Lin-Manuel Miranda slumps into a chair, exhausted. For an instant. Then, all of a sudden, he’s gleefully leaping on top of the chair to demonstrate a Dick Van Dyke dance move. The whiplash moment fits the exhilarating and strange point at which Miranda finds himself: chugging through the meat grinder of international publicity appearances for Mary Poppins Returns while eagerly looking ahead to two other returns — to starring in Hamilton in Puerto Rico in January, a series of shows that will benefit hurricane recovery efforts, and to his Washington Heights apartment in February, where he can start writing one of “three big ideas. It’s too early to know what form they will take — stage, film, or TV.” All while gearing up to direct his first movie and navigating the life-changing fame and presidential Twitter insults that the success of Hamilton has wrought. Tomorrow he flies to Mexico City, followed by Paris, then London, then Miami. For now, though, Miranda is fully, happily present in this Central Park South hotel room, his dark-brown eyes gleaming as he claims to feel no pressure to follow up the show that certified him as a Broadway genius.
Oh no, you’re sick.
My kids have been croupy for weeks now and it finally hit me.
Sorry. Have you seen Mike Birbiglia’s new show [The New One]?
I love that show. I saw it Off Broadway before it transferred.
He talks about how children ruin your life.
Yeah. But they make up for it in other ways! We have a 10-month-old and he’s still not sleeping through the night. Sometimes he’s so awake and he’s just like, “What’s up!” But he’s so cute that you have these moments where you’re like, “I can’t believe I’m not furious with you! It’s 2 in the morning!” But you know, they depend on us. And they’re adorable. So it works.
You left the cast of Hamilton in July 2016. The context for the show has changed a whole lot since then. Take me to November 8, 2016, Election Day. Where were you?
I was on a plane to Mexico to do press for Moana. I had voted absentee. I woke up in Mexico and Trump is president. Which is a helluva way to wake up. And I had to face down a day of press. It had been very late at night when the election was called. So I watched Football Morning in America because it was the only thing on TV not talking about the election.
I had obviously worked very hard for the other team. So it was a bit — well, I was really surprised by the results. I remember being like, “Well, today I’m talking about a movie where this young woman changes the world. And that’s a pretty good place to be on a day like today.”
Hamilton was written, and it debuted, in the Obama era. And because of the content and the timing and the casting, the show was greeted as an affirmation of progressive, diverse America. Was that reaction misguided?
I don’t know. Well, here’s the thing: You’re playing with live ammo when you’re playing with the founding of this country, right, when you’re writing this. And I think that our goals to eliminate distance between the audience and the story that happened 200 years ago by casting it as diversely and as contemporarily as we possibly could — that aligned very nicely with Obama’s messages of inclusion, and of, “We’ve been fighting the same fights for a long time,” which is something that resonated with me both about Obama’s rhetoric and I think resonates in the show. The fights that Jefferson and Hamilton have, we are still having versions of those fights: Who are we as a country? Who is an American? When do we fight in the affairs of other countries? Those are the “Cabinet Battles.” And those are the fights that are still in the paper. But another theme in the show is that times change, and your reputation rises and falls, and you don’t get to dictate your reputation. So to be a show that is celebrated by one administration and called overrated in a tweet by the next administration, that’s also on-theme.
Did you underestimate the amount of racism that still exists in this country?
Yeah, I think I did. I think I really did. And here’s where I was naïve: All my life I’ve known Latinos are growing in this country in greater numbers. I’m Latino, so I’ve only always seen that as a good thing. I never saw that as a threat to anyone else. And obviously there are people in this country for whom that is seen as a threat, [and who feel] that we are somehow less American than anyone else who comes here to make a living and make a life for themselves. I find that heartbreaking, but that’s a reality.
What’s an example of experiencing racism in your own life?
Quiara [Alegría Hudes] wrote it into the screenplay of the new In the Heights movie, actually! We were at a theater function and I made the mistake of wearing a tux while Puerto Rican. Here in the city. If I told you the name of the theater company they’d die a thousand deaths of embarrassment. But a lady called me over, like this, very friendly, waving. And I thought, Oh, it’s someone who recognizes me from In the Heights. And she goes, “My friend didn’t get her salad.”
