Lin-Manuel Miranda on ‘Moana’ Music, Potential EGOT Status and Staying Positive Under Trump
When Lin-Manuel Miranda started work on Disney’s animated feature Moana nearly three years ago with his musical collaborators, Grammy-winning composer Mark Mancina and Somoan Opetaia Foa’i, Hamilton had yet to hit the stage, much less become a theatrical juggernaut.
But as Miranda developed into a household name, he remained captivated by the story of a teenage girl, Moana, who leaves her South Pacific island to rescue her community. Among the most compelling songs in the tale, which has grossed more than $225 million since its November release, are Miranda’s yearning, uplifting “How Far I’ll Go,” and the tribal “We Know the Way,” composed with Foa’i, which plays as Moana’s proud ancestors guide her on her journey, using the wisdom of the past to bring her into the future.
Miranda talked to The Hollywood Reporter from London, where he’s working on Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns, about creating the music for Moana, possibly becoming the youngest EGOT winner in history and, with Donald Trump’s inauguration coming Jan. 20, his tips for handling the next four years.
Though Moana is an animated feature, how important was it to get the tone right culturally to represent the Oceanic community?
You always want the people, the culture you’re writing about, to be able to see themselves in the thing. I felt the same way when I was writing In The Heights. I was representing my neighborhood and a lot of Caribbean rhythms. It wasn’t just one island. It was Dominican and Puerto Rican and Cuban and Mexican and Latin American, and how do I write a score that reflects all that and has its own voice? I felt like I met the authenticity bar on that show. Opetaia has made a career out of exploring the music of his islands and his ancestors, so we couldn’t have had a better ally and ambassador in him because his gut is right. If I play a rhythm and he makes a face, I know that that’s not a rhythm that would come out of this part of the world and I throw it out and start from scratch.
How did revisiting your own teenage sense of yearning for something more help you get into Moana’s head when writing “How Far I’ll Go?”
Where she and I met was having a calling — not necessarily even understanding the calling, but knowing that it’s there inside. I knew I wanted a life in some creative endeavor for as long as I can remember. For me, I think the song took the final turn it needed when I realized it’s not a song about a young woman who hates where she is and needs to get out, it’s a song about a woman who loves where she lives and her family and her culture and still has this feeling. So what do you do with it? I related to that as well and so that was the final insight we needed to get that moment to really strike a chord because it’s messier, it’s complicated.
How did “We Know The Way” come about after Opetaia brought in some initial ideas?
It’s actually the first song we worked on together, and it worked…