Back when Javier Muñoz starred in the play version of The Diary of Anne Frank while a student at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, he discovered he could possibly make his love for theater a career. It was then that an agent paid him a visit at the production, and later called in him in for a meeting. “It was the first time that I got a sense that this could possibly be a career,” he tells us over the phone. “So from that point forward that was my intention.”
Eventually, with hard work and perseverance, those intentions turned into fruitful results. Now, Muñoz is starring on one of Broadway’s most sung about musical, Hamilton—playing the lead role of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. He was handed the role from its original actor and show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Playing Hamilton has garnered the Muñoz prime real estate on some significant eyes. President Obama, Beyoncé and the late singer Prince have all been in attendance. It’s a major feat coming from the actor’s humble beginnings rooted in the Linden Projects of Brooklyn’s rough East New York neighborhood. What’s more, the 40-year-old has also starred In The Heights (also created by Miranda).
Like many of today’s greatest artists, the Puerto Rican actor has endured life challenges along the way. Muñoz was diagnosed with HIV in 2002, and battled with cancer last year. Thankfully, he is in good health, and ready more than ever before to take on such a coveted role. In his own words, get to know how more about the new man behind Hamilton…
What sets me apart from other thespians:
I was always doing musical theater. It was my first play, but the first thing I realized is that more than singing or more than dancing; I loved the art of acting. And that was going to be my strongest asset and I wanted my acting technique to be my focus above all else.
Hamilton a dream come true:
The feelings are beyond elation. I don’t know the words that describe it because it’s something that I can’t even express. It’s that incredible. It feels that incredible. I know for a fact that not everybody gets to do what they love; not everyone finds the determination, persistence and confidence in themselves to pursue what they really want to pursue in their lives and in their work. I also know that there are so many factors outside of our control that determine our choices along our journey. I know how fortunate I am to be where I am today. Having the dreams that I’ve had as a kid. I can’t pin point any one thing that went right for this to happen. There are so many variables on a person’s journey to be able to make such a thing as a dream manifest.
Becoming someone else:
I love the fact that Hamilton is flawed, he is not perfect; and he absolutely makes mistakes. Big ones. I’ve always been very conscious of embracing my own personal light and dark. But Hamilton forces me to go even deeper and that is so empowering for me. When a person owns all of it; you own all of your power and that is a really beautiful thing, that creates passion, self-worth and self-confidence. I think that is the most powerful thing Hamilton—not necessarily taught me, but it’s within me as far as the knowledge and that is very much why I love playing him. Yeah all of us here gathered in this theater and experiencing this show we are all light and dark, and we are all flawed and it’s ok.
Moving beyond the taboos of HIV and cancer:
I speak about them because that’s empowering for other people—specifically for cancer survivors; it’s hopeful to see another cancer survivor living their best and fullest life, and still going. It’s the same thing for HIV. We still live with the heavy stigma that surrounds HIV. And it shouldn’t exist anymore. The stigma needs to go away—enough of it already. This is not the ’80s—we are here now. My face is the face of HIV and it’s not the ’80s, and we can move forward giving strength and empowerment to everyone who is living in silence with HIV. They should not have fear; not in this day and age and that’s why I’m very vocal about it.
How I get back up after falling:
In the scene with Phillip in Act II when I give him the gun before the dual; I totally forgot my lyrics; and a whole measure—or probably four measures of music—or at least I felt like four measures of music went by before I finally said something and all I could think of was “he won’t shoot.’ Because the idea was Hamilton telling Phillip ‘no don’t worry, put your gun in the air,’ and I just couldn’t think of the lyrics, that’s all I had. (Laughs)
“I kind of am getting to have the opportunity that I didn’t have on this show, which is to see the show and see how it works. So, I’m really looking forward to having that. I didn’t see Hamilton until the President came. He came to our sixth preview, and he saw Javier Muñoz play the role. It was the Sunday before our first preview that [producer] Jeffrey [Seller] called and said, ‘The White House is coming, and this is when they’re coming,’ and I go, ‘I’m not on that day,’ and they go, ‘Yeah, I know, but this is when the President is coming.’ I had a brief moment of… I performed for the President in 2009, and Javi is amazing, and I want to see my show. When Javi does the show, you really see the show in all of its colors. I can’t over stress it—we created the role together. In the rehearsal room, as I was writing, he would tag in, I would tag in. We would do every scene with me in the role and him in the role, and that’s how we kicked the tires on Hamilton. It really took two people to make it work.” – #LinManuelMiranda. Beginning July 11th, #Javilton rides. (📷: @wmcb15)
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Before I go on stage:
This is sort of unique for Hamilton because it’s such a fast paced high-energy show. I only have three times that I’m not onstage really. That’s a lot of endurance, so at some point before the show I need to go to the gym; I need exercise; I need to stretch. I need to get my body prepared for the day. Diet is important, and eating the right things for energy. Having the proper nutrition is vital.
I’ll vocally warm up and physically warm up, but I just like to keep it calm. The show is going to take all my energy, so I don’t want to extend my energy doing anything else. I just need to be calm and focused before I walk into the stage— because there is so much to execute, so it’s a very quiet and quite still in preparation.
When I’m not acting:
I absolutely need to be around my friends or family. I do a lot of things for my body—like massages. I love hitting a museum with a good friend or going to brunch with a bunch of friends. Also, going over to Brooklyn to see my family, and hitting the movies with my brother. I never want to lose touch with my actual life in the process of any work. So that’s very important to me to just spend time with the people I love—just doing very common things.
I hope audience members walk away with:
Throughout my entire career it’s been difficult to make a name for myself due to a lack of diversity. I hope that both as a change to the industry and as a positive impact socially that audiences walk away with diversity on their minds and in their hearts. And that kind of expansion can happen in our country and in our world.
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