If I’m standing outside the wrong building in L.A., somebody’s gonna hand me a fucking pair of car keys. Racism is alive and well in this country.
Ever been hassled by the cops?
I have not. I’ve been lucky, but I also think that’s because I grew up with: “Put your hands out. Be afraid.” Giuliani is what he is now to the country. But when I was a teenager, it was black and brown kids getting shot, and he would release their police record. Immediately. It was that “He’s no angel” thing, times infinity, with Giuliani. So I was always very scared and shy around cops as a teenager in the subway.
In September 2017, Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico, and it’s devastating.
And Trump is focusing on football players kneeling.
And telling Puerto Ricans they are not working hard enough to repair the damage. Where were you, ten days after Maria, on the Saturday morning when you tweeted that Trump is going straight to hell?
I was on a plane with my father and Charlie Guadano, my publicist, from New York to L.A. We were recording “Almost Like Praying.” We were trying to raise money for Puerto Rico at the time. So we’d gotten these commitments from artists. We put the track together super fast, and we’re on a plane when we read his tweets attacking the mayor of San Juan — who we have been watching waist-high in water on the news for the past two days! And that’s finally when I snapped. I didn’t really snap, because those were not impulsive tweets. They were just the only sane response. The only response I knew how to give to a president who is attacking the first responders in a tragedy. I’d never seen a president do that before.
“Straight to hell” is pretty blunt.
It was the only language I had left.
Subsequently, Trump has separated thousands of Latino immigrant kids from their parents. He’s tear-gassed women and children at the border. If he had already, as you tweeted, bought an express ticket to hell with his demeaning response to the hurricane, where is he headed now?
I don’t want to be the guy who quotes his own show, but “history has its eyes on you,” right? We are bearing witness to some truly trying times in our country. What’s gone is the shock. And it’s upsetting that the shock is gone. Some of what was in my tweets that day was shock, like, Where is the decency? That’s gone.
The show is big business. There are a lot of people’s livelihoods involved in Hamilton. Does that sometimes constrain you from saying what you believe?
I don’t think so. I think that we’re aware of that. I mean, I don’t think you’re going to get any late-night benders from me on Twitter. Because I am very aware that we employ a lot of people.
So there is a responsibility that comes with that. We check in with our companies pretty often, actually, when it comes to that stuff in particular — when political stuff happens; like when the whole Pence thing happened, we had to increase security because of those tweets. The president knows when he tweets something that he’s painting a target on their back, in a certain sense. That’s what makes it pernicious. We had conversations in the wake of that, when we’ve suddenly found the spotlight on our Broadway show. Yes, you take what you say seriously. But you try not to ever filter yourself, because then who wins?
A journalist friend of mine says she wishes you would express your anger for the sake of good more often. Is that fair?
Not entirely. Maybe. I don’t know. What I do know is that when it comes to social media and expressing that anger, I don’t know how I could be any more out than I already am. I’m singing lullabies at marches. My father had a march on Mar-a-Lago last month! But when it comes to the way I enter the world, I don’t want to be angry all the time. If I see 25 people tweeting the same article, do I need to be the 26th person to tweet it?
But you’re not just No. 26.
Yes. No. I understand that my voice carries. And when I tweet I’m fully aware of the reach of it. But at the same time I also want to get kindness back from the world. If I tweet anger at the world I’ll get anger back. Twitter is the proof of it. I don’t want to live in that space.
Are you in therapy, currently?
No. I’ll probably go back, because you need to tune up your brain. I’ve done it at pivotal points in my life where I go, You know what? There’s no one in my life I can talk to about this shit. Time to go back and get a tune-up and work this shit out. I have no stigma with that because my parents are psychologists.
When you finished your year in Hamilton you talked about having lost the choice of whether to engage with the city — that riding the subway, for instance, wasn’t an option anymore, and you wanted to get that back.
Here’s a funny way in which my wife, [Vanessa,] and I are totally different. She and I go to the same party for two hours. She will have three conversations, each one about 40 to 45 minutes. I will have five-minute conversations with everyone at the party, and we’ll both walk out saying, “That was a great party!” I like to be able to go around the room. I can’t do that anymore. And that’s how I was feeling about New York toward the end of the Hamilton run. I couldn’t sit on the train with my headphones and watch this couple fight. I can more now. It needed to cool for a minute. I also try to reclaim it in a way. I make very clear that I take the subway. I don’t travel with security.
