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Lin-Manuel Miranda on ‘Inheriting This Incredible Legacy’ With ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

As with anyone who gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s journey is the result of hard work and inspiration, along with influences and confluences that shaped and continue to shape his life and career.

The writer, composer, lyricist and star of the mega-smash “Hamilton: An American Musical” will be honored Nov. 30 with his own star and has several upcoming projects with roots or connections to his past, beginning in December with Disney’s release of “Mary Poppins Returns.” In the film he plays Jack, a lamplighter and former apprentice of Bert (Dick Van Dyke) from the 1964 “Mary Poppins.”

As far back as he can remember, the original was a staple his parents’ the video collection. “I don’t recall the first time I saw it,” he says. “Because it just lived in our house like furniture, with the other Disney movies.”

Having imagined since childhood being part of the world of Mary Poppins, there were two moments during filming in which Miranda felt that same thrill of imagination. “The first moment was seeing Cherry Tree Lane for the first time, because they brick-for-brick rebuilt it and it really looks like the original, you can’t help but feel transported.”

The second moment came on “Dick Van Dyke Day,” when the legendary alum of the original film came to shoot. “It was magical,” Miranda says. “It was where we realized, ‘Oh, we’re part of something a lot bigger than us, we’re inheriting this incredible legacy.’ ”

Miranda’s creativity found an outlet when he was 14 years old, thanks to his English teacher Rembert Herbert, who suggested he get involved with a high school program where students wrote, directed and performed one-act plays called Brick Prison.

“He said, ‘You only pay attention to my class if there’s something creative,’” Miranda says. “‘You should write for Brick Prison,’ and, I think, changed my life with that simple suggestion.”

From there, with his childhood affinity for musicals, it was natural that creating musicals would come next. At 17, Miranda saw writer and composer Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking musical “Rent” and realized it was the first musical he’d ever seen that took place in the present.

“I don’t recall the first time I saw [‘Mary Poppins’]. It just lived in our house like furniture.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda

“All the musicals I loved and had grown up with took place in far-off lands and far-off times,” Miranda points out. “And I was like ‘Oh, you can write about what you know in a musical, you can set it in The Village, right now,’ and so that, in a weird way, gave me permission to try to write musicals.”

Miranda started off by writing one-act musicals. “I just loved musicals so much,” he says. “And it was a quick leap from that to realizing, ‘Hey, if you’re a Puerto Rican guy trying to be in musicals, it’s ‘A Chorus Line’ and ‘West Side Story,’ and that’s sort of all we’ve got.’”

That’s when he began writing the kinds of roles he’d want — and get — to play, beginning with “In the Heights” and continuing with “Hamilton.”

He feels it’s a pretty clear line from those productions to today, and while the scale and stakes might be greater, the basics continue to appeal to him.

“The things that I loved about doing theater in high school are still the things I love about doing theater now. I love the collaboration, getting to work with all different kinds of people who are good at different things, making something that is bigger than any one person can make alone.”

Although his Broadway debut “In the Heights” (which he composed, wrote the lyrics for and starred in) earned him a bevy of awards any theater artist would be delighted to receive — Tony, Laurence Olivier, Drama Desk, Obie and more — “Hamilton” dwarfed its predecessor, earning Miranda the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, two more Tonys, another Olivier, multiple Drama Desk, Drama League, Lucille Lortel awards and on and on. And lest it slip between the cracks, he was also the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant.
This level of success has put him in the position of being able to choose his projects.

“In the wake of ‘Hamilton’ I’ve realized, ‘Oh, I don’t have to take gigs for the money anymore, I can just take the gigs that I’d kick myself forever if I didn’t do them,’” Miranda says. “And that’s a mix between the projects that I dream up and I’ve been carrying around in my heart and opportunities that come along” and that includes “Mary Poppins Returns.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda on stage as the lead in “Hamilton” and on screen in “Mary Poppins Returns,” as Bert’s apprentice.
Mary Poppins: COURTESY OF Jay Maidment/DISNEY

Because each project he commits to will impact those closest to him, he checks in with his wife, Vanessa. “That’s the first and the last answer,” he says. “Because our life is a partnership and when they called about ‘Mary Poppins’ it was coming towards the end of my run in ‘Hamilton.’ It was, ‘Can we do this together, can we bring our child to London for the better part of a year?’ And every decision is like that. Every decision is filtered through how it affects my wife and my two children.”

One of Miranda’s next acting jobs fits nicely with that sentiment. He and his family just spent two months in Wales filming the BBC miniseries “His Dark Materials,” adapted from the series of fantasy adventure novels by Philip Pullman.

The novels are “books that my wife and I read together when we started dating and we both loved,” Miranda says. “That’ll appear on HBO, the end of next year.”

Just as “His Dark Materials” has the connection between the miniseries and the books he and his wife shared a love for, another upcoming project features a connection to an influential theater artist from his formative years, Jonathan Larson. Miranda will direct the film adaptation of a pre-“Rent” Larson play “Tick, Tick … Boom!” for Imagine Entertainment.

“I was a senior in college when ‘Tick, Tick … Boom!’ opened in New York,” Miranda says. “And it felt like a personal message from Jonathan. It is so specifically about his struggle and his desire for his work to be seen and remembered that it becomes universal, everyone who sees it kind of feels like it’s about them. So when they approached me, I said, ‘Your search is over, I’m the only person who can direct this!’ One of my lifelong dreams has been to direct films, so I’m really looking forward to that.”

Yet another project and yet another discipline finds Miranda as a producer on a eight-part miniseries called “Fosse/Verdon,” starring Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams as Broadway legends Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. Miranda introduced his college friend Sam Wasson, author of the 2013 biography “Fosse,” to “Hamilton” director Thomas Kail, who, along with writer Steve Levinson, created the miniseries.

“I feel really lucky that I knew what I wanted to do for a very long time and worked really hard for the chance to do it.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda

Fosse and Verdon had “an incredible marriage and creative partnership that really defined and changed musical theater forever,” Miranda says. “Filming is under way right now in New York with the blessing of Nicole Fosse, their daughter [also a producer]. And I have the best job, because I get to cheer on Tommy as he pays tribute to Gwen and Bob who paved the way for what we do.”

But first, there’s “Mary Poppins Returns,” followed by a return to “Hamilton” in Puerto Rico with all benefits going to the Flamboyan Arts Fund, Miranda’s charity dedicated to supporting the arts in Puerto Rico. One of the supporters includes American Express, which Miranda has already partnered with on a spot in which he toured his Washington Heights neighborhood.

While adding a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to his many accomplishments wasn’t something he’d ever planned on, Miranda appreciates where he finds himself. “I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be here,” he says. “I feel really lucky that I knew what I wanted to do for a very long time and worked really hard for the chance to do it. It’s a dream that I actually get to do it.”

What: Lin-Manuel Miranda receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
When: 11:30 a.m. Nov. 30
Where: 6243 Hollywood Blvd.
Web: walkoffame.com

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