He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2015. He won a Pulitzer Prize for “Hamilton: An American Musical” in 2016. He took home an Emmy for his work on the song “Bigger” for the 67th Tony Awards. He won Grammys for both the “In the Heights” and “Hamilton” soundtracks. And he’s been awarded a total of three Tonys for those two shows, as well.
When reminded of this remarkable feat during a recent phone conversation with The Huffington Post, Miranda ― who’s nominated for his song “How Far I’ll Go” from Disney’s “Moana” ― laughed and insisted, “That’s not a thing! That’s crazy.”
“Obviously, you can’t worry about that,” he continued. “I think the term EGOT was coined by someone who didn’t win any of the things, right? So I think once you start trying to win awards, you immediately stop winning them, that is my feeling about it [laughs]. But I’m really proud of my work. I’m really proud to be in this company. But I have no control over whether we win. I’m just excited to take my mom to the Oscars, since I watched it with her so many times.”
Miranda is up against big Oscar contender “La La Land” and two of the film’s songs, “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” and “City of Stars,” as well as “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from “Trolls” and “The Empty Chair” from “Jim: The James Foley Story.”
“It’s the Mad Libs of a category,” Miranda said. “I’m lucky enough to be nominated for Tonys, and those are your peers ― they’re generally people you know and you go, ‘Oh my gosh, yay! Alan Menken is nominated again!’ Or whoever your co-nominee is. But to be in a category with Justin Timberlake and Sting is crazy. And I’ve known Benj Pasek and Justin Paul for many years, and I’m thrilled with their success. This is going to be a huge year for them between ‘La La Land’ and ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ which is just cleaning up on Broadway.”
Miranda has always been a huge fan of the Oscars and has taped the ceremony every year since “The Little Mermaid” ― the movie that made him want to be “in this game” ― won Best Score and Best Song in 1990. Although he says it’s a “real thrill” to be attending the award show, he’s very anxious to be in the room where it happens.
“I’ll be so nervous. Anything other than just sitting in the audience nervously will be hard for me,” he told HuffPost of the possibility of being a part of a performance of “How Far I’ll Go.” (It was confirmed on Thursday that Miranda will be singing a duet of the song with “Moana” star Auli’i Cravalho.) “I’m there for the party. I’m there to really just soak it all up. You grow up watching the Oscars so to actually be there, I’m really excited.”
During the process of writing, staging and starring in his musical (have you heard of it?) “Hamilton,” Miranda also took on the job of songwriter for “Moana,” which follows a Polynesian princess who sails out on a daring mission with demigod Maui to fulfill her ancestors’ unfinished quest. Let’s just say it was a tough balancing act.
“Having an excuse to sort of shut out the world, which had gotten very loud in that year, to help create this young woman’s journey -- I mean, it kind of saved my life." Lin-Manuel Miranda
“It was pretty surreal,” he said of working on both projects at once. “The ‘Moana’ team was pretty cool when I was still making changes to ‘Hamilton’ ― they kind of left me alone for that stretch of time. Then once we opened, it became a part of my routine. Honestly, [working on ‘Moana’] was one of the things that kept me sane during the ‘Hamilton’ phenomenon. Articles are being written and my heroes are showing up to see the show, but I knew I had music due every Tuesday and Thursday ― I’d have a Skype meeting with the creative team of ‘Moana’ ― so it forced me to clear up my day; it forced me to say no to parties and to say no to the things that you can get caught up in and forget why you are where you are.”
The 37-year-old spent two days a week writing music and lyrics for “Moana,” living “a bit of a monastic life” in between “Hamilton” performances in order to “sail around with Moana and Maui in my mind.”
“Having an excuse to sort of shut out the world, which had gotten very loud in that year, to help create this young woman’s journey ― I mean, it kind of saved my life,” Miranda admitted.
Eventually, Miranda and co-composers Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’I headed to California for numerous off-site meetings, where they’d watch screenings of the film and have a real say in how the story was being told.
“You’re not sitting with execs in a tower. You’re sitting with people who are making all the other movies in the studio’s pipeline. You’re getting notes from Jennifer Lee, the director of ‘Frozen,’ and from the people who make the things – your fellow artists,” Miranda said, explaining that there were many iterations of “How Far I’ll Go” before he landed on the ultimate version.
“This is not the story of a young woman who gets where she is in one week; this is the story of a young woman who loves where she is and loves her people and loves her island, and she hears this voice anyway. She hears this voice saying, ‘Go, go, go!’ So that’s when it really started to take shape. Once we embraced the complexity, the song really took off into its final form.”
The pressure to deliver a Disney hit ― reminiscent of “Part of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid” or “Colors of the Wind” from “Pocahontas” ― was palpable for Miranda, who soaked up every bit of information he could from “Frozen” songwriters Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. He wanted his lyrics to be conversational but still “elevated and beautiful.”
“[But] once you sit down at a piano, you have to forget about all of that,” he said. “You have to just put yourself in Moana’s shoes or Maui’s shoes [...] and live inside their skin and talk to yourself to reveal the truth, and then you write it down. In that terms, it was just like writing ‘Hamilton’ or ‘In the Heights.’ You just have to act your way through it until it feels real.”
And real it felt, as Miranda could possibly win an Oscar for his work on the beloved tune. (And, again, MacPEGOT.)
Despite all these goings-on in his life, Miranda hasn’t slowed down. Although his run as Alexander Hamilton on Broadway has ended, the actor is currently in rehearsals for “Mary Poppins Returns,” which he’s starring in alongside Emily Blunt.
“It’s a giant ‘effing musical,” he said. “I feel really comfortable because coming from the theater, I know it’s a luxury to have a lot of rehearsal, but you don’t always get that when you’re making a movie. So for me, it feels like a theater project that we’re getting to put on film. I keep joking like, ‘When do we start previews? I can’t wait!’ I am dancing harder than I have danced since ‘In the Heights,’ because I didn’t dance that much in ‘Hamilton,’ and so getting to do that has been really fun, exciting, liberating. It’s been really good.”
If (and we mean IF) Miranda doesn’t win the Oscar this time around, it’s pretty clear he’ll be in the running again soon enough. You know, because he’s Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The Oscars air on Sunday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. on ABC.
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