You used to do some of your best writing walking around Fort Tryon Park. Can you do that now?
I hope so. I don’t know the honest answer to that. But I have now met famous people, and I know people who carry it really lightly, and I know people who travel around with a lot of stuff. And the people who travel around with a lot of stuff, they attract attention. David Bowie walked around here with a scarf. That’s the goal to me — you put a scarf on and you keep it moving.
Did you go to the Bowie exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum?
I did. Unbelievable. I hope to continue to engage in New York because I love it here and I live here and I want to engage every part of it. I geeked out to ride the new Second Avenue lines! I was in London shooting Mary Poppins Returns when they were installed. I was like, I leave the city for eight months and there’s a new subway line? And it’s right near where I went to high school!
How many 900-page biographies that just might be a musical are sent to you?
Well, listen, if your article is the day they finally realize I’m not writing another historical musical — that would be lovely. You never like to say where the next idea will come from. You don’t want to rule anything out. But at the same time — I got struck by lightning, and it happened, and I think I harnessed the energy from that lightning about as well as I know how to harness it. I’m not reading Aaron Burr’s biography and being like, Part two? There’s nowhere to go but down.
But how conscious are your post-Hamilton choices? Do you say, “I should sit down and write another musical!” or do you say, “There is no way I’m sitting down and writing another musical right now”?
You have to grapple with all of it because when you make the decision to write a musical, you’re making a decision to commit years of your life to something. So you’re not entering into it easily. And you know that one in five shows makes its money back. Hamilton is the super super-duper exception to most musicals.
Listen, I’m married, so everything’s a negotiation. Reporters ask me, “Was it an instant yes when Rob Marshall came and asked you to do Mary Poppins Returns?” No! I went home and checked with my wife. Because this is gonna be our lives. I’ve got a wife and kids, and it’s about what makes sense for all of us, and she has her own career. I feel very lucky that I married someone who likes living in other places and is up for the adventure of us moving to London to work on a movie for a year, and continuing to work as a lawyer as we do that.
But the other thing we have to grapple with is that you don’t have to do something for the sake of doing it. You don’t have to tread water. Because you can’t lie to yourself and say, “I’m doing this to pay the rent.” Hamilton is paying the rent.
So is that freeing or paralyzing?
It’s freeing. It’s really freeing because you can’t think about the legacy part of it at all. One of the big themes of Hamilton is that you could be thinking you’re doing a great job, and then the biggest asshole in your life outlives you and he tells the story of your life. That’s what happened to Hamilton — he was outlived by all his enemies.
My guideposts are, “Will I learn from it for the next thing?” And that goes back to In the Heights. After In the Heights, I really thought about, “What can I learn from?” Because I had success really early, but I still want to get better. So, Bring It On was great because I’m working with other composers. We’re all writing it together. We all have a little skin in it, and I’m going to see how Tom Kitt writes melodies and I’m going to see how Jeff Whitty writes jokes. So I go by that more than, “I want to be a movie star!” That’s never the conversation. The conversation is, “Oh, I’m gonna see Rob Marshall direct a movie, and he’s the best at making movie musicals.” That’s where I try to let my decisions be guided.
So what do you want to get better at now?
I want to get better at making movies. I’m prepping to direct Tick, Tick … Boom! at the end of next year. So, everything I’m doing is in service of that. I had such a joyous time on [Mary Poppins Returns]. I felt like this was year one of my musical film school. Year two will be watching Jon Chu direct the movie adaptation of In the Heights.
You won’t be in that at all?
Nope. I’m a producer on that. I’ll probably play dominoes in the background of a scene or something.
You auditioned and you didn’t get hired?
Yeah, I just didn’t have what it took. I didn’t have a feel for the language. It was weird!
