Lin-Manuel Miranda Is Ready For His Next Act (GQ):
Has it felt weird leaving Hamilton behind?
I was ready. My kid was born two weeks before rehearsals started. So we went from a newborn child at the beginning of this to complete sentences by the time I was leaving the show. That’s a hell of a thing, and that’s a marker of how fast it goes. I had so much stuff I had to do that was not getting full expression, because my life was built around 8 p.m. Performing Hamilton through two hours and 45 minutes, when you’re in it, was the most relaxing part of the day. Because I didn’t have unanswered e-mails, or family stuff I wasn’t doing. I was just supposed to be Hamilton, and I know the script on that one. Playing Hamilton is like taking the nozzle off your id and letting it ﬂy. It’s walking into the room and going, “I’m the smartest person in this room—and you need to listen to me!” It’s getting to go out with your friends. It’s getting to ﬂirt with everybody, male and female, as Hamilton did. It’s getting to experience joy and grief. It’s a 14-course meal of a role. So I leave very tired, but very fulﬁlled, every night. So I miss that. I miss the cast and crew. But I also had enough stuff going on in real life that I didn’t need this to be the rest of my life.
What’s been the high point?
Obviously, going to the White House was a very big deal. But often, it’s the little things. I’m such a pop-cultural junkie. Alex Trebek came backstage, and the ﬁrst thing he said in that voice was, “Answer: This is America’s favorite play.” “What is Hamilton?” And I was like, “Did that really just happen? Is that how he starts every conversation?”
And the Hamilton mixtape we’re working on has been incredible. I’m a fan of every single person who’s working on it. And that’s from the newer kids like Chance the Rapper to Busta Rhymes, who was the first rapper I thought of for this project when I was still reading chapter 4 of the Chernow book. I came upon the character Hercules Mulligan, and I said, “That’s Busta Rhymes!” So to have him participate in the mixtape is fucking insane! The best way to describe the mixtape is that I drew on all my heroes to write Hamilton, and the mixtape is me taking Hamilton to all my heroes and saying, “What does this inspire you to make?” It’s my heroes in the hip-hop sphere, and favorite songwriters of mine, like Regina Spektor, Ben Folds, Ingrid Michaelson. It’s all over the map.
Did you have containment issues playing the lead role every night?
I didn’t. I genuinely didn’t. Like, I lose a son every fucking night. I get to cry over that. I get the catharsis of forgiveness. I get the catharsis of dying, and then at the end of the day I just wanna chiiiiill. Sometimes I have trouble coming down. My go-to calm-down music during the craziness of Hamilton was The Crane Wife by the Decemberists. I’d just listen to that suite of songs and lie down. And that’s about 15 minutes, and it was the perfect comeback to yourself, comeback to the world. It’s a beautifully told story, and you’re done. And by the time it ends, you’re like, “Okay, I can be myself again.” That was like a big thing I clung to.
I ﬁnd that, for me, the work is a safe place to put all the stuff you don’t want to put in your real life. I don’t want to be a crazy, manic asshole. I don’t want to have an affair. I don’t want to have a fucking gunﬁght. But! There’s a part of your brain that wants to experience everything, and so work’s a safe place to explore it all. Both in the writing and in the performing. I get to write about an affair. I get to have the guilt and the feeling of that without having to fuck my life up. [laughs] Art is the place to safely explore all those other sides of you, because the side you want to bring home is the side that wants to be a good father and be a good husband and be a good son. In art we can be fucking nuts. So I didn’t have any depression left to play outside of the theater. I was like a dry sponge at the end.
The role was something you had to shed, too, right? What was it like to cut off your ponytail?
It was like returning to myself, to me, who I’ve always been, after two years of wearing it. I couldn’t take the train for a while. I’d see people recognizing—and you know what it’s like? It’s like in Inception, the moment when you’re aware in a dream and everyone walking down the street goes [looks slowly around, wide-eyed]. Now that my hair is off, and I look less like The Guy in the Thing, my life’s been a little easier. Yesterday I took the train uptown, and I’m in this crowded 1 train, and this teenage girl next to me goes, “You look exactly like Lin-Manuel Miranda,” and I go, “I know. I get that a lot.” And she goes, “You even sound like him.” And I go, “I’ve been getting that all year.” I felt bad about lying to her, but it was a really crowded train and there was not a lot to be done.
In the play, you have Hamilton rap, “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory,” and called it the most autobiographical line that you’ve ever written. Are you really that death-haunted a person?
I’ve gotten better. I was very preoccupied with it my entire childhood, my entire teens, you know, and it was sort of the dark side of me. I would get in a serious relationship, and I would imagine the ten ways my date could have died on the way home. Which, to my mind at the time, was like, “Well, that’s realistic. Nothing’s fucking promised.” Which happens to be true, but you don’t have to live your life picturing every horrific scenario. And I think I spent a good amount of real estate in my youth doing that, and it’s still a habit for me. And to me it’s a Spidey sense gone bad. Just dialed up to the nth degree. I remember when I wrote that line and articulated it out loud, it felt—I felt a little naked saying it, because it bares something very true. But it also applied to Hamilton. I felt good giving it to him, because it made sense.
At what point were you able to take some of that darkness and rather than let it paralyze you, make art from it?
I mean, it’s a mix of growing up and going to therapy and realizing you’re not alone. After I broke up with my high school girlfriend, I spent the summer in therapy. There was no stigma in that. My mom is a psychologist. My parents met at NYU grad school for psychology. So I only regret that I waited so long to do it, you know? [laughs] I should have done it at 14, not at 19. And the best thing about going to see a psychologist is you say, “I’ve never told anyone this,” and you unload your deepest, darkest thought in your head, and they go, “Okay.” And you go, “But you don’t think I’m the worst person in the world or I’m the best person in the world or like a crazy person?” And they go, “No, that’s really normal. A lot of people feel like that.” And, you know, my preoccupation with death was one of those things. You work out the stuff you’ve built up in your head, and you talk it out until you can lay it on a table and look at it and go, “Well, that’s fucking crazy.” And that’s true, but I don’t have to sit with it all the time. It doesn’t have to rule me.
Do you feel like being in England is going to hinder your ability to comment on things in America, to be as socially relevant?
I never meant to be socially relevant. [laughs]
What about your Tony-acceptance speech?
I don’t see myself as chasing these moments. The Tonys were scheduled on Sunday, and that shit [the killing of 49 people in an Orlando nightclub] happened in the morning. I would have liked nothing better than to thank all my peers and the hundreds of people who went into making Hamilton possible, but this thing happened that morning, and you have to meet that moment. I think a lot about trying to meet the moment as honestly as possible, because I don’t pretend to have any answers. In fact, I have inﬁnitely more questions than answers. You know, the opening line to Hamilton is one long run-on fucking question,* which we puzzle out but never really answer. That’s all I control: I can control how I meet the world.