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Lin-Manuel Miranda on his directorial debut and Jonathan Larson's influence

Miranda told Sunday TODAY's Willie Geist that Jonathan Larson's work inspired his own musicals, including "Hamilton."
/ Source: TODAY

Broadway playwright, composer, and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda has earned numerous accolades including three Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for his musicals “In the Heights” and “Hamilton.”

With the premiere of his new movie “Tick, Tick…Boom!” Miranda makes his feature film directorial debut in a full circle moment — telling the story of playwright Jonathan Larson, whose work inspired Miranda early in his own career.

On this week's Sunday Sitdown, Miranda told Sunday TODAY's Willie Geist that it's thrilling to see his name listed as the director of the movie that meant so much to him.

"It's such a dream come true for me. There were challenges to this film. We made this film in the midst of a pandemic," Miranda, 41, said. "There were so many times when I thought this movie would never get made, and so to be on this side of it is just an enormous relief. What I'm most proud of is the fact that the people in Jonathan's life are so proud of him. That means I've done my job."

"Tick, Tick... Boom!" is an autobiographical piece, written by Larson, about a frustrated young composer named Jonathan Larson who worries that he won't make his mark on the world or succeed in the musical theater business.

In Miranda's film, Tony-winning, Oscar-nominated actor Andrew Garfield portrays the young composer. Miranda told Geist that Garfield embodied Larson in many ways.

“They are both incredible thinkers about their craft,” he said. “I knew I needed a theater beast. You can’t just, like, cast a movie star as Jonathan Larson because Jonathan Larson lived and breathed the theater.”

Larson's other major theater work is the musical "Rent," which was incredibly successful and ran for 12 years on Broadway. However, Larson — who channeled his fears of failure into "Tick, Tick... Boom!" — never saw his musical become a piece of theater history: He died of an aortic aneurysm at his home the morning that "Rent" was scheduled to premiere off-Broadway.

Miranda told Geist that watching "Rent" was what inspired him to turn his own experiences into music.

“I saw it for my 17th birthday,” he says. “My high school girlfriend, Meredith Sommerville took me to the last row of the mezzanine of the Nederlander Theatre, and I'll always be in her debt for that. And it was the most contemporary-feeling show I'd ever seen.”

"It felt like he was writing about his friends, and I was like, "Oh, I could write one day,’ and no other musical made me feel like that," Miranda added. "It's a pretty short line from seeing 'Rent' at 17 to starting to write 'In the Heights' at 19."

When reflecting on his achievements and the success of his musicals, Miranda told Geist that Larson's work and untimely death inspired one of the core messages of "Hamilton."

“Well, I think the things that it's quote, unquote are ‘about’ are not really what it's about,” he said. “It's really about what are we doing with our time.”

“It's the same feeling I got when I saw ‘Tick, Tick... Boom!’ at age 21 and thought, ‘What am I really doing with my life?’" Miranda continued. "I think ‘Hamilton’ hits that weird chord in the same way.”