John has made some of the most electric musical sequences I’ve ever seen, so I want to watch how he does it. I’m sure it’s very different from Rob, so I will have been on set of two big musicals. I’m watching Tommy [Kail] make Fosse/Verdon right now. Which happened because I went to college with Sam Wasson, who wrote that great biography. I put that book in Tommy’s hand and it was like, “This is an incredible story.” It’s not a musical, because how could it be? It encompasses all of the musicals we love. So Tommy’s idea was to make it a mini-series. I’m just sort of helping him shepherd that to fruition. But watching him adapt to this genre — I’ve watched him direct theater masterfully and now I’m watching him with a crew and a TV budget and I’m learning from all that.
The other joy about Fosse/Verdon is that everyone has a Bob Fosse or a Gwen Verdon story. Tommy and I found ourselves at a dinner with Gina Gershon and she told us about auditioning for Fosse when she was like 19 years old. And it was the craziest, most incredible story. Gina says, “I was cut, and I should have been cut sooner — but it was Bob Fosse and I was 19.”
Are you learning that Fosse was even more twisted than generally known?
It’s dark in there, dude! It’s really dark! And that’s also one of the reasons this is not a Fosse biopic. It’s really an exploration of their creative and romantic partnership because, first of all, we can’t go down that darkness farther than he did! He already did it with All That Jazz. So by examining it through the lens of that relationship, I think we can learn some new things.
Speaking of darkness, do you want to play a villain? Do you want to play a truly bad guy?
I’d love to. Yeah, absolutely. I’ve played sort of asshole versions of myself on TV. It was fun maneuvering around Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm because I found that actually the best way to foil him was to aggressively, happily disagree with him. He knows how to fight. He doesn’t know how to be tolerated.
Yeah. I want to do all the things. I have a lot of help, and I cluster things by months. I went and filmed this His Dark Materials part. That was Wales, for two months, and I didn’t do anything but that. One of the crew members said, “Oh, you going to go on a nice holiday after this?” No, no, no — this was my holiday, getting to be a cowboy on a fantasy series. Now I’m in Poppinsland until this movie comes out. Then January is Puerto Rico month, and I’ll be in Hamilton, and that will be a break. Kingkiller is still in script process.
Will you get to play Dungeons & Dragons with Patrick Rothfuss?
That’s really the goal. That’s why I took the gig. Again, talk about your passions: I love that book. I fell in that snowball because that story is so much about music and telling stories that I wanted to protect that part of it when it got adapted. So we’re just still kicking around the story and making sure it has that essence. It has things other fantasy books don’t have. It has economic stakes. You never think about the currency of a world. The parts of that book that feel most real to me are that Kvothe has two bucks and he has to do ten things. I understand that in a very real way, and that’s never a thing in the fantasy genre. So I’m trying to hang on to the things I think are unique about Pat’s world and helping lean into that.
When it comes to your decision-making, is Vanessa’s attitude generally, “Follow your heart, do what you want, don’t obsess over your choices,” or does she say, “Slow down. Focus”?
Vanessa is everywhere in the equation because everything we do sort of affects each other. So she’ll be teaching in the spring, here in the city. So after January, I’m just home. She’s going to be super busy, so I’ll have a really chill sort of winter to spring because it’s my turn. But also, she knows something — she keeps reminding me. She knows that I am happiest when I’ve just written something. So she keeps finding sneaky ways to protect that time because I could fill it up with other stuff. I could fill it up with interviews. I could fill it up with acting roles. She goes, “You’re really happy when you’ve come out of a room with something new.” So she fills that role in my life, and I’m really grateful to her for it. Hamilton exists because we took a lot of vacations. She’d be like, “All right, we’re going to blah blah blah, and I’m going to be with you for a week and then you’re gonna be by yourself for a week.” And she would kind of put me over the table and leave. I like writing — and I don’t like being alone. That’s a tough duality. Vanessa helps me navigate that in a very real way.
So what will you be writing this spring?
I have three big ideas. Much like with Hamilton, which was originally going to be a mixtape, it’s too early to know what form they will take. Be it stage, film, TV. I’m waiting to see which one raises its hand for me to write.
In the Heights was an award-winning success. But you’re now at a level of fame where everybody loves you, after Hamilton.
Yeah, but that’ll go.
Maybe. But this kind of fame can be tricky in a relationship. Vanessa, I assume, still sees the fallible, flawed guy she fell in love with. Michelle Obama, for instance, wasn’t wild about what happened with Barack when he became publicly adored. What has fame done to your relationship?
