Lin-Manuel Miranda is holding Australia close.
The man who created Hamilton, the entirely rapped Broadway musical which changed theatre forever, is optimistic about the fact that the Sydney production remains slated to open in March, global pandemic and all.
“I check in every week [with local producers] and what I’ve been doing is holding weekly Zoom calls among all of the five Hamilton companies around the world,” Miranda says of the show’s suspended productions, which also include New York, London, and a US touring cast. (Hamburg is expected to open later in 2021.)
“We’ve got a lot of frustrated energy, so we try to check in with each other, encourage each other. We’re all optimistic.”
Miranda is talking to The Binge Guide via Zoom at his neighbour’s house in Manhattan’s uptown Washington Heights neighbourhood.
“I had to come over here as my internet wasn’t good enough,” he says, laughing.
Miranda grew up in the vibrant Manhattan neighbourhood and still lives there with his wife, Vanessa, who he met at school, and the couple’s two sons.
He stayed because he always wanted to give back to the community which shaped him.
For Miranda, that came full circle in 2019 when, pre-COVID, he watched on as old folks he’d known since childhood served as extras during filming of the screen adaptation of his first pre-Hamilton Broadway smash, In the Heights.
Now, as he finishes the film’s sound mix from home, a certain melancholy struck.
“To watch hundreds of Latinos dancing and hugging and crying in the streets is so bittersweet because it’s my neighbourhood and I watched old men playing dominoes in the streets; so yes, there’s obviously that poignancy to the stuff that was created before the pandemic hit.”
He feels the same sentiment towards season two of His Dark Materials, based on the wildly popular Phillip Pullman fantasy trilogy.
“This is a pre-COVID series you’re going to be watching and there is a poignancy to that; now we’d be on set with masks, socially distancing,” he says.
The show centres on the world of Lyra (Dafne Keen), an orphan who exists within a parallel universe to our own, where people’s souls walk alongside them in the form of animals, called daemons; the Church rules and talking polar bears, wander the north.
Miranda plays Lee, an aeronaut who’s preferred mode of transport is a hot air balloon, which he shares with his arctic hare daemon, Hester.
Miranda says the show is about “goodness versus greatness.”
“We’ll do horrible things for greatness, but goodness is what is worth striving for,” he says.
“I think that comes across here even though we sometimes see shocking and cruel things over the arc of the series.”
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The brilliant Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair) also stars as the villainous explorer, Mrs Coulter.
“Lin and I see each other in the make-up chair and he’s a joy, an utter joy,” Wilson says.
“He plays music and tunes and sings all the time, so he would play tunes that were linked to my daemon, a monkey, whenever I walked into the make-up chair – he is a total joy.”
British actor, Andrew Scott, riding high after his “hot priest” role in Fleabag has joined the cast in season two, playing Stanislaus Grumman, a mysterious man who teams up with Miranda’s Lee.
Miranda says he received a very quick introduction to the appeal of Scott.
“At the peak of Fleabag’s Fleabag-ness, I was in a hot air balloon with Andrew Scott, and my phone blew up from every woman I had ever met in my life – and more than a few men – were like, ‘You’re in a balloon with hot priest? F**k you!”
Unlike most of us, who have navigated 2020 by sitting on the couch streaming TV, Miranda’s eye-watering productivity is enough to make you feel bad about your life choices.
He’s writing two animated musicals; finishing post-production for In the Heights and about to resume stewardship of Tick, Tick, Boom, his directorial debut for Netflix.
But the year has forced him to take stock.
“This pandemic has made everyone double down on their families and loved ones. You learn who’s important to you and what’s important to you. You learn who texts you first, you learn what measures and what lengths you have to go to, to keep your family safe.”
As for those months spent watching TV, Miranda reckons engaging with our favourite shows might have got us through.
“Try to imagine this pandemic without art in your life – the books you’ve been reading, or the TV you’ve been bingeing, or the movies you’ve been watching, or the virtual theatre that theatre artists have been putting on all over the world,” he enthuses.
“Everyone likes to talk about how art isn’t essential, but imagine surviving this time without it. Art is a magic bullet in a way that politics can never be.”
He is right, of course, but it’s also worth remembering that Miranda is the man who made politics and history hip again, bringing to light the story of one of America’s Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton.
He famously picked up a Hamilton biography in an airport – “a bit of light reading,” former US president Barack Obama once joked, while introducing Miranda during a Hamilton performance at the White House.
Clearly, there’s not a lot of similarities between the man who founded America’s financial system and Lee, the hot-balloon-loving aeronaut?
“Not a ton,” laughs Miranda. “Lee is infinitely more laidback; I would say more like me – Lin Manuel – than Alexander Hamilton is.
“I don’t see a world in which Alexander Hamilton is just kind of cruising the skies looking for work. I wouldn’t say he’s like [Hamilton’s fellow Founding Father, nemesis and killer] Aaron Burr, either. But he’s more laidback than Hamilton,” he explains.
“Hamilton just needs to chill out and relax.”
* His Dark Materials s2, 1pm, Tuesday, Fox Showcase and streaming on demand.