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Lin-Manuel Miranda: The artist's job is 'to chase what inspires you and finish it'

Songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda speaks onstage at The World Premiere of Disney’s
Songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda speaks onstage at The World Premiere of Disney’s "MOANA" at the El Capitan Theatre on Monday, November 14, 2016 in Hollywood, CA.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

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It's not surprising that Lin-Manuel Miranda believes in the power of song.

The Tony and Grammy-winning writer, composer, and actor tells The Frame that "the right lyric with the right melodic idea just does things to your brain and heart that no other art form can touch."

As the Oscar-nominated writer of the "Moana" song "How Far I'll Go," Miranda was in Los Angeles to attend the annual Academy Awards nominees luncheon with his mother as his date. He was on a short leave from shooting "Mary Poppins Returns" in London.  

The last time Miranda was a guest on The Frame was in 2014, when he and director Tommy Kail had a TV show called "Freestyle Love Supreme" on the former cable channel, Pivot. At the time, they were working on the adaptation of Ron Chernow's book for the stage. And we all know how “Hamilton” turned out. 

Miranda tells The Frame that as an artist it's passion, not politics, that drives him. "Your job as an artist is to chase what inspires you and finish it." He goes on to make a distinction between what he does as a private citizen however from what motivates him as an artist.  

You can hear the interview by clicking play at the top of this page. Excerpted highlights are below.

Interview Highlights:

What "Moana," "Hamilton" and "Mary Poppins Returns" have in common:

Musically the three could not be more different. The thing they share is that I'm thrilled to be involved in all of them. But it's interesting because "Hamilton" and "Moana" do share some DNA. I got the job writing for "Moana" about seven and a half months before we started rehearsals Off-Broadway for "Hamilton." There was a period where I was writing both at the same time. So they're siblings.

I think "Moana" was my Oasis during "Hamilton." Any time I needed a break as the whole phenomenon was unfolding, I'd go sail the seas with "Moana" in Maui and it forced me to clear time and clear my brain so that I could stay focused on working on the film. 

On the powerful duo of lyrics and music:

To paraphrase Sondheim, lyrics aren't poetry. They're not meant to look good on a piece of paper. They're meant to sing well with the music with which they are assigned. Sometimes you'll write out the lyrics from your favorite song and it feels like so much less on paper than it was when you were singing it because it's wedded to another form. Music engages both hemispheres of the brain. Go read your Oliver Sacks if you want to hear how incredible and extraordinary music is and the way we process it. The right lyric with the right melodic idea just does things to your brain and heart that no other art form can touch. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the company of
Lin-Manuel Miranda and the company of "Hamilton," with book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by the book "Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow, with choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, and directed by Thomas Kail, running at The Public Theater.
Disney+/"Hamilton" (2020)

Did the election changed what he wants to do with his art:

Creatively, I think not at all. I think your job as an artist is to chase what inspires you and finish it. If that inspiration is political in nature, great. If it's not, great. I think we can smell when something feels like homework. I think we can smell when something feels like, I have a social responsibility to write this thing. You're like, okay, but it's a drag for me to watch it. When someone's inspired to do something and they do great work, that's wonderful, but I think your job as an artist is to make your art. My job as a private citizen is very different. I did a big fundraiser for Planned Parenthood because that's under attack in the wake of this election. I'm donating to the ACLU because their hands are very full in the wake of this election. But that's my work as a private citizen. My work as an artist is only informed by what inspires me.

Why he makes mixtapes via Twitter:

I think I learned more about making Broadway scores by making mixtapes for people I loved. You had to listen to the songs in the order in which I presented them to you. That was a form I was really invested in even as I was writing music and even as I was making movies as a teenager. Technology allows me to do that at-large now. So, I think that a lot of people are looking for inspiration and looking to pick each other up. I was like, ooh I can make mixtapes! Technology now allows me to do that and put it online. Everyone can hear what I listen to that inspires me. That's just been a fun creative outlet on my downtime.

How he measures success for himself:

If you're trying to get financial success from writing for theater, don't do it! It's one in five shows make their money back. You have to go in with your eyes wide open with any creative endeavor. Say to yourself, I don't know whether this will end in opening night, closing night being the same day or whether this will be a five year run. What I try to do and I'm figuring it out like everybody else, is I try to put myself in situations where I'm going to learn something whether it's writing with Tom Kit for the Tony Awards or "Bring It On" which we wrote the score to with Amanda Green. Right now I'm working on "Mary Poppins Returns" and I'm watching Rob Marshall direct. He is the best at making movie musicals. I'm going to learn fifty new things from working with him regardless of the success of the film. That's going to make me a better artist. I try to chase learning experiences and hope the rest takes care of itself. 

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