María Celeste Arrarás interviewed Lin-Manuel Miranda in El Dorado, Puerto Rico for “Al Rojo Vivo” the day after the closing night of Hamilton in Puerto Rico, in which Miranda reprised his lead role during a three-week run to raise funds for hurricane relief. The following transcript is a rush translation to English from a conversation originally held in Spanish. Reprinted with permission from “Telemundo” and “Al Rojo Vivo”.
María Celeste Arrarás: I had the pleasure of watching the very last show. It was thrilling to watch you walk on stage. You got a seemingly never-ending standing ovation before you even said a word. What was going through your mind then?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: It’s amazing that this has happened at every show. 23 shows. When I step out on stage and the spot light hits me, I can’t see anything. I know people are standing and clapping, but I can’t see them.
MCA: Is it uncomfortable to feel so loved? It must be overwhelming?
LMM: It is very overwhelming, but at the same time we’re at the beginning of the story, we’re just starting the story. I have to stand very still. I feel the love and I look at everyone. I sort of look around. I do like this. And then I go, “Okay.” And I sing. But that last show… I’ve never felt anything like it. Even my hair felt it. It was very surreal.
MCA: At the end of every show you wave the flag of Puerto Rico, but something magical happened on the last show. You didn’t know about it. Production kept it a secret. All of your peers held their own flags. What was that like?
LMM: I can’t describe it without my eyes watering. I was so…I was so involved in my own flag… It was the first time I had trouble finding mine. This isn’t a spoiler by the way. During the show, I die and I go backstage and I place the flag in my pocket so I can wave the flag at the end of the show. I was feeling for the edge of my flag and when I looked around, everyone had their flags out. They spent weeks planning this! They added pockets to all of the costumes, so they could do this. When I saw all of those flags out, I started to cry. I was dead! I was dead!
MCA: The audience was crying. I was on the fourth row, handkerchief in hand. It was truly beautiful. It was beautiful to see so many great artists and actors feeling like they’re Puerto Ricans too.
LMM: Yes, yes. They’re incredible. It’s been quite the adventure for them to come to Puerto Rico to put on these special shows. There’s a sense of community, a sense of wanting to do as much as we can for the island. They’ve travelled Puerto Rico. They went zip-lining in Orocovis, they went to El Yunque. They’ve gotten to explore the whole island!
MCA: Everything they’ve done and everything you’ve done have had an amazing and spectacular effect on the economy and the psyche of the Puerto Rican people. You’ve turned the tragedy on its head. Do you realize that?
LMM: Well… A bit. For me, this was done initially for very selfish reasons. I loved bringing In the Heights here in 2010 and I wanted to do the same with my next show. I love Puerto Rico and I love bringing my art to Puerto Rico. After Maria, the conversation changed. We focused on trying to help Puerto Rico. I couldn’t… You know, I couldn’t predict what it would be like to bring the show here or the incredible reception the people here would give it.
MCA: I came to watch the last show and my relatives told me they viewed you as their hero. They said you’d lifted the people’s spirits. You can be the poster child for Puerto Rico Se Levanta (Puerto Rico Stands Up). You helped the island financially and spiritually. I hope the people helped you see that.
LMM: Well, the theater is magical. More and more often we live in our own reality. On social media, I block people I don’t want to deal with or the news I don’t want to hear. When you go to the theater, everyone agrees to go into the same room and listen to the same story. There’s something magical about that. In order to put Hamilton on here… A story about someone who emigrated from the Caribbean and lived three lifetimes in the 45 years he spent on Earth. I think… I don’t know what it is about this story that whenever I play it or whenever I watch it, I find a different angle to it. When I did it here… There’s a song about a hurricane called “The Hurricane.” That song here takes a whole new meaning. A new dimension.
MCA: Puerto Ricans think it was very generous of you to come here to bring your heart and donate millions of dollars.
LMM: Thank you so much. It’s been great. Famous people have come to watch the show here, but regular folks have too. People from Scotland. People came from Scotland! I met a tourist who was visiting from China. I mean, people have come from all over the world to Puerto Rico to watch the show. And they have fallen in love with Puerto Rico. That’s the best part! They’ve fallen in love with Puerto Rico and they go, “I can’t believe I’ve never been here before.” And they’ll come back. That’s what matters.
MCA: You’re using this money to help the arts. Please tell me more about that.
