Interview with Javier Muñoz
This Café Onda series focuses on the new musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which has generated rave reviews and unmatched buzz. This series explores Hamilton's Latinidad, adding a Latina/o spin to the discussion.
Marisela Treviño Orta: When and how did you find your way to theatre? When did you know that you wanted to pursue a professional acting career?
Javier Muñoz: The high school I attended had several major focuses: Journalism, Astronomy, Theatre. Freshman year my focus was on astrophysics. I had friends involved in the theatre program and after getting my studies done in the library I went to the theatre to pick them up to ride the bus home together. They were in tech for Annie Get Your Gun. I sat in the back to wait and watched and thought, "This is cool." I auditioned for the next show, The King & I, and was cast as an Amazon Guard who said no lines, sang no songs, yet I was hooked. The director of my final show senior year invited an agent to see me in the show and that agent signed me just before graduation. That’s when I knew I could do this as a career and the rest is history.
Lin, Thomas, Alex, Andy all created a piece of theatre with no limits. They have expanded our minds and pushed the boundaries of possibility. I hope this is what is remembered most; particularly the next time funding for arts and music is on someone’s financial plan to be cut.
Marisela: I know astrophysics is your first love. What do you miss most about it? Does it offer a different type of inspiration than what you get from theatre and acting?
Javier: I find no separation between the two. Mystery is a common trait of both astrophysics and acting, and very attractive to me. The endless questions and possible answers, the humility and determination from trial, error, and hard work all inspire me.
They balance each other, too. There are cold truths within aspects of astrophysics—hard facts that cannot be altered, which feels safe. Yet the chaos from creating the deep emotional life a character is thrilling. The lack of energy it took to live in the safety of the rigidity in aspects of astrophysics is balanced by the great energy required for the courage and strength to be vulnerable in the chaotic aspects of acting.
I feel lucky to have discovered two great passions in my life. I'm thankful for the mentors and teachers in my life who nurtured each.
Marisela: What have been the biggest challenges you’ve encountered as an actor? How did you face those challenges?
Javier: Stereotype. I'm Latino and the majority of roles either being written or that some casting offices and producers are willing to see me for are grossly limited to thugs, drug dealers, and criminals. My training spans classical theatre to musical theatre and everything in between so there is a hell of a lot more to me than the limited stereotype. When those stereotypical auditions come my way I empower myself to use the word "No." Sounds like a simple fix, but roles that have integrity for Latina/os are few and far between.
Marisela: Before Hamilton you were also in Lin-Manuel’s other Broadway hit In the Heights. How did being in that musical change your life? What about being in Hamilton—how has being in Hamilton affected your day-to-day life?
Javier: I quit the business in 2005. Both of my folks were diagnosed with cancer within about six months of each other. I wasn't working enough to help them and help myself. So I moved back home and took a job as a general manager of a new restaurant. Through luck and chance, a colleague wanted to submit me for an audition for a developmental reading of In The Heights at Manhattan Theatre Club. I booked it and knew the show was special. Ultimately it brought me back to my path—this path which has now brought me to Hamilton and has literally affected every facet of my life.
Marisela: There’s a sense in the air the Hamilton is the show of this theatre generation. What do you hope it will be remembered for? How do you hope your role in Hamilton will be remembered?
Javier: Lin, Thomas, Alex, Andy all created a piece of theatre with no limits. They have expanded our minds and pushed the boundaries of possibility. I hope this is what is remembered most; particularly the next time funding for arts and music is on someone’s financial plan to be cut. As for my role in Hamilton, I hope it is remembered as one where humility, hard work, determination, and persistence are omnipotent.
A New Way of Casting
Marisela: From Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s acting company to Hamilton—we’re seeing casting that challenges the status quo. What do you think is facilitating this change and what change would you like to see more of?
Javier: Funny you mention OSF—I just finished my first season there before coming back to NYC for Hamilton. Both are excellent examples of casting that looks like the real world we actually live in and not a white-washed version of it. It takes smart, savvy artists like Bill Rauch and Thomas Kail to cast their respective season or show based on the talent that walks into the room. While casting is not the only vital element of creating a successful season or show, the entire entertainment industry should follow their example because bet your bottom dollar that both OSF and Hamilton would not be as successful as they are without casting that challenges the status quo.