"Wait, I'm about to say a nice thing about you! Don't interrupt me!" Lin-Manuel Miranda tells his father, Luis A. Miranda, Jr., before he could get another word in.
The two sit next to each other in the Miranda household living room. They're reminiscing over cups of café, as they say in Luis' home, located far uptown in Inwood. Lin-Manuel buries his head in the couch every time his father gets off topic or spills a few embarrassing beans about his adolescence.
Lin-Manuel, who returned to his childhood home for the morning (just 20 blocks from where he lives with his wife, Vanessa Nadal, and newborn son, Sebastian), is the spitting image of his father. The two share the same warm smile, tightly cropped goatee and long hair that curls slightly at the bottom (Luis, however, is a shade of salt and pepper — 25 years Lin-Manuel's senior).
Lin-Manuel silences his father to speak about the time he felt most encouraged, at a crossroad in his early adulthood. Producer Kevin McCollum, who brought Miranda's In the Heights to Broadway (along with Jeffrey Seller and Jill Furman, Hamilton's producers), expressed interest in his writing, but Miranda was offered a job teaching English at his high school, Hunter College High School. After substitute teaching for some time, "Hunter had asked me to stay on to continue to teach part time," Lin-Manuel explains. "And, I asked you, 'What should I do? Should I keep teaching or should I just kind of sub and do gigs to pay the rent and really throw myself into writing full time?' And, you wrote me a very thoughtful letter, in which you said, 'I really want to tell you to keep the job — that's the smart 'parent thing' to do — but when I was 17, I was a manager at the Sears in Puerto Rico, and I basically threw it all away to go to New York, [and] I didn't speak a lot of English. It made no sense, but it was what I needed to do.' So you were like, 'It makes no sense to leave your job to be a writer, but I have to tell you to do it. You have to pursue that if you want.' That was very opposite advice from, 'Be a lawyer,' and I'm glad I took it."
The two communicated by letters years before e-mail because, as Luis says, "I have to give notes!"
Although encouraging, Luis admits he was the much "more realistic" one between him and his wife, Luz Towns-Miranda. He had hoped Lin-Manuel would grow up to become a lawyer, but ever since the infamous "Pushcart War" video — a third-grade book report that also functioned as Lin-Manuel's first feature film (of sorts) — showbiz seemed the only option.
Then, of course, there was the time a young Lin-Manuel performed with the Hunter College chorus on "CBS This Morning" for Child Hunger Day. They were singing backup on David Pomeranz's "In Our Hands."
"There are 20 kids singing, all very shy, and there is Lin-Manuel," Luis recalls, arms flailing in the air, re-enacting his performance. "And, Luz and I are looking at him…"
"Just living! I still remember the song..." Lin-Manuel interjects, offering a full-blown performance in the living room.
Luis continues, "I remember telling Luz, my wife, he can never be in A Chorus Line!"
Although A Chorus Line wasn't in store for Miranda, he now puts himself on the battle line of America's beginnings. He plays founding father Alexander Hamilton in his musical Hamilton, which transferred to Broadway following an acclaimed engagement at Off-Broadway's Public Theater — also where A Chorus Line was born in 1975. Not only is he fathering a new musical, he is also the new father of Sebastian Miranda, born just two weeks before Off-Broadway rehearsals for Hamilton began.
"She's the superhero in all of this because she had to deal with a newborn kid during tech," says Lin-Manuel of his wife, Vanessa.
Luis adds, "It's the parallels of life. I remember when I worked for [Mayor Ed] Koch for four years. Life in this house continued, and I sort of walked in, and my daughter went with me to a lot of affairs, and my wife made it very clear that she would only go to [the] important stuff... She's a very tough lady; life continued, and she managed that life. When we lost the election in '89, I had some downtime for six months, and then I realized that she had painted things in colors that I didn't like!" He laughs. "But, it's the parallel with you and tech — you're being a parent at the same time that your life is going on, in a great way."
Lin-Manuel agrees, "Yes, you learn to balance things."
Hamilton will begin previews July 13 (opening Aug. 6) at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, and Luis can't wait until it's on Broadway. An autographed photo of four revolutionaries from the Off-Broadway run is framed and displayed near the doorway. "I knew that it would be fantastic," he says. "I didn't realize it would change his life."
Lin-Manuel laughs and says, "We're still figuring out how that's going to happen."
(This feature originally ran in the August issue of Playbill magazine. Playbill.com features manager Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)