LMM: Yes. We created the Flamboyan Arts Fund with the Flamboyan Foundation. Our goal was to raise $15 million dollars for artists or artistic organizations on the island. Museums, theater troupes. We already named our first grantees. We’re looking to name more grantees next time. That’s going to happen on February 15th.
MCA: Our viewers need to know that the arts were destroyed after the hurricane. There were no resources.
LMM: Exactly. And we forget… You know, there are important things, life or death things, but we can’t forget the arts because that’s Puerto Rico’s soul. Puerto Rican artists will talk about what happened with Maria, about what happened during and after. So we need to arm them, we need… They need to be put to work so they can feed their families and they can create the next story.
MCA: And with that money you’re also going to help the agriculture, the coffee farmers.
LMM: Yeah, yeah. That’s another project. I call them the Coffee Avengers because we’ve brought together Nespresso, Starbucks and other groups who work with coffee so they can help the growers. When we came to island to see who needed help, coffee farmers needed the most help because that crop, the coffee plant, takes years to grow back. They needed seeds, they needed a wholesale reinvestment. The hurricane took everything with it.
MCA: You’re a fan of coffee. You even have a tattoo.
LMM: Yes, I have it right here.
MCA: Can we see it?
LMM: It’s a cup of coffee. – Yeah, that’s my cup of coffee.
MCA: It’s small, but it means a lot.
LMM: I got it with my Puerto Rican cousins.
MCA: I also heard that you’re a… Well, after you arrived here today you asked for coffee. You’re addicted to coffee.
LMM: Oh, yeah! It’s Twitter and coffee.
MCA: Magical things happened during your visit. You spent your birthday here. Students sang “Happy Birthday” to you.
LMM: That was incredible. We put on a special show for 1,000 students. The rest of the tickets were sold for $10. That was the largest lotto we’d had thus far. They were a very special audience. We took a bow and left. I’d changed out of my clothes and I was getting ready for the next show when I heard, “Lin-Manuel! Lin-Manuel!” They weren’t moving.The music was turned off, the band was packing off their stuff but they weren’t moving. I went out wearing my robe.
MCA Your robe?
LMM: My robe. And they sang “Happy Birthday”. That was wonderful.
MCA You always connect with the audience. I know your dad would walk around the aisles and Facetime you, so you could see the audience.
LMM: When we first put the tickets on sale, I Facetimed everyone. I also… Yes, and the students too. That was amazing.
MCA During the play, your character says time and time again that Hamilton has a million things he’s yet to do. Lin-Manuel must have ten million things lefts to do.
LMM: Yes! That’s true! This has been a dream that’s been two years in the making. We began to plan this tour two years ago, six months before Maria struck. We got it done, we got the shows done and we raised so much money for Puerto Rico, so I feel so… I feel 800 pounds lighter. Now I’m going on a short vacation. And then I’m going to start working on the next one. I feel like this was Hamilton’s final chapter…
MCA You already have an idea for your next show?
LMM: I have a few. We’ll have to see which one wins out. For me, Hamilton wasn’t done until I played Hamilton in Puerto Rico. That was its final chapter.
MCA You’ve always been a very sensitive person. Your father always says you were very sensitive. I imagine such sensitivity has made you so empathic.
MCA: Yes, but it’s also who I am, you know. It was present during my childhood and adolescence. What I value most about this trip to Puerto Rico and the month I’ve spent here, was bringing my sons with me.
MCA Tell us about the many important things he did here.
LMM: The youngest started to crawl in Puerto Rico. After he landed on Puerto Rican soil, he started to crawl. He’s about ready to walk. He’s turning one next month. And my other son… He also spoke. Oh, my first “Daddy.
MCA He called you “Daddy” for the first time.
LMM: “Daddy, Daddy…” And my eldest, Sebastian, watched the show, he saw me in it, and he kept coming back. He watched it three times. He fell in love with the coqui, the morivivi and with…
MCA Morivivi is a plant that closes up when you touch it and opens up after you leave it alone. It’s called morivivi because it “dies” and comes back to life.
LMM: Yeah, so now he knows about all those very Puerto Rican things. When he says, “We’re from Puerto Rico.” He has a better understanding of what that means.
MCA As a child, you’d spent a month out of the year here with your grandparents. I’ve heard you plan to do the same with your children.
LMM: That’s the plan. My dad has a house here. When they’re old enough, they’ll spend a month here, a month in the Dominican Republic. My wife is Dominican. And you know, we’ll get them to experience their culture.
MCA They’re so lucky. Thank you, Lin-Manuel.
LMM: Thank you. Thank you so much.