Oh, that’s an interesting question. I think that — well — the demands on time are always the hardest in the relationship. And that was true when I was still substitute teaching and she was a scientist in Peekskill and we were finding time to see each other. And that’s true now that we have two kids and we’re negotiating babysitters and schedules and who’s going to be home for tuck-in and who’s going to take the kid to school. Time management is always the hardest thing in any relationship. Full stop. That hasn’t changed. It’s just the things we’re juggling that have changed.
This week is a great example. We had a lot of crazy shit lined up this week. We had the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Kennedy Center. They all kind of landed on the same week. And Vanessa said, “What do you need me at?” And I said, “I need you at this and this, and you don’t have to go to anything else.” Because the limelight is just not interesting to her. I think it’s interesting to her as far as advancing things she’s passionate about. She’ll get on Twitter and talk about some cool discovery in science. She’s fully the other hemisphere of the brain. She has this platform that she never asked for, and she’ll use it for the things she’s interested in. But when it comes to the two of us, we just sort of check in a lot and keep talking to each other because that’s the long haul. She and I, that goes on when everything else fades and I write a show that closes after opening night. That’s all part of the career. I don’t have one hero who doesn’t have flops in their career. Bring It On came and went in six months. No, the strain is time. The priority is to just kind of keep checking in and being like, “Are you okay? Do you feel like you’re taking on too much? Am I taking on too much?”
But Vanessa is not crazy about your Twitter feed.
No. I took weekends off because that was too much. The “Gmorning” and “Gnight” thing started because I knew it was too much. I would wake up at 2 a.m. and see what was going on. On Twitter. It’s a terrible dopamine addiction. I’m a positive person on Twitter, but I’m also addicted to it. I’m well aware of that. Weekends off has been great because I literally delete it off my phone and I’m not thinking about it. If I ever feel like it’s too much I’ll just quit. If you feel like you’re crafting tweets instead of crafting the thing you’re supposed to be working on, that’s when it’s time to hang it up. For the time I was writing Hamilton, Twitter was great because I had this thing that was taking me years and years. And here’s the creative runoff that I can’t put in this show about founding fathers from the 19th century. “I thought of this thing, it doesn’t fit in Jefferson’s mouth; I’ll put it out on Twitter.” It feels like an opposing muscle group. But if you’re using it to avoid work, then you’re in trouble.
People keep writing, “Mary Poppins is Lin-Manuel in his first starring role since Hamilton.” Do you think of it that way?
It’s weird. The chronology is all messed up for me. Certainly it’s the thing I did first after Hamilton. We left to film that movie in October. But we’ve been sitting on this movie for a year and a half. So I’ve done a cameo on Curb Your Enthusiasm. I’ve done lots of other random little things, and I like that. One of my favorite books in high school was Robert Rodriguez’s Rebel Without a Crew, about how he made El Mariachi for no money and then was able to basically write his own ticket because he had made his own thing. That was very inspiring to me as a kid, and his whole thing about the sophomore slump was, “Just make so much different weird shit that no one knows what the sophomore project is.” So he films a section of Four Rooms, he films a vampire thing for Cinemax, he’s making Desperado, but he’s also making spots. So that no one can pin expectations on your next thing because you’re scrambling.
There’s been this small, silly controversy about you rapping in Mary Poppins.
It’s so funny. I remember when Run-D.M.C. came to see In the Heights. It was a big moment for me. And Reverend Run said, “This just reminds me that we are part of this very old legacy.” Theater was in verse for way longer than it wasn’t. Pinter and Tennessee Williams is the innovation. Theater in verse is the way things have been done for thousands and thousands of years. What’s incredible is that hip-hop has so changed the world that now rhyming verse is being retrofitted and defined as hip-hop. They are cousins, to be sure. When I was getting my dialect ready for this, I was listening to crazy old music-hall things that are all rhyming patter. People use the word “rap” and they try to use it as a pejorative, like, “Here’s how they’ve ruined Mary Poppins for 2018!” And it couldn’t be more different from what’s on display in the movie.
I thought it was a nice little wink to Hamilton. What I did think went too far is when the movie brings on Burr to shoot Mary Poppins.
[Laughs.] Yeah. But Burr’s costume is amazing!
