Lin-Manuel: ‘Some of my best ideas come when I’m walking my dog’

SHARE Lin-Manuel: ‘Some of my best ideas come when I’m walking my dog’

Lin-Manuel Miranda at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture. (Photo: Rich Hein/Sun-Times)

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man who hardly needs any introduction, has been spending time in Chicago this week, watching final rehearsals for “Hamilton” at The PrivateBank Theatre and, along with painter and graphic artist Antonio Martorell, picking up the National Puerto Rican Ceiba Award tonight at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, which is housed in an idyllic old stable surrounded by Humboldt Park. (The award, named after a tree that is indigenous to the Caribbean and Latin America, and whose roots run deep beneath the ground, honors prominent Puerto Ricans whose significant contributions have continued to broaden historical connections and pave the way for Puerto Rican arts and culture.)

Miranda, buoyant and relaxed, also chatted with the press during a whirlwind media day Thursday. Here is a sampling of what he had to say:

Q. In many ways the extraordinary success of “Hamilton” comes with an immense responsibility since you are the symbol of a show that employs hundreds of actors, musicians, artisans and behind-the-scenes people, and in some sense the show is their livelihood. Do you feel the pressure?

A. What I feel is the joy of a kid whose wishes are being fulfilled, and of course I don’t run any of it day-to-day. I do get a huge satisfaction when an actor comes up to me on the street and says, ‘I played this or that role in ‘In the Heights’ in several places around the country.’ I love being able to provide opportunities for actors. And I see all those connections as a group of friends who become an instant community.

Q. You’ve created quite a community for “Hamilton” on Twitter, too. How did you figure out how to use that so successfully?

A. It was a huge learning curve. Someone asked me about Twitter while I was working on ‘In the Heights’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I have an account but I don’t really use it yet; I haven’t mastered the form’. But then I suddenly started dream casting for a musical based on ‘The West Wing’ and the tweets just began coming. (Yes, I’d love to write that musical, but then I’d have to keep up with Aaron Sorkin.) I also found tweeting really helpful as a substitute for caffeine. Then, when I began working on ‘Hamilton,’ I found the quick exchange of ideas on Twitter to be really wonderful. It felt like a segment of the population was watching the creative process and kind of urging me to finish the show. And once I thought of it that way I also came up with rules — for example, I don’t like a lot of abbreviations in a tweet. I also like to send a message in the morning and one to say goodnight.

Lin-Manuel Miranda talks with Hedy Weiss at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Lin-Manuel Miranda talks with Hedy Weiss at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Q. Since “Hamilton” was inspired by your reading of Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, I wonder: What are you reading now?

A. For fun I’m reading “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” [Ransom Riggs’ young adult novel about a boy who, in the wake of a horrific family tragedy, follows clues that take him to an abandoned orphanage on a Welsh island]. But Tim Burton has already made the movie version. I’m also reading a book about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War — and no, it will not be a musical, because Steven Spielberg already made a fine movie of Doris Kearns’ “Team of Rivals.”

Q. What are you listening to?

A. I’m a believer in the iPod shuffle. While I’m in Chicago I’m staying in an extra room at [“Hamilton” director] Thomas Kail’s place, and he started laughing the other day when I went off to the shower with Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” playing. And my cousin, known as Residente — one of the most famous rappers in Puerto Rico and around the Spanish-speaking world — turned me on to Max Richter’s “Recomposed,” a modern version of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” [for violin, chamber orchestra and Moog synthesizer].

Q. What is your son [2-year-old Sebastian] listening to?

A. Everything. At the moment he’s a big fan of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “My Shot” [the forceful song in “Hamilton” in which the title character reveals his desire to forge a real legacy].

Q. With all that is swirling around “Hamilton” are you finding it hard to concentrate on your creative work?

A. I’m as distracted as any writer with a deadline; it has always been a challenge to actually get down to work. Some of my best ideas come when I’m walking my dog in Inwood Hill Park [near his Washington Heights home]. I use the audio recorder on my mobile phone. I think that’s how I wrote [with Tom Kitt] the opening number, “Bigger,” that Neil Patrick Harris sang at the 2013 Tony Awards.

Q. What has it been like to watch “Hamilton” rehearsals in Chicago?

A: I’m still seeing new things. For example, when Karen Olivo [who plays Angelica Schuyler] was singing “Satisfied” the other day [about her excitement at engaging in a battle of wits with Hamilton], I realized for the first time that when she gets to the line “It’s the feeling of freedom, of seein’ the light/It’s Ben Franklin with a key and a kite!,” that the chandelier briefly lights up, just like a flash of lightning.

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