The creator of Hamilton on dancing through Mary Poppins Returns, raising boys and returning to the stage in Puerto Rico
Did you watch Mary Poppins as a kid?
I had the VHS cassette and loved the first two-thirds, but “Feed the Birds” would always make me too sad and then I would turn it off.
How did you step into your joyful character, Jack, a lamplighter?
My job in this film is to understand the childhood whimsy that Mary Poppins brings to every situation and to consider myself lucky to be along for the ride. I looked a lot at my own kids–my son has the most vivid imagination of anyone I’ve ever met. The other day I bought him a $5.99 fake Spider-Man phone, and it was an hour of him having fictional conversations and saving people.
Do you plan to rap in all your projects?
I don’t really think I rap in this movie. I think Dick Van Dyke’s bars in “Jolly Holiday” are way closer to contemporary hip-hop than what I’m doing. Everyone forgets he drops 16 bars about all the women he’s dated in the first movie.
Did you enjoy relocating to London for filming?
To finish the year I’d had performing in Hamilton, leave the country and start this weird new life with my wife and kids was really amazing. The day before we shot “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” I brought my son to work. We rehearsed that entire eight-minute dance sequence as a continuous number, and he experienced Daddy surrounded by all those bikes and [lamplighters] doing that incredible dance in real time. The look on his face was one of the best moments of my life, full stop.
What has been the most surprising thing about fatherhood?
The thing that drives you craziest about your children is the thing that’s most similar to you. My son’s a picky eater–he’ll take a bite, then think for 20 minutes, while I’m sitting there steaming. I know I was just as bad. My parents laugh and laugh.
How do you think about raising boys in 2018?
The hardest job and yet the most worthwhile is to teach and model empathy to your children.
Hamilton has remained a sensation. Why does it have such staying power?
It makes you reckon with what you’re doing with your time on earth. When I read that book on Hamilton’s life, I remember thinking, I can’t believe he got all that done in such a short amount of time. In writing it, I got a little braver in stating what I want out of the world. I became a little more Hamilton and a little less Burr.
Why did you decide to reprise your role in Puerto Rico in January 2019?
I played Usnavi in In the Heights in Puerto Rico, and it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life as an actor. Then in the wake of Hurricane Maria, it became a very different thing: How can we leave the island better than we found it? We’re trying to raise $15 million for arts organizations and artists on the island, and also really prioritize residents of the island seeing it.
You’ve been outspoken about the politics surrounding Maria since it hit. Now that a year has passed, what are your thoughts?
In a weekend where everyone who had family or friends on the island was having trouble reaching them, our President was tweeting about football. I’ll never forget that. I don’t think history will ever forget that.
Would you ever write about President Trump?
You have to love what you’re writing about. Do you want to go to a musical about that? I don’t.
You’re sincere in a sarcastic world. Do you ever stoop to cynicism?
I can be as snarky and cynical as the next person. However, we get to choose what we put out into the world. I try to put out what I would like back.
This appears in the December 17, 2018 issue of TIME.
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