Jonathan Larson is finally getting his roses.
The story of the late composer, playwright, and mastermind behind Rent — one of the most queer-inclusive, critically-acclaimed, and recognizable musicals of all time — is being told on-screen thanks to Netflix's latest musical drama film tick, tick...BOOM!
Out got the chance to speak with the film's stars — Oscar nominee Andrew Garfield and Tony nominee Robin de Jesús — as well as Hamilton and In the Heights creator Lin-Manuel Miranda (who is making his directorial debut with tick, tick...BOOM!) about what it was like crafting the film, continuing to bring the stories of the generation of queer people who were lost during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and paying tribute to one of musical theater's most beloved straight, white allies.
"John didn't get to have the harvest of his work. He left us. He was taken at the age of 35 on the first night of the first preview of Rent," Garfield said about getting to portray and honor Larson, who passed away in 1996 on the day of Rent's first off-Broadway preview performance. "He didn't get to get any of the roses himself while he was here. Thank God he wrote everything he did and he made everything he did before he passed away because the world would have been far less rich without it and without him in it. This is just another opportunity for us to keep the ripples alive and spreading and flowing towards the world and to people that may not know Jonathan or may want to remember Jonathan or be close to Jonathan again and that's the privilege of this and of course to honor him. Such a great man and a great artist and someone who lived so fully for the benefit of all of us to inspire us all. It's the kind of story that you're dying to tell as an actor."
"The first day of rehearsals, when we were doing table work and going through the scenes with Lin, me and Andrew, we were surprised because for whatever reason, we hadn't clocked that part of the story was also this love story between these two men, this non-romantic love story," de Jesús, who plays Larson's best friend Michael in tick, tick...BOOM! said. "I remember we finished that day and Andrew just goes, 'There's a love story here too.' And there was something about that that just immediately let us lock into that and go further into it. He and I are very touchy, feely, lovey people, so there was a great comfort in just being able to hold his face, a position that traditionally is considered romantic. For us, it's just two men being intimate and caretaking. There's something so beautiful about that. I have that dynamic with my straight male friends, but I've never seen that modeled before. And it's a testament to Jonathan because, and I've been saying this a lot lately, Jonathan is one of the greatest white allies, straight white allies we've ever had. The way he wrote queer characters, Black characters, brown characters, and he wrote them full-bodied, complex, messy, still deserving of respect. There are people now who can't do that."
"I saw Rent on my 17th birthday with the original cast in the last row of the mezzanine of the Nederlander Theatre and I felt personally attacked by it," Miranda told Out when asked why he wanted to bring Larson's story to life in the modern age, and how he inspired him to do what he's doing now. "It was the most contemporary score I'd ever heard. It was the most diverse cast I'd ever seen. I was seeing queer love stories and Latino characters and the New York I recognized as a teenager in New York City. And there's a direct line to be drawn of Jonathan writing about his neighborhood, facing gentrification and trying to survive and me two years later, writing a musical about my neighborhood in northern Manhattan, of writing about a community facing gentrification and trying to survive."
He continued: "Then when I was 21 years old, now I'm a theater major and I'm a senior in college and I see the posthumous adaptation of tick, tick...BOOM! for the first time, and I see the brilliant Raul Esparza playing Jonathan and it felt like a message in a bottle. It felt like, 'Hey, motherf*cker, you're gonna write musicals for a living? Guess what, it's harder than you think. All those friends who are more talented than you, they're gonna get real jobs. That pretty girl you're dating, she's gonna grow up and do something else. This relationship is not going to last. And you are going to be the only one banging your head against the wall of your childhood dream while the world tells you 'No', is it still worth it?' And my answer was yes. And now I get to talk to you because Jonathan both set me on the path and then really tested me. My hope with this movie is that it finds other creators where they are on their journey and forces them to ask themselves the same question. What are you really meant to be doing with this time? And are you doing what you're meant to be doing?"
tick, tick...BOOM! is now streaming on Netflix.