How ‘Hamilton’ Prepared Lin-Manuel Miranda for ‘His Dark Materials’

Since leaving the performing company of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda has gotten to compose songs for Moana, perform in Mary Poppins Returns and appear in a slew of TV guest spots. His next role is a role in the HBO/BBC adaptation of His Dark Materials. That’s right, you’ll get to see Lin-Manuel Miranda every week on HBO, or BBC, depending who airs it where you live. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lin-Manuel Miranda of ‘His Dark Materials’| Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO

Miranda plays Lee Scoresby, the character from Philip Pullman’s books who rides the armored talking bear Iorek Byrnison. In a world where people are paired with their own personal daemons and people travel the multiverse of parallel dimensions, young Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) is on a mission to rescue her kidnapped friend.

HBO held a His Dark Materials panel for the Television Critics Association today which included Lin-Manuel Miranda. This evening, cast members from various HBO shows attended a party with the TCA where Miranda spoke with reporters about His Dark Materials and Hamilton. His Dark Materials premieres on HBO this November.

Imagining talking bears is nothing when you’ve done ‘Hamilton’

No actual talking bears were utilized in the making of His Dark Materials. All of the talking animals and magical elements are added with visual effects later. That didn’t stop Lin-Manuel Miranda from imagining he was in Pullman’s world. 

“It’s all I know,” Miranda said. “I never worked with a CGI anything. I worked with puppeteers and incredibly talented actors. Sometimes I was staring at an actor and something I was staring at an actor holding a bear’s head and sometimes I’m staring at nothing and the actor is over here but I’m still looking at my pretend bear head.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Dafne Keen
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Dafne Keen | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO

That’s essentially what Miranda did every night on stage. Not that he was imagining he was actually in 1776. He had to imagine the audience was actually paying attention.

“Theater is the best training in the world for working with CGI on this scale because it gives you this Jedi focus,” Miranda said. “I can act through 20 f*cking people texting in the audience and I can act through anything after a year of seven shows a week.”

People pay $1000 for Hamilton tickets and still text?

“Never underestimate privilege,” Miranda said. “Never underestimate privilege but yeah, I have a really good focus because of theater training and that serves you really well when you’re acting opposite green dots sometimes.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda read ‘His Dark Materials’ with his wife

When he got the chance to star in His Dark Materials, Miranda was already a fan. Reading the books was actually something he and his wife did together when they were dating.

“I was 25 and I know that because I was dating my wife when I was 25 and we read the books together,” Miranda said. “As I was dating my wife, we read these books together. We were like oh, I heard this is good, I heard this is good and we were reading The Golden Compass when we started dating.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lin-Manuel Miranda of ‘His Dark Materials’ | Amy Sussman/Getty Images

That was 2005 and Miranda also remembers what else they were doing during their courtship. “We were also playing Grand Theft Auto and watching the Jay-Z documentary on The Black Album,” he said. “It’s a time capsule of 2005 to be sure.”

As a fan, Lin-Manuel Miranda appreciates doing a complete ‘His Dark Materials’

They tried to do His Dark Materials as a movie trilogy. The first film, The Golden Compass, did not warrant a sequel. Getting to do 16 episodes over two seasons, Miranda feels lucky to get to put more of the book on screen.

“It’s luxuriating in the world, honestly,” Miranda said. “It’s the fact that the freedom of Iorek Byrnison isn’t 10 minutes. It’s an episode. It’s an hour. It just means more of the page ends up on-screen.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lin-Manuel Miranda attends the HBO Summer TCA Panels | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO

Jack Thorne wrote the adaptation of His Dark Materials for HBO/BBC. Miranda hinted there may be some new elements with that.

“It also means that we can indulge Jack Thorne’s vision of this because it is an adaptation,” Miranda said. “It is a translation. He loves Lee Scoresby. Philip Pullman loves Lee Scoresby so there’s more time with Lee Scoresby because he gets to dig into some of the novella roots. Philip Pullman wrote a whole separate novella for Lee Scoresby just because he liked him. We get to play with some of that source material as well.”

‘His Dark Materials’ is a vacation for Lin-Manuel Miranda

As a creator of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda had more on his plate than simply performing. As a composer of films, he’s busy behind the scenes. Just getting to act is a treat for him.

“I remember towards the end of our shoot one of the crew members being like, ‘Going on a long holiday after this,’” Miranda said. “I was like no, this is my holiday. I’ve got to go write like 50 f*cking things when we get back to the United States. Me pretending to be a cowboy in a f*cking hot air balloon is the vacation.”

Fortunately for Lin-Manuel Miranda, he’s still got season 2 of His Dark Materials to film.

“I go back to Wales next week and I go back on vacation and I get to be Lee Scoresby for two more months so it’s great,” Miranda said.