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Robin de Jesús on Reuniting with Lin-Manuel Miranda on tick, tick…BOOM!

The first day of rehearsals for the upcoming Netflix movie tick, tick…BOOM! was a “giant hug,” said actor Robin de Jesús of teaming up for the second time with Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“It was a bit of a reunion,” he said proudly from the red carpet of the Artios Awards at Stage 48 earlier this year. “It does feel like a family function.”

Twelve years ago, de Jesús and Miranda costarred in In the Heights on Broadway, with de Jesús as Sonny and Miranda as Usnavi — and the musical’s composer.

Now — despite a filming hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic — Miranda is calling all the shots with his feature film directorial debut: Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical rock musical. To de Jesús, it’s nothing he hasn’t seen Miranda do before.

“Because he was always making the little videos and shorts Off-Broadway, it’s like the same thing but longer,” he quipped. “To watch Lin, who’s always like a little kid, just be amazed by everyone – It’s so infectious. It’s so joyous.”

Andrew Garfield stars as Jon alongside de Jesús as Michael, Jon’s best friend, in this film adaptation with a screenplay by Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen). Joshua Henry (The Wrong Man), Judith Light (Transparent), and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) join Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) and Alexandra Shipp (Shaft) in the cast. Christopher Jackson also revealed to Den of Geek he has a cameo in the film.

The story centers around Jon as he turns 30 and faces pressure to be a successful writer in 1990. “He was stuck and broke. [Larson] kept thinking, ‘I’m going to turn 30 and I will never have made it.’ And for some reason, that made him feel like the clock was ticking,” de Jesús explained. 

tick, tick…BOOM! was originally called Boho Days. Larson performed it as a rock monologue beginning in 1990. The heartbreak of tick, tick…BOOM! is that Larson did not live to see his Broadway success: He tragically passed away from an aortic dissection the morning his blockbuster rock musical, RENT, premiered Off-Broadway.

It’s full circle for de Jesús, who made his Broadway debut in the original Broadway production of RENT as the Angel understudy and replacement. He previously starred as gay teen Michael Flores in the independent film Camp, in a revival of La Cage aux Folles as the maid, Jacob, and most recently as Emory in the all-gay cast of The Boys in the Band on Broadway. (It is also headed to Netflix this fall, produced by Glee’s Ryan Murphy.)

“The most exciting part will be to play someone so different,” he says of his role. “I think sometimes we lump together gay roles as being one type, but there is so much variety within that one type. It’s kind of nice to play the person who — I don’t want to say is boring — but the quiet performance. That’s a fun thing for me to explore.”

With three Tony Award nominations on his résumé, de Jesús still had to audition for the film. He went to casting director Bernie Telsey’s office, and he said his audition “felt good.” He didn’t know if they were going to go with a “theater guy,” but knew he “brought it.” A giddy Manuel accidentally revealed the news a bit too soon, before de Jesús’s callback and work session with Garfield.

“Lin’s not someone to overshare, especially about auditioning, and he couldn’t help himself. He kind of said something that implied how excited he was,” said de Jesús.

It was a month later when de Jesús found out he officially booked it. “I’m excited to do something so human, so real, grounded, and of my age,” he exclaimed.

It’s a sentiment Garfield shares. “The other day we’re in rehearsal and he stops me,” said the actor, taking on his first musical role. “And he goes, ‘I just have to say, I love doing this.’”