The Actor Turned Director – Maggie Gyllenhaal vs Lin Manuel Miranda


The art of film successfully manages to be a creative endeavor dependent on artistic merit, collaboration, and teamwork. It is the coupling of individual perspectives, techniques, and instruments of craft with a wider circle of collaborators. When a player occupies more than one space or shifts from one space to another, it is a curious effect that appears, one whose effect is felt on the screen. With “The Lost Daughter” and “Tick, Tick… Boom!,” Maggie Gyllenhaal and Lin Manuel Miranda have demonstrated the impact of this very shift.

Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Artist Mother

While it is reductive to attach a woman’s motherhood to the space she holds in her career, it seems relevant in the case of Maggie Gyllenhaal. Perhaps, Elena Ferrante’s novel about motherhood, ‘The Lost Daughter,’ would not have resonated with the same impact without the incorporation of Maggie’s own experiences of being a mother. And perhaps, only a mother could have translated the story on screen the way she has. 

The Lost Daughter’s treatment is masterful, a story told by a woman who knows what she wants to say. This is clearly a film made with conviction, with characters placed in an environment the way we are required to see them. It is an expression filled with vulnerability, honesty, intrigue, and perhaps a quiet defiance. Even the minor characters are actors who have proven their craft before, actors who are there not just to serve the plot, but to enliven a world. The freedom and simultaneous creative control the director has employed with her actors is clearly defined from the get-go.

The film can be admired for its many technical victories, but at centerstage, is its immersive nature, pulling people in to hear a story that Maggie Gyllenhaal wants to tell (or retell, as it is an adaptation). It speaks of a creative leader whose experience of being in front of the camera has already created a fearless and truth-seeking storyteller, thus positioning her in a fairly unique space in terms of cinematic understanding. 

Lin Manuel Miranda – The Theatre Kid

The star of the legendary production of Hamilton and the master of musical theatre, Lin Manuel Miranda, steps into a film director’s arena with Tick, Tick… Boom! The film is an homage and a tribute to many things: to Jonathan Larson, the famed creator of the Broadway play, Rent, as he serves as the subject of the film, to music, freedom, and magic of the medium., and to the creative process as a whole, with all its joys and heartbreak. It is also a tribute to New York, where it all happens, and to the world that continues to inspire and create artists like Lin himself.

The film stands proudly and resolutely in its space of a musical, demonstrating the infectious joy it is capable of. It seems infused with the truth of experience, from the actors, the singers, and, clearly, the director himself. The performance of Andrew Garfield certainly demands attention from the audience, as he plays every nuance and sings every note with earnest effort. However, it is also the very medium that Jonathan Larson so protected that seems to invite us in. Even in the moments of cynicism, the rooted reality of the artist who creates his magical world, and the demands of the real world for what an artist creates, we are still made to feel that the endeavor is worth it.

If Lin Manuel Miranda had not sung his heart out on stages like Jonathan Larson, and if he hadn’t written and rewritten his songs like Jonathan Larson, perhaps we would have only had a biopic rather than a celebration. The film demonstrates how the director’s baton is easy to pass to a performer who knows his way around the screen.

The Result

Both films have been well-received by critics and audiences, marking their space in a pantheon of successful directorial debuts. It is telling of what the actor turned director space can be, when it is the case of an actor who is longing to tell a story of their own now. 

With Maggie Gyllenhaal, it is the female gaze she wishes to unlock, an experiment perhaps of exploring a space that begins from her own unique experiences. That of a woman, that of a woman performer, and clearly in the case of this film, that of an artist mother. 

Lin Manuel Miranda, on the other hand, is carving his way with the roots of his musical theatre background. It is not the stage duplicated on the screen, it is the reimagining of the story of the stage, told in the world of the screen. 

What both directors and both films seem to demonstrate is the power of authenticity, the rich honesty of it, and why it continues to be a necessary presence in a great film.

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Mareena Francis
Mareena Francis
Mareena Francis Parakkal is a 25-year-old writer and poet. She has written about film, people, places, and poetry across multiple platforms and hopes to continue doing so.

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