This was my whirlwind week: You’re having a baby, you got the Moana job, you’re getting on a plane to New Zealand. We heard a lot of choral singing and watched so many dance troupes — our conversations were about, “If we get the rhythm right, we’re halfway there.” We were in this weird studio on the other side of the world, and most of the initial writing for the song “We Know the Way” happened. It was like, “Let’s honor this part of the world we just spent two days immersed in.”
Compare working on Moana, which was a collaboration, with working on Hamilton, which was your vision.
It’s actually the same skill set: Hamilton prepared me perfectly for this, since theater is about collaboration. If I wanted to write and not work with anyone else, I’d be a recording artist or have a studio in my basement. Instead of feeling like a fish out of water, I felt like I went into a bigger pond.
What was it like writing “You’re Welcome” for Dwayne Johnson, who voices a lovably arrogant demigod named Maui?
I’m a huge fan of The Rock. He can literally be pile-driving you as a wrestler and you’re like, “Oh, I love that guy.” We did a lot of research into the different beliefs about Maui in Polynesia — sometimes he’s responsible for pulling the sun down, sometimes he’s responsible for the invention of coconuts. So I loved the idea of this demigod being like, “I know it’s overwhelming to meet me. You’re welcome for everything.” Only Dwayne could pull that off. In my head the song was a mix of Beauty and the Beast’s “Gaston” and Aladdin’s “Friend Like Me.”
Will this be your son Sebastian’s first movie?
Yeah. He has seen so many cuts of it that he calls it “Agua,” Spanish for water. He’ll be going, “Dada, Agua, Agua!”
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 26 issue of Billboard.