Lin-Manuel Miranda: ‘I fell in love to His Dark Materials’


Lin Manuel Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda is the man behind the most popular musical of the past decade, Hamilton.

The hip hop-based show, which tells the story of Alexander Hamilton – one of the founding fathers of the United States – has been a smash hit around the globe.

In the almost five years since it made its debut, Lin’s acting career has also taken-off with a role in Mary Poppins Returns in 2018 with Emily Blunt.

Now, his latest project sees him delve into some of his favourite books, His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman.

Lin plays Texan aeronaut and adventurer, Lee Scoresby, in the TV adaptation of the fantastical trilogy which starts on BBC One on Sunday.

The eight-part series is based on the first of Pullman’s best-selling novels, Northern Lights. It tells the story a young orphan, Lyra Belacqua, who lives in a parallel universe where kids are going missing and everyone has a spirit animal or dæmon, as they are called.

“I love those books,” Lin explains.

“My wife and I read them together when we were first dating – they were the books we fell in love to.

“I love living inside that world.”

Image copyright
Walter McBride

Image caption

Lin-Manuel Miranda and his wife, Vanessa Nadal, read His Dark Materials when they started dating

His Dark Materials consists of three novels; Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. They’ve been translated into 40 languages and sold close to 18 million copies worldwide.

Lin thinks the author’s imagination is the key to why the books are so successful.

“On the surface level it is so fun, what would your soul look like if it were an animal?” he says.

“I think we connect with Lyra’s coming of age story because she is always trying to do the right thing.

“In no other universe could armoured bears, a Texan aeronaut and people with animal souls co-exist but because Philip Pullman is such a skilled writer it all hangs together.

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Lyra, played by Dafne Keen, with her dæmon called Pantalaimon

A film adaptation starring Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman in 2007 was seen as a flop with disappointing box office takings and no sequels were made.

But Lin says he has no such worries about this version.

“I think what is exciting is that with the TV series we have the luxury of time,” he explains.

“We get to dig deeper on everything, on the themes and on the adventure.”

The cast also includes X-Men star James McAvoy as Lyra’s uncle, Lord Asriel, and Ruth Wilson (best known as the twisted killer Alice in Luther) as the enchanting but sinister Mrs Coulter.

“Ruth [Wilson] is genius casting,” he tells us.

“Mrs Coulter flies off the page because she is all these things but she is also fearsome – she has got it all.”

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James McAvoy plays Lyra’s uncle Lord Asriel

For his spirit animal, Lin would pick an internet sensation – “Pizza Rat”.

“There was a video that went viral a couple of years ago of a determined rat pulling a slice of pizza in to a New York City subway tunnel.

“Everyone was like ‘aren’t we all pizza rat?’ I would hope that my daemon is that scrappy and that resilient.”

‘The Little Mermaid lit up my brain’

Lin is a very busy man, perhaps the busiest in showbiz?

He argues that title surely goes to that other multi-talented star – Donald Glover – but we’re not so sure.

His other projects currently include composing songs for the live-action remake of Disney Classic, The Little Mermaid, which is due out in 2020.

It was the story of rebellious mermaid, Ariel – first released in 1989 – that Lin says ignited his passion for musical theatre and acting. He was only nine when he first watched it.

“The Little Mermaid is probably responsible for the fact that I am even sitting here talking to you,” he reveals.

“It was the first musical I saw and it lit up my brain.”

“To get to write songs [for the film] is daunting but incredibly fun.

“I think I would be more intimidated if it wasn’t The Little Mermaid, as I know the score to the film better than I know my own shows.”

Hamilton the movie?

As well as His Dark Materials and The Little Mermaid, there is the question of when there might be a film adaptation of Hamilton?

“Well,” he begins, “we filmed a movie of the live show the week before I left the production in 2016.

Image copyright
Gladys Vega

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Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton in Puerto Rico

“It’s been edited and we are just trying to figure out when is the right time to release that. I think that will have a theatrical release before there is a movie adaptation of the show.

“I am proud of the fact that I worked seven years on a piece of theatre, I would like it to be seen in that form by as many people as possible.”

His Dark Materials is on BBC One on Sunday 4 November at 8pm.

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