Where do you come down in the current Broadway debate about reviving classical musicals with problematic material? Shows like Carousel or Kiss Me, Kate. Do you retool them for the 21st century? Do you play them as they were written?
It’s a fine line. I loved that production of South Pacific, which I thought was a straight-ahead, amazing adaptation of that source material. But you saw the black soldiers singing separately from the white soldiers. They didn’t discount that reality. It was so smartly done. But also we can learn about a certain place and a certain time, and what was okay and what wasn’t. You know, the F-word was in the original lyrics of Company, and Sondheim very simply says, “Yeah, I took it out because we don’t use that word anymore.” It’s not that he’s a monster for writing that in the first place. It was a word that was used very casually, and then when it wasn’t, he changed it for something else.
What are three pieces of art, any genre, any point in your life, that changed your DNA as a person or an artist?
Tick, Tick … Boom! straight-up felt like a message in a bottle from Jonathan Larson from beyond the grave to me. I was about to graduate college with a degree in theater. It was two months after September 11 when I saw it. I think I started writing musicals because Rent showed me you were allowed to write about your friends and what you knew, and put your own life into musicals. And then here’s this musical saying, “Hey, it was super hard. And these friends who say they’re all moving to New York with you? They’re not moving to New York with you. They’re going to get other jobs.” So that’s one.
“Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie is a perfect rock song. I don’t know how it sneaks up on me every time. Every time the David Bowie section happens, I get teary-eyed. And it shouldn’t add up! It doesn’t make any fucking sense! Some of it is, “Dibba idda dap!” But it’s the, “People on the streets,” that’s what it is. And by the time it adds up to David Bowie, [sings] “‘Cause love’s such …” It gets me every time. That song is a miracle. What’s a third thing? Well, my favorite movie is Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. And I watch it every year, and this year I was on summer vacation and I made my nephews watch it with me. They are 13, 11, and 9, and I was like, “All right, guys: It’s in Japanese. It’s three hours long. It’s in black-and-white. But I’m telling you, it’s great.” And it totally blew their minds. When I made them put their phones away they were really suspicious of me. We took a break after the first disc, and we had a leisurely lunch, and I was like, “Oh, we’ll watch the rest later.” And they could not wait to find out how it happened. It’s just incredible storytelling and I see new shit in it every time.
You and Tommy Kail, who directed In the Heights and Hamilton, went to Wesleyan — which is now overrun with kids who want to grow up to be Kail and Miranda.
Yeah. And I feel a little bad about that because I went for the film major. I fell into the theater major. But it’s not a musical-theater conservatory by any stretch, and I’m grateful for that education because I feel like I didn’t just come to New York after college knowing only Sondheim’s shows. I felt like I had a broad base of knowledge. But I know they drop our names on the Wesleyan tour, which is … I mean, when we were there, they were dropping Michael Bay’s name. Michael Bay and Joss Whedon were the gods when we were students there.
In January you are returning to Hamilton for three weeks of shows in San Juan. Talking with some Puerto Rican friends, they love that you’re coming. They think it’s important. They’re hugely grateful for the millions of dollars you’ve raised to rebuild the island. But they find the glamorization of Hamilton ironic, in that they believe he’s the guy who set up this banking system that’s killing Puerto Rico.
Well, here’s my answer: I don’t believe he’s a hero. I believe he’s complicated. I think that’s absolutely valid, about the banks. What is also true is that this guy who wrote about a hurricane that hit his island got off the island, and I saw my father in that guy. The only thing I take issue with — and that’s absolutely true and it’s absolutely valid about Hamilton and the financial system — is I don’t believe I glamorize him. I believe I’m trying to paint someone who is not a statue. The show is not an ode to debt and trading. That system has so many faults. I’m just trying to paint as much of this guy as I can, good and bad.
What if Hamilton turns out to be the best thing you ever create?
It’s already the first line in my obituary. I’m fine with that as I’m very proud of it. So now, what else do I do with my time here other than to continue to write?
The answer seems to be to act and direct and produce and sing and parent and tweet and freestyle and protest and fundraise. You’ve got about eight projects going already. Are you mainlining Red Bull?
No! [laughs] I’m only here because I sleep.
*A version of this article appears in the December 24, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!