune.
That’s so reflective of, of Pacific culture, that really treats the ocean as a living thing. Um, and two, I think it taps into a really primal chord of any little kid who goes to the beach, who punches back at the waves, or builds a moat to protect their castle. You’re talking to the water. It feels that individual. That’s a thing we forget, when we grow up, that we had this relationship with the water when we were kids. And that sequence is such a powerful reminder of it.
What gets you out of bed? Inspires you? What keeps you going?
My kid gets me out of bed in the morning and before that, my dog got me out of bed in the morning. I think you balance the things you’ve been dying to do all your life. And the opportunities that come along, that you didn’t maybe think of, that are so amazing, that you’d kick yourself if you didn’t try to be a part of them.
You know, who would dream that there’d be a sequel to Mary Poppins, much less, you get to go and sing and dance with Mary Poppins all day? And then there are the ideas that are still in my head, that were around before Hamilton, that they are like, “Hey, we were here before you were cool. Don’t forget to write us!” I will continue to sort of balance those things. But I also want to stay open. I think every writer has had the experience of having a really good idea, waiting to write it, and then once you write it, you’re like, oh … I like, kind of got past the sell by date, on this.
I very much subscribe to the Moana feeling of, like, listening to that voice inside you. Like, if you’re thinking about the idea in the shower. If you’re thinking about the idea while you’re walking your dog, there’s probably something to it. I take the same approach to criticism. I read reviews, I’m not going to lie to y’all. Like you know, I’ll read them, but then, the next day, I’m able to sort of shrug them off. But if something sort of sticks the next day, there’s probably something to it. I just sort of really try to trust my gut on, on all that stuff.
In MOANA Dwayne Johnson’s character sings a song called “You’re Welcome”, it’s super catchy and no doubt will be a hit.
How did “You’re Welcome” come to be?
I knew The Rock was involved, and I knew when he had the meeting, and he said “Lin’s writing it, can I rap?” So that was fun. It allows us to get a lot of information in about Maui. 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. So we got to write our version of him. And also, who else can pull off the lyric, you’re welcome, and still have you like him?
You know what I mean? You know, you cast the wrong actor, it’s Gaston! You know, that guy’s a jerk.
But he sings it, and he arches his eyebrow, and he grins, and you’re like, I love this guy. So that was also the joy of getting to write this really healthy sense of self song and to know it’s going to win people over.
Oh let’s talk favorite Disney movies?
The Little Mermaid is like, the number one. That movie came out when I was nine years old. I saw it when I was on a play date with my friend. It was my friend, Alex. This crab starts singing a Caribbean calypso tune, and I was never the same again. I used to get up on my desk in fourth grade and sing it. I remember calling in sick from school, on March 19th, because that was the day it came out on VHS, and I didn’t want to wait ‘til school ended. I wanted to go to the drug store that morning, because remember the soft covers? I wanted to get it that day, and I wasn’t going to wait. So I was sick, and I had a stomach ache! And I saw Little Mermaid at ten a.m. I even remember — I’m really going deep cut for y’all.
I remember getting the Disney sing-a-long songs, which came out before the movie. Where they just had “Kiss The Girl” and “Under The Sea”. And then like, nautical themed Disney movies throughout time. So I know all the words to “Whale of a Tale”, from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea because it was on my Little Mermaid sing-a-long songs. So it’s sort of that level of obsession. I think because of Sebastian the Crab, that song was unlike any other Disney tune I had heard. I was like, that has a Caribbean rhythm to it. I’m from the Caribbean. And it just felt like, oh, you can go anywhere. I mean, my desire to sort of start writing stuff, I think, began with that movie.
Miranda’s son’s name is Sebastian. Coincidence? We had to ask.
It is a nod to that. It’s not the only reason, I don’t think my wife would let that fly. It’s mainly my son’s name, because Sebastian’s one of the great bilingual names. Like, Sebastian, en Español, is a bad ass name, but it helps that I already had great affection for the name, since my youth.
And with that, Miranda said “Thanks, guys. I gotta take a picture of this because it’s really too much love in one room. Alright, say hi to Twitter, you’re about to …
My first interview was all these delightful women. Tag yourselves! pic.twitter.com/UXv8pf5Nl6
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) November 13, 2016
And just like that, I ended up on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Twitter page. Life is good. I hope you enjoyed my Lin-Manuel Miranda interview as much as I did!
Photo credits: Disney and Louise Bishop / MomStart.com
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Just in case you are wondering what MOANA is all about, here’s a peek at the trailer:
Moana hits theatres on November 23rd!