Hulu's We Are Freestyle Love Supreme director on the story of friendship behind the improv troupe
Plus, watch on exclusive clip from the Hulu documentary.
Fifteen years ago, director Andrew Fried was convinced by a friend to go see an improv freestyle show in New York City. Knowing nothing about it, Fried went to see what all the fuss was about. That one performance would come to alter the course of his work for the next decade and a half. What he didn't fully realize was that group would also change the lives of theater (and non-theater) lovers worldwide, as well as the course of modern theater itself. The show was Freestyle Love Supreme, a performance put on by a hip-hop improv troupe founded by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, and Anthony Veneziale. "I was just blown away," Fried tells EW of that first experience. "I honestly immediately felt like I had seen something incredibly special and that these performers were dynamic, smart, and creative."
Viewers now have the chance to see inside the creation and evolution of that very unique and insanely skilled production, thanks to Hulu's documentary We Are Freestyle Love Supreme. The project chronicles the 15-year journey of the freestyle troupe that, over the years, has included Miranda, Kail, Veneziale, Christopher Jackson, Arthur Lewis, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Chris Sullivan, Bill Sherman, James Monroe Iglehart, Andrew Bancroft, and more, from their humble beginnings in the basement of the Drama Book Shop and beatboxing and rapping on the sidewalks of Manhattan, to their Broadway debut in 2019 and all the ups and downs — professional and personal — that happened along the way.
Three weeks after his first encounter with the group, Fried found himself sleeping on the troupe's couch in Scotland's capital city as they took part in a month-long performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He began documenting the troupe, initially envisioning the footage would make for an interesting television show, spotlighting how the everyday goings-on of this group of guys made its way into their work each night. "Nobody much was interested in that project at the time," says Fried. "But it began a friendship with these guys and then when I went to a workshop of In the Heights, before it had opened Off Broadway, I had another one of these magical moments where I just knew that I had experienced something that was very special. I remember leaving the theater that night and I called my mom. I said, 'Mom, I don't have $10 million to produce a Broadway show, but I know that the songs that I just heard will be performed by high school kids for the next 50 years. What do I do?' She said, 'You do what you do: You tell their story.'"
For the next few years, Fried did just that, documenting Miranda and Kail bringing In the Heights to Broadway. The director produced a special on that journey and then went on one of his own, moving to Los Angeles and beginning a very different life that was entirely unrelated to the New York theater world. "I knew that Lin, Tommy, Chris and the guys would do something great but I had no way to know that they would actually change the world and redefine what the world of theater looks like." That "something great" included a little something called Hamilton, but that didn't stop the guys coming together over the years on occasion to perform as FLS. "You see a lot of elements of this energetic field in our other work but I feel like it was cultivated and shaped here," says Kail in the exclusive clip above.
Three years after Hamilton became the smash Broadway success we know it as now, Fried was having lunch with Kail in late 2018, when the latter mentioned that the original troupe was reforming to do a month-long run Off Broadway. "He just looked at me simply and said, 'Should we finish our movie?'" recalls Fried. "That's why Tommy Kail is a magical guy because that was an amazing gift. And it is; we've finished our movie and I'm so glad we did. I'm so proud of it." It was time for Fried to dig through his box of video footage from over the years. In addition to documenting their return to the stage (and the eventual Broadway debut months later), Fried sat down for interviews with the original and more recent members of the troupe as they reflected on all that's happened, but mostly their relationships with and to one another. "I think we decided to get back together because it’s probably the purest expression of joy any of us has ever felt doing a show," says Kail during one of those interviews.
While avid fans of In the Heights and Hamilton will enjoy a glimpse into the coming together of those projects throughout the documentary, for Fried that relationship between the guys was always what he intended his film to focus on. "It's not trying to tell the absolute, complete history of Lin-Manuel Miranda and the making of In the Heights and Hamilton," says Fried. "Our movie is about friendship over time. As I've gotten to this point in my life, I realized that relationships can't be the way they started. They have to grow, they have to evolve, they have to change over time. To see that expressed in its current form is what I'm hoping people take from this. Our movie is about creativity and the connection with each other and with an audience. Our movie is about that thing that happens in theater where it exists in that room, just for those people, and then it's gone — but that special connection still exists."
We Are Freestyle Love Supreme arrives on Hulu, Friday, July 17.