Actor Javier Muñoz has now stepped officially into the starring role of the hit musical 'Hamilton' now that creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has stepped down from playing Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.
Muñoz, who like Miranda is a New Yorker of Puerto Rican heritage, gave TODAY show anchor Hoda Kotb a backstage tour and spoke about taking the lead in a production that has transformed Broadway.
Muñoz, who has worked closely with Miranda for some time and helped create the role, told Kotb he was more nervous performing for superstars Beyonce and Jay Z than for President Obama. Muñoz played the role of Hamilton once a week and was the understudy before stepping in to take over Miranda; the first time he played the role President Obama was in the audience.
When asked by Kotb how he would respond to someone who is disappointed to see the show with him instead of Miranda, Muñoz said, "I open my mouth and I sing," he said. "Own it, be present in it, don't be overwhelmed by it, be thankful for it." The Latino actor, who grew up in a housing project in East New York, Brooklyn, has been widely praised by his performance and has been called "the sexy Hamilton."
He got emotional when he was asked whom he called first to say he got the starring role. He said he called his mother. "We both got very emotional," he said. "She's seen me through so much."
Muñoz was diagnosed with cancer and went through surgery and radiation. Muñoz, who is openly gay and has been HIV positive since 2000, said in a recent New York Times interview that he has always been healthy and strong despite his HIV status. But both his parents recently survived cancer so he decided to check a lump he had.
He told Kotb it's still hard to talk about the experience. "I was so focused on the show, on this thing that has entered my life, this magnificent thing, that nothing was going to prevent me from losing this," he said to Kotb, who is a breast cancer survivor. "So physically I got myself back."