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24 November 2021, 17:17 | Updated: 25 November 2021, 16:47
What role does lead actor Andrew Garfield play in ‘tick, tick… BOOM!’s anthemic, piano-led score? Turns out, quite a big one.
Tick, tick… BOOM! is already generating Oscars buzz, as Netflix viewers flock to see the directorial debut of Broadway guru Lin-Manuel Miranda, and later to belt along with the film’s rock soundtrack on Spotify.
The movie musical centres around Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield), the real-life composer of award-winning Broadway hit Rent, who wrote a small, semi-autobiographical musical on which Miranda’s film is based.
Larson, who is turning 30 in eight days, is sitting in his poky flat in New York City and struggling to pen the sci-fi rock opera that he believes to be his magnum opus.
Sitting at the piano, Larson laments that his idol, the great composer Stephen Sondheim, had already had his first Broadway credit at the age of 27.
But Garfield, the musical’s star actor, had never sung in public before this film.
Read more: What is the cast, soundtrack and trailer for ‘tick, tick... BOOM!’?
“I wouldn’t say I was ‘reluctant,’ but I would definitely say ‘terrified,’” the Spider-Man actor recalls, with a laugh. “I was very, very scared. But I knew I had to do it because of the story and the character and [Lin-Manuel Miranda], who gave me a lot of confidence.
“He said to me, ‘Jon[athan Larson] wasn’t a great singer, he was a passionate singer. You don’t have to be Audra McDonald.’”
He does – and he plays piano in the film, too.
Before filming tick, tick… BOOM!, Garfield had just finished an 18-week, Tony Award-winning Broadway run of Angels in America, which examines AIDS and homosexuality in America in the 1980s.
A CBS interview with Garfield reveals that Miranda saw Garfield in the Broadway show and was impressed, but wasn’t sure if he could sing. So, he called up Greg Miele, a massage therapist in New York City who works with both Garfield and Miranda.
“I said, ‘Of course he can sing! He has the voice of an angel!’,” Miele told CBS. “And I’d never heard Andrew sing. As soon as Lin left, I called Andrew, and I said, ‘Can you sing? Because I just lied to Lin-Manuel.’”
Garfield laughed, adding: “And I freak out! That’s a good friend, who will lie on your behalf.”
In the tick, tick… BOOM! press notes, Miranda elaborated a little. “I asked him, ‘Can you sing?’ And he said, ‘When are you making the movie?’ And I said, ‘Not for at least a year.’ And he goes, ‘A year. Okay. Then I can sing.’”
Garfield spent a year working with various vocal coaches, learning to play piano, and closely studying Larson’s performances on YouTube.
“Andrew really threw himself in with such gusto,” screenplay writer Steven Levenson said in the press notes interview. “We just watched a singer being born. It was pretty uncanny. He’s so talented.”
Garfield has already been tipped for a best actor Oscar nomination for the film which, while anthemic in its music, is tinged with tragedy.
In the early 1990s, Larson performed his musical as a ‘rock monologue’, and it later became a three-person off-Broadway show in 2001 five years after Larson’s death. The composer died of an aortic aneurysm the night before Rent’s opening night, aged just 35.
Rent, which is loosely based on Puccini’s opera La bohème, went on to be Larson’s biggest hit, and was posthumously nominated for 10 Tony Awards. It received four of them, and took home the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
tick, tick... BOOM! is out now on Netflix.