Lin-Manuel Miranda is one step closer to an EGOT.
The Hamilton creator and musical mastermind has already won an Emmy, two Grammys, and three Tonys — not to mention a Pulitzer Prize — and on Tuesday, he scored his first-ever Oscar nomination. Miranda earned a best original song nod for “How Far I’ll Go,” the gorgeous Disney anthem sung by Auli’i Cravalho in Moana, and if he wins, he’ll surpass Frozen songwriter Robert Lopez to become the youngest person to ever complete the coveted EGOT.
Moana (which also earned a nomination for best animated feature) is just the first of several high-profile Disney projects Miranda has lined up: In addition to producing and co-writing the music for the upcoming live-action Little Mermaid movie, he’s also starring alongside Emily Blunt in Rob Marshall’s Mary Poppins sequel, which is dated for 2018. In between rehearsals for Mary Poppins Returns, Miranda called EW from London to talk about the Oscars, relating to Moana’s teenage heroine, and the enduring power of musicals.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations! How did you find out you were nominated?
LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: I was on my lunch break from this movie I’m working on, and I was watching the Australian Open on delay from this morning. [Laughs] So I still don’t know whether Federer wins or not, but he’s doing really well.
My phone vibrated off the table. I didn’t know the time because I’m in London, so I messed up. I didn’t know when the nominations were going to be announced because I can’t do math. [Laughs] It literally started buzzing off the table, and that’s when I found out.
Do you have any plans to celebrate yet?
I don’t know! I guess I’ll pop a little something of bubbly with my wife when I get home from work tonight. I think that’s about as crazy as I’m going to get!
This is your first Oscar nomination, and you’re now officially “Oscar-nominee Lin-Manuel Miranda.” What’s going through your head?
Ooh, you say that like there will be more. How exciting! [Laughs] No, I’m not gonna lie, I’m excited to go to the Oscars. I’m the kid who used to tape the Oscars and memorize Billy Crystal’s musical monologues. And you know, the Jack Palance running jokes… I used to tape them every year, so I’m thrilled to get to go to the party. And I’m really just so excited for the entire Moana team. I mean, I worked on the movie for the past three years. They’ve been working on it for five years. It’s a wonderful sort of congratulations from many, many years of hard work, so I’m thrilled to be a part of it.
You’ve talked about how you wrote “How Far I’ll Go” by going home to your parents and where you grow up. What was it like to get back in that kind of teenage headspace to write this song?
I wish it could tell you it was really hard. [Laughs] But it’s not. I think you always look for yourself in the characters you’re writing for, and for me, the thing that resonated about Moana the most was that notion of a calling, of something that you’d be doing if no one was looking. You’d be doing it if no one cared. For Moana, that’s the ocean. Every path on her island leads her back to the ocean, and it’s not that she doesn’t like where she lives. She loves her family. She loves her island. She loves her way of life. And yet there’s still this calling, so you begin to kind of question what it is. And I related to that. As someone who wanted a life in this business, it looked so far away from 200th Street, where I grew up. That’s what I related to, and that’s sort of the genesis of the song for me.
You mentioned that you started working on Moana three years ago, and then in the time it took the film to get to the screen, Hamilton blew up and you suddenly had all these different things you were working on. What is it like to have something you’ve worked on for so long gain this kind of recognition?
It’s really thrilling. I was thrilled the moment Ron and John showed me the water test. That was the in-house term for when baby Moana meets the ocean for the first time, and it responds to her. That’s when I was like, “Ohhhh, this is going to be a really special movie.” Because it tapped into something primal. It tapped into something that you know as a kid and that you forget. We all think we have that kind of relationship when we’re little, and then we forget it as we grow up. We think that the ocean is out to get our sandcastle, we punch back at waves, and then we grow up. That moment reawakened something in me, and every time I see the movie, I’m filled with a kind of wonder at what they’ve accomplished.
You’re in a pretty great category. How do you feel about going up against two songs from La La Land?
Oh, it’s great. I’ve known Benj [Pasek] and Justin [Paul, who wrote La La Land’s lyrics] a long time. We share an orchestrator, and we’ve shared a lot of laughs over the years, so I’ve been thrilled watching their success. This is going to be their year because Dear Evan Hansen is also a motherf—ing great score, and that’s on Broadway right now. So I think they’re going to have a really great night, and this is going to be great practice for them for June. And then Sting! Sting and Justin Timberlake! What! It’s a crazy category. It’s a mad libs of a category.
La La Land is such a cultural phenomenon, and then there are all these movie musicals in the works, especially the live-action ones from Disney. Do you feel like this is a particularly exciting time for movie musicals?
You know, it’s interesting. When I was a kid, I was exactly the right age for that last golden run of Disney musicals: Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King. That came along right when I needed it, and I feel really thrilled to be a part of what feels like a next wave between Tangled and Frozen and now Moana. We just have a seat at the table, and that’s what’s really exciting. I think musicals are so tough to pull off that for a while, they just weren’t done. And I think we’ve slowly reawakened that language, and the success of La La Land is a testament to that. But as a guy who writes ‘em for a living, I’m thrilled that they have a seat at the table with all the other kinds of films and genres.
I know you’re sworn to secrecy, but you’re in the middle of working on Mary Poppins Returns. How’s that preparation going?
It’s a big ol’ musical! [Laughs] Funny you should ask! It’s really exciting. I’m singing and dancing every day with Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep. It’s sort of a dream come true to come to work. What’s crazy is you’re not going to see it for a year and a half, two years. It doesn’t come out until Christmas 2018, so I think the hard part for me will be not humming these tunes in public for two years. [Laughs] Because they’re very catchy.
Head here for the full list of this year’s Oscar nominations.