Off Script: How Javier Munoz Handles 'Hamilton' Demands Onstage and in the Media
The longtime alternate of Lin-Manuel Miranda tells THR of finally playing the hit Broadway show's lead role seven times a week — and becoming the phenomenon's spokesperson.
More than ever, Javier Munoz is ready to play Alexander Hamilton.
“I’m strong, I’m healed, I am cancer-free,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. The longtime alternate of Lin-Manuel Miranda in the hit Broadway show, who has quietly battled cancer, has fully recovered from recent radiation treatment with the help of the production’s cast and is now playing the role seven times a week. “Physically, I’m completely strong and ready. The other part is healing yourself of the emotional toll that it takes. That’s taking its own time, and that’s a journey I’ll be on for the rest of my life. Any other survivor will tell you, nothing is the same afterwards. It’s like rediscovering things, you almost have the eyes of a child again. Things are redefined. That’s a journey I respect and am allowing to take its time.”
Munoz, 40, goes Off Script to talk embracing his toughest number, giving up bacon for the role and inheriting the media-crazed responsibility that comes with playing the titular role: “I definitely feel it.”
How are you feeling about playing the role so often?
Above everything, I’m an actor and I’m an artist, so I crave the work. By that, I mean the exploration of the character, the relationships in the show, the discovery that doesn’t get to happen when you don’t get to have consecutive shows. As an alternate, I would get to go on every week, but just once. Now, if I want to try a slightly different, more intense choice in Hamilton’s relationship with Washington, or some comedic moment, I can try it day to day and have each performance to build upon consecutively. That’s invaluable.
What do you admire about your character Alexander Hamilton?
He’s really quite fearless, isn’t he? Every action, every choice he makes is so bold, and one can argue that some of those choices are done with ignorance or that he’s blinded by power, but it takes great courage to have made the choices he made. Simply to travel to this country is the first big choice, and that’s absolutely courageous.
Javier Munoz in 'Hamilton.' Photo credit: Josh Lehrer
What advice has Miranda given you about playing Hamilton consecutively?
We talk about challenges like breath control and pacing a number. You can’t give “My Shot” everything you’ve got because you’ve got three more hours to go. Having one show per week was wonderful because it’s allowed me to put that into practice.
What’s your toughest number?
“Yorktown.” I literally used to dread when it was coming — all this fear in my gut. It’s so unbelievably fast, there are so many words in it and there’s so much passion and drive behind it. You have to be precise and in touch with every single beat, every single moment to not flub those words. It’s gone from dread to that thrilling feeling right before a roller coaster: You’re going up so high, but you love it at the same time. Now it’s one of my favorite moments in the show. I get very present and conscious so it’s as clear and accurate as can be.
What new habit have you taken on for this role?
I have to meditate on a daily basis now. I have to focus my energy. The role is so demanding, I now treat my energy like a commodity.
How has your diet changed?
No more pork, no more bacon. Red meat maybe once a week or once every two weeks as a treat. It’s a lot of light and healthy, fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains. Chicken can sit in the pit of my stomach sometimes, and I can’t get through a show with that feeling. I miss bacon!
What’s your sleep schedule like?
You need all the energy you’ve got for this role. I have a solid bedtime of 12:30 a.m., no matter what, so I’ll be doing the stage door in moderation. If I’m in bed any later, even 30 minutes, I will feel the exhaustion the next day. I’m up by eight and do a morning meditation, hit the gym and take a nap. If I have a matinee, I’ll nap between the two shows. Napping has become my second job.
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Javier Munoz at Miranda's departure from 'In the Heights' in 2009. Photo credit: Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic.
What’s something special in your dressing room?
There was a time in my life when I wanted to get back in touch with faith and spirituality, so I found this spiritual advisor who would help me learn and explore other faiths so that I could find my way and make my own choice. We were talking about my career and the audition process, and we eventually got to the topic of owning your own strength and personal power. She gave me this little statue of an elephant; it’s Hindu in origin and it’s not something I practice, but it was something I was drawn to, the idea of walking in with that kind of strength into an audition, a conversation or any situation. With all that I’ve been through recently, that’s a very good visual reminder in my dressing room to say, “I can handle this day, I can handle this moment and what’s coming.”
Favorite number to tune into while watching the show?
I still can’t get enough of “The Room Where It Happens.” Holy moly, it still knocks my socks off. It’s the most exquisite thing, and Leslie Odom Jr. knocked it out of the park every single night.
What do you love about working in NYC that you’ll do on your day off?
Massage and acupuncture will be frequent. And I need to separate myself from the grind. I’m in Queens, so I try not to go into Manhattan. I spend time with my family or get in touch with a friend or two who isn’t involved with the show so that the rest of my life gets fed.
Standout backstage guest?
The answer is always LaChanze. I first saw her perform in Seward Park in a production of For Colored Girls. I was not only blown away by her performance, but as an artist of color, I saw such power in her that I aspired to have myself. She’s always been in my line of vision as someone I really look up to. Meeting her was an extraordinary moment.
How do you feel being in that position for others now? And being a spokesperson for this phenomenon, as Miranda has been?
Social media is a mandatory thing these days as an artist, so I try to make sure my messages are positive and nourishing in a way that hopefully counters all the negative messaging we receive day in and day out. I’m human and I make mistakes, but I’m aware I’ve taken on this responsibility. I definitely feel it.
What lesson about fame or navigating the media have you learned from Miranda?
Countless things in our 11 years of knowing each other and working together. One standout lesson I’ve learned is that, at the end of the day, every action, every choice, every word spoken, it’s me. That’s a powerful thing, and an empowering thing. It’s been a great blessing to be able to observe and learn from him all these years.
Javier Munoz and Lin-Manuel Miranda at the opening of 'Hamilton.' Photo credit: Getty Images
July 14, 7 a.m. Headline edited.