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'Hamilton' creator Lin-Manuel Miranda talks with Long Island kids

Fresh off of "Mary Poppins Returns," the writer and actor shares what it's like to sing in front of President Obama and his hopes in taking his famous Broadway show to Puerto Rico.

Lin-Manuel Miranda with Kidsday reporters Jaellyn Portillo-Bueso, left,

Lin-Manuel Miranda with Kidsday reporters Jaellyn Portillo-Bueso, left, Julia Richards, Nyah Grigg and Mark Ingram, of Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School, Huntington Station, at the Essex House Hotel in Manhattan. Photo Credit: Newsday/Pat Mullooly

We met actor and writer Lin-Manuel Miranda a few months ago when he was promoting his role in the movie "Mary Poppins Returns." After talking with him about the movie we had a lot more questions to ask him about his amazing career and all the great things he has done for others. We had a great afternoon with him.

What made you want to switch from substitute teaching to being an actor?

I love teaching. I actually used to teach at my old school, so imagine becoming friends with your teachers and suddenly you’re all teachers together. And it was wonderful, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But even then I was writing songs and I was writing plays. And so I feel really lucky that I get to do that for a living now. But even if I was still teaching, I’d still be writing songs and writing plays because it’s my passion.

What do you do to not be nervous when you’re about to perform?

I’m always nervous. I’m always nervous, that’s part of it. The fun is in thinking of nervousness as a kind of fuel. It’s fuel in your car, and if you put it in the wrong place, if you feel the nerves up here, and you let them control your mouth and your ears, then you’re not going to sing right or do your lines right. But if you put the fuel in the tank of the car and you just kind of put it here, you sit on it. You’re like, OK, then it can power your ship. And so I think of nerves as a source of energy, too.

How was your life before you started to act?

I can’t remember. Even when I was a little kid I was always pretending. I really liked stunts as a kid and I used to make movies with my GI Joe dolls. Before you had cameras on your phones I had a special big camera, and I would make animated movies with my dolls. So I don’t remember a time I wasn’t trying to make movies.

If the world changed by making “Hamilton,” do you think being in “Mary Poppins Returns” will change it even more?

I don’t know. I think maybe more people would recognize me. That’s sometimes good and sometimes bad. It’s good if you’re standing on a stage and you want to sing to people. It’s bad if you maybe are on the train and you’re just trying to listen to some music and people are like, "Oh, hi." But you know, I worked really hard on "Hamilton." I spent seven years writing it, so I’m proud that people like it and listen to it, and I’m proud of this movie, too.

How does your role in “Hamilton” relate to your role in “Mary Poppins Returns?”

They really couldn’t be more different. I mean, Hamilton is someone who had a really tough childhood. And so as a result, I think he’s always in a rush ... he’s just trying to go as fast as he can, whereas Jack, I think, is really laid-back and always looks at the bright side. Always sees the best in people, and so that’s also sometimes the fun of being an actor. It’s like having two really different parts, and Hamilton and Jack are really different.

What is harder, acting on Broadway or acting in a movie? What is your preference?

They are totally different. It’s like some days you’re in the mood for a hot dog and some days you’re in the mood for pizza. For me the fun of acting with audiences, there’s no safety net. They are right there. There’s no "take 2." And there’s an energy, you know, when you hear someone applaud or laugh or cry, that you can’t get when you’re making a movie. But when you’re making a movie you do get all that stuff, you just don’t get it right away. So I got to sing and dance in this movie, all the things I got to do in "Hamilton," I just hadn’t heard the applause yet. So again, it takes a lot of people, not just actors, but the writers and the editors and the directors to make it. And so you wait a little longer for that applause, but I think it’s worth it.

How did you feel when you performed your first song from "Hamilton" in front of Barack Obama?

Nervous. I was maybe the most nervous I’ve ever been, to answer your question. Because I had never played that song in public before. It wasn’t like it was a song from a show that I’d written or that I knew audiences liked. I was debuting it. I was premiering it. And I was scared, and if you watch the video on YouTube, I looked super-scared. But it went well and it turned out OK. But I was nervous.

What do you want to accomplish while you’re in Puerto Rico performing “Hamilton"?

Oh, that’s a great question. Well, you know, my parents were both born in Puerto Rico, so I love performing there. I wrote another show called “In the Heights,” and I got to perform it there, and it was one of the best weeks of my life. So I knew I wanted to bring “Hamilton” there. And then you know after Hurricane Maria, which was so tough on the island, we decided, this is not just about performing “Hamilton” there anymore, it’s about how can we help Puerto Rico while we’re there. So we’re going to raise a lot of money, hopefully, by me doing the show. And raise money for artists and arts organizations on the island. So that’s the goal. That’s what I hope to accomplish. And then I haven’t played “Hamilton” in two and a half years, so I hope I remember my lines. But I’m hoping to have a lot of fun and hopefully do some good for Puerto Rico while I’m there.

If you could make your own movie, what would it be?

Oh, that’s a great question. I think that’s the fun thing about getting to be a writer and an actor is that you decide, and I think that it’s a lot like when you guys write. What’s the idea that comes to mind? You don’t want it to feel like homework. You want the idea to find you and chase you and you go, "Oh, it’s pretty good. Let me write a little more." And I’d like to make movies one day. One of the reasons I picked "Mary Poppins" to act in is because I really admire the director of this one [Rob Marshall]. He makes really good movie musicals. He made “Into the Woods.” I don’t know if you saw that. It’s really good. And I wanted to learn from him. So I hope to make more movies.

When you have trouble creating something, how do you get out of it?

This is a great question. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I don’t think that’s a thing. I believe, though, that sometimes what you’re working on, the way you’re working on it isn't necessarily the best approach to it and what you learn, as you get more practice writing, is different ways to attack the page. Sometimes you sneak up on it like a ninja from the side. Sometimes you write as much as you can and then you look back at it and go, "OK, this part was good. This part was good and this part was good." Sometimes you think and think and think and just write four words and you’re like, "All right, those four words are pretty good." But it’s different styles, different paces. Sometimes I write on the train. Sometimes I write while I’m walking my dog. I’m kind of like the green eggs and ham guy. I will write on a boat with a goat, in a house with a mouse. And the more you write, the more ways you find around that thing that you think is blocking you.

Susan Danzig and Jen Stucchio’s fifth-grade class, Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School, Huntington Station

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