After starring as founding father Alexander Hamilton in his Broadway hip-hop smash “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda could have written his ticket for any gig he wanted.
Miranda chose to switch it up and portray an East End London lamplighter named Jack in “Mary Poppins Returns” (in theaters Wednesday), his first major role following his stage success.
The chance to appear alongside Emily Blunt, who plays the famed nanny in the original musical sequel to “Mary Poppins,” definitely played into that decision. But Miranda, 38, makes it clear that the prospect of his character climbing London’s famed Big Ben during the climatic finale was dead-on appealing.
“The thing you need to know about me is, really, all my life I have wanted to be a stuntman,” says Miranda, holding out his hands for emphasis during an interview at the Four Seasons hotel. “I watched every special on stunts growing up. That was going to be my career, until I learned I didn’t like getting hurt, heights or going fast.”
But now, we can add Golden Globe-nominated action musical star to the multitude of Miranda accomplishments.
The native New Yorker of Puerto Rican heritage was an out-of-the-box choice for director Rob Marshall to star as Mary Poppins’ enchanted sidekick in the follow-up to 1964’s “Mary Poppins,” which starred Julie Andrews as the magical nanny. Jack was an apprentice to Cockney chimney sweep Bert (played by Dick Van Dyke) in the original film.
Beyond Miranda’s clear musical talent, Marshall was compelled by his “inner child.”
“He just has this pure enthusiasm that is so real and authentic. He’s not jaded in any way, shape or form,” says Marshall. “And I saw Jack the lamplighter as this bright light who hasn’t lost the child inside, who can be this wonderful collaborator with Mary Poppins.”
Miranda’s childlike enthusiasm is full tilt during his hand-waving, exuberant interview. But he boosts it up to 11 when he slides over to a nearby table to “steal some caffeine.” He cracks open a Diet Dr Pepper, takes in a gulp, and continues uninterrupted about his “Hamilton” transition.
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“It was a joy getting in touch with my inner child and playing with that, after a year of duels,” says Miranda, who relished taking a break from writing after “Hamilton.” His “Mary Poppins” role was created entirely around him “like a tailored suit.”
“I started writing musicals because I knew my musical theater dream role didn’t exist. I wasn’t going to be able to play Bernardo in ‘West Side Story’ or Paul in ‘A Chorus Line.’ I don’t dance like that. And for a Puerto Rican dude, that’s the canon,” he says. “This seemed like the fruit of the harvest. It’s a direct line from there to me hanging onto Big Ben.”
Even Miranda’s East End London “patter” dance hall scene, which turns into a Victorian-era rap right in his wheelhouse, was written entirely by lyricists Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman (who also composed the film’s music).
“That was all their invention, they created a bespoke suit. And my job was to make it look good,” says Miranda.
He moved his family to London in 2016 during lengthy rehearsals for the elaborate “Mary Poppins” song-and-dance numbers and the five-month London shoot, which incorporated stunning locations such as the exterior of Buckingham Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The surprising challenges were seemingly effortless moments, like Miranda’s opening scene in which he bikes through a London street while singing. Simple, right? Miranda calls this “the hardest ten seconds of my life.”