ENTERTAINMENT

At Sundance, Lin-Manuel Miranda shares the spotlight

Jan 26, 2020, 5:18 PM
Director John James, from left, Luis Miranda, and Lin-Manuel Miranda pose for a portrait to promote...
Director John James, from left, Luis Miranda, and Lin-Manuel Miranda pose for a portrait to promote the film "Siempre, Luis" at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)
(Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Lin-Manuel Miranda knows that, for some, the story of his life is already written.
“If I can put it absolutely morbidly, I know that ‘Hamilton’ is the first line in my obituary,” Miranda says with an unusually chipper tone for someone contemplating their death. “Like, good! Done! I know nothing will ever be ‘Hamilton’ again and I’m fine with that. I think artists start to go off the rails when they try to chase that again and again.”

A pair of new documentaries premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this week capture a wider view of Miranda’s life through some of the people who have been most foundational to him. “Siempre, Luis” is a profile of his father, the tireless Puerto Rico advocate Luis Miranda. “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” documents the improvised hip-hop show that Miranda and several of his “Hamilton” collaborators regularly put on before “In the Heights” altered Miranda’s trajectory, and which they recently reformed on Broadway.

“Life’s not a linear narrative. It’s not this and this and this ascent. It’s all these side journeys,” Miranda says in “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme.” “Life gets complicated and you keep going. There’s no endpoint. What’s that Orson Wells’ quote? If you want to tell a story with a happy ending, it depends on where you end the story.”

Both films are, in a way, origin stories for the 40-year-old Miranda. But they are also stories that take some of the megawatt spotlight thrust on him by “Hamilton” and deflects it onto those around him.

“My son is the most collaborative human being that I know,” says the elder Miranda. “From sharing the Kennedy Center award with his other collaborators to making sure that everyone who did something important to him and accomplish that next goal gets accounted for and acknowledged. I understand why. I have a wonderful wife of 42 years who is exactly like that. It’s part of his DNA.”

“Siempre, Luis,” directed by John James, is a profile of Luis Miranda, the longtime New York political player. It took some time for Luis to get accustomed to the cameras being focused on him.

“I’ve spent all my life promoting a cause, an organization, elected officials, Lin-Manuel Miranda. So to all of a sudden be promoting myself is not a role I’ve had all my life. I was always pushing something, never being the center of attention. But I’ll tell you, though, it feels good! It’s like a narcissist’s dream.”

The film also depicts when son and father a year ago mounted “Hamilton” in Puerto Rico. For Lin-Manuel, Alexander Hamilton reminded him of his father, both immigrants who settled in New York.

“Anyone who’s seen ‘Hamilton’ and wonders ‘How much is this like its author’ will see my dad and go, ‘Oh, I get it now. He’s playing his dad,” says Lin-Manuel. “I saw in the sheer tonnage of what Hamilton accomplished in his lifetime — he pushed through the Federalist Papers while also running a law practice — and it reminded me of my father. When I’m playing Hamilton, I’m playing my dad.”

Sometimes, Luis reminds his son almost too much of the fiery founding father. “I’ve had moments with him where he’s about to very curtly respond to an email and I go, ‘Dad, don’t go Hamilton on them,'” says Lin-Manuel.

Andrew Fried’s “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” traces the roots of many of the primary forces involved in “Hamilton,” including director Thomas Kail and actor Christopher Jackson, who originated the role of George Washington. But some of those who were part of “Freestyle Love Supreme,” for various reasons, didn’t come along on the “Hamilton” journey. Utkarsh Ambudkar was then at a low point, dealing with drug addiction.

“Some people were on this rocket ship and some weren’t,” says Lin-Manuel. “It’ lovely to be on the other side of it because I think we’re closer for it.”

As seen in the film, the members “Freestyle Love Supreme” reunited for a successful Broadway run of the show they used to perform in the basement of New York’s Drama Bookshop.

“It’s been our go-to. It’s been a part of all our lives,” says Lin-Manuel. “For me, creatively it’s the muscle groups that make everything I like stronger. You can’t indulge in writer’s block if you’re also getting on stage and creating a 90-minute musical with your friends.”

Miranda, who also appears in another Sundance documentary (“Mucho Mucho Amour,” about famed Puerto Rican psychic Walter Mercado), will this summer see the big-screen adaptation of “In the Heights” in movie theaters. And he still presides over the vast empire of “Hamilton.” Rather than devote himself to trying to write another mammoth musical, he has largely followed his passions. Among them: composing the music for Disney’s live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid” with Alan Menken.

“I only say yes to things that I would learn from and that I would kick myself forever if I didn’t say yes to,” says Miranda. “If you’re going to ask me if I want to write with Alan Menken on my favorite movie from my childhood, I’m going to say yes to that. You can look at the stuff from ‘Hamilton’ as burdensome or freeing, and I try to choose freeing.”

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At Sundance, Lin-Manuel Miranda shares the spotlight