Photography by Gavin Bond. Photographed in Brooklyn, NY on October 3, 2016. Styling by Michael Cook. Grooming by Amber Amos for The Only Agency using Sisley Paris. All clothing by Bottega Veneta.
Javier Muñoz — devastatingly charming, 41 years old, openly gay, openly HIV-positive — grew up in a Puerto Rican household in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood at a time when it was among the most violent places in America.
“That neighborhood was a pocket of tension and aggression,” Muñoz says. “My parents did their best to protect me and my brothers, and we got out of there alive. Ultimately, the street smarts it gave me, the toughness it gave me, is how I’m able to survive so many things, so many transitions.”
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Photography by Gavin Bond. Photographed on the High Line, New York, on July 22, 2016. Styling by Thomas Carter Phillips for The Wall Group. Groomer: Amber Amos for The Only Agency using Sisley Paris. All clothing by Bottega Veneta.
In the late 2000s, after years of struggling to be a professional actor, Muñoz had all but given up and was working in a restaurant as a server while performing in a small off-Broadway musical, All Is Love, penned by a friend. That performance led to a role in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights and eventually to him becoming the understudy to Miranda himself in the wildly successful Broadway hip-hop musical Hamilton, about the life of American founding father Alexander Hamilton. While the show was in previews, in the winter of 2015 — and in the wake of a cancer diagnosis (he is in remission now) — Muñoz performed for the Obamas. Six months later, he assumed the titular lead role full time.
This year Hamilton was nominated for a record-setting 16 Tonys and won 11. The waiting list for tickets extends well into 2017.
Sitting in a beer garden in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, Muñoz says, “If I can be a new face that people see that is HIV-positive and healthy and performing seven shows a week and kicking ass, then let that stand as a positive example for the person who is still living with that stigma and fear. Or for the person living in a country or situation in which they are not supported, let that be a fire in their belly to keep fighting the good fight for themselves.”
But as Muñoz quickly learned, fame has its drawbacks. One night after taking over his new role this summer, Muñoz left the theater and jumped on the subway to go home, as he’d always done.
“That’s the Hamilton guy,” someone whispered. The smartphone cameras covertly clicked away. Muñoz played it cool.
“I was like, Deal with it tonight, and now you know,” Muñoz says, laughing. “It’s crazy, man. This is sort of beyond what I’d hoped and dreamed. I always wanted to be the actor that could work consistently but still ride the train. I can’t do that anymore.”