The star of the HBO series His Dark Materials in his role as an ‘aeronaut’recalls his visit to the Philippines where he counts.Lea Salonga among his Filipino friends,
Lin-Manuel Miranda & his Phl connection
CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - October 13, 2019 - 12:00am

BEVERLY Hills, California — The question must have been popped on him a few times so Lin-Manuel Miranda reacted with amusement when The STAR asked him, “Is there something Filipino in you?” That is, his surname being very Filipino.

“Really?” Lin-Manuel broke into a wide smile, so reminiscent of his role as Jack in Mary Poppins Returns for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Actor (Motion Picture Musical Picture or Comedy). “It’s an honor to be mistaken for a Filipino, but I am Puerto Rican. I do know a few Tagalog words because so many of my Filipino kids follow me on Twitter and they keep me updated on the slang.” (Lin-Manuel’s mother, Dr. Luz Towns-Miranda, is a clinical psychologist; and his father, Luis Miranda Jr., is a Democratic Party consultant who advised New York City mayor Ed Koch.)

We were at a function room of the Beverly Hilton, interviewing Lin-Manuel for his role as Lee Scoresby, an “aeronaut/adventurer” cowboy pilot “with a Jackrabbit daemon” in the HBO series (now streaming) His Dark Materials, adapted from Philip Pullman’s award-winning trilogy of the same name, which is considered a modern masterpiece of imaginative fiction.

Asked how challenging it was to be in a fantasy series, Lin-Manuel said, ‘What’s so hard in doing fantasy is the mix of big ideas and the compelling personal journey. I think the (His Dark Materials) books do that so brilliantly. The books deal with ideas about repression whether by religion or by the state, ideas about personal freedom. Those ideas reflect who we are and that alone is a brilliant idea.’

The series follows Lyra (played by 14-year-old Dafne Keen), a seemingly ordinary but brave young woman from another world. Her search for a kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving stolen children and becomes a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon called Dust. It is said that the trilogy has been embraced by atheists and condemned by believers for its villain, a powerful quasi-religious organization called the Magisterium.

As he is on screen (Mary Poppins, etc.) and on stage (in, among other award-winning performances, Hamilton for which he wrote the music and starred in until 2016), Lin-Manuel in person is funny, engaging, talkative, genuinely friendly and imbued with a “lightness of being” that is at once infectious and endearing. 

“I have a relationship with the Philippines because my best friend in college is Filipino,” continued Lin-Manuel whose looks are Pinoy na Pinoy. “She grew up in Subic Bay. She was the original character in In The Heights that I wrote as a college production. The musical had its first international production in the Philippines in 2012, directed by Bobby Garcia.”

That was how Lin-Manuel met Lea Salonga whom he described as “an international treasure.”

“I flew to Manila for two reasons. One, to attend my Filipino friend’s wedding in Bohol and, two, to grace the opening of In The Heights. Lea took her weekend off to show me around. She let me eat Filipino food and we had this karaoke concert with the cast. Lea was in the background, sort of singing along with her then little daughter (Nicole). I’m excited to see her and Eva Noblezada in a movie (Yellow Rose, also with US-based Princess Punzalan in the cast. — RFL). I saw the trailer. That was great!”

Sought for comment, Lea texted this: The first time I met Lin-Manuel Miranda was in the Hexagon Lounge of RCBC Theater. Heavily jetlagged, he was in Manila on his way to attend a friend’s wedding out of town, so Bobby Garcia invited him to see a dress rehearsal of In The Heights. Lin watched with much excitement and afterwards generously gave notes to the cast, complimenting folks that gave new insights into dialogue and song lyrics.

The next time I saw him was at his despedida, and he took my then five-year-old daughter on the dance floor to dance with him. Then, of course, I watched him in Hamilton and he has become insanely successful but has remained humble and grounded. When we see each other, there’s always a hug and plenty of laughter.

Lin-Manuel shared that he was in London working on Mary Poppins Returns when he got the HBO offer for His Dark Materials. Happily, he confessed that he’s a big fan of the Philip Pullman trilogy, so…

“I fell in love with his books at the same time that I fell in love with my wife,” he related. “When we started dating, we would read his books together. We love books of this kind, mystery thrillers and the like. His Dark Materials says something about the breadth of the world, that there is this massive religious force…that there are people in a universe whose souls exist out of their bodies. I’m happy to be the Han Solo of the story, who survives by winning a card game or picking a pocket, or winning a fistfight by playing dirty. Then he falls into doing the right thing on the right side of history and helloing free those stolen kids.”

In the next breath, Lin-Manuel noted that in his first appearance in an HBO production, he played as a bellboy with no more than two lines and for which he got a talent fee that paid the rent for two months. However, he didn’t say how much he’s paid for his latest HBO outing.

Asked how challenging it was to be in a fantasy series, Lin-Manuel said, “What’s so hard in doing fantasy is the mix of big ideas and the compelling personal journey. I think the (His Dark Materials) books do that so brilliantly. The books deal with ideas about repression whether by religion or by the state, ideas about personal freedom. Those ideas reflect who we are and that alone is a brilliant idea.

“Then there’s so much more. It’s the story of a girl growing up through acts of serendipity, through acts of kindness and through drama about everything that conspires to make us who we are. It’s a beautiful world to be part of. I know it would be an adventure that would give us time to spend in a different part of the world.”

He added, “Dark Materials is very relevant today. It tells the same old story about children being stolen or separated from their families, infringement of freedom and fight for freedom.”

Lin-Manuel has Hamilton to thank for what and where he is today.

Hamilton happened when I was already married and I had my first child; now I have two kids. I understood what I wanted to put in this world and the kind of things that I wanted to do. Hamilton helped demystify things for me.”

Part of the perks is having a staff who, according to Lin-Manuel, “reminds me, ‘Hey, time to go back to work!’ I get a lot of help from friends, one of them my friend from college whose job is to keep tab on the projects I’m working on. Thanks to the success of Hamilton that I got the privilege of choosing projects. I’m in a different position now.”

Since he hit big time, has it been all work and no play for the Jack-of-all-trades? Doesn’t he know how to unwind?

“Of course, I do,” he assured. “I spend time with my family and,” adding with a laugh, sweeping his hand across the journalists at the roundtable (generic term for interviews during Hollywood junkets), ”I’m doing it right now with you, guys. Didn’t you notice that I’m having fun?”

(E-mail reactions at rickylophilstar@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA
Philstar
  • Latest
  • Trending
Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?
X
Login

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

SIGN IN
or sign in with