Harry’s x Man Enough: A series created in partnership to explore masculinity and champion conversations around progress.
Recent guest at the Man Enough dinner table, we sat down with Mr. Alexander Hamilton himself, Javier Muñoz, to talk about life, work, and path he took to understand his own masculinity.
Growing up in East New York, “The neighborhood was hard. It was aggressive, cold…violent. There was no showing of emotion, and [there was] an awful lot of machismo and pride—that’s what it meant to be a man. Nothing upset you. Nothing affected you. Nothing made you feel too much,” Javier explains.
“I remember in the ‘80s, the Marlboro Man commercials, a cowboy by himself in the rough of the land, always on his own, a lone figure. That’s very much the message I remember being given as far as what it means to be a man. Even just being outside your home—walking to school, or just to play—there was a limit to how much joy you could have, there was a limit to how much pride you could have, and certainly a limit to how much you could share personally of yourself. Because people would think, ‘Why are you so happy? What do you have that I don’t?’ It was about survival. And that stays with you, that impulse to push people away.”
“You can be emotional and have integrity, you can have joy, and self-worth, and success, and fulfillment. You don’t have to be just one thing.”
Javier continues, “As I expanded my life into other worlds—getting out of the neighborhood for high school, the colleges I went to, the people I was meeting who were not from New York—I had to start unraveling those messages. It forces me to deconstruct what I’d learned.
“I was lucky enough in those years to have teachers and mentors who really helped steer me in the direction of who I would eventually become, which was rooted in the arts. And it was when I discovered the arts that I started to realize, you can’t embody another character without letting go of certain parts of you. There’s a context that the character lives in. There’s a world that they inhabit that’s not yours. So, when I was first learning my craft, it was about getting in touch with aspects of myself I’d never explored. It was through that process that I started to really deconstruct masculinity, and I started to see that there were other definitions that, for me, feel more complete. You can be emotional and have integrity, you can have joy, and self-worth, and success, and fulfillment. You don’t have to be just one thing.
“Art reflects life, it has the power to either mirror or comment on what is happening [in the world], in a way that forces the audience to look at themselves. If we are willing, it will force us to ask questions about our own behavior, our own choices,” Javier explains.
“Art has the power to either enforce or challenge a message, there’s room for both. There are many artists whose work is built on anger, hate—they reinforce messages that are to me, negative. And it’s hard to go through times where pop culture is reflecting the worst of us, but we need to see that. We need to accept the ugliest parts of ourselves. Because we’ve created these constructs, but I also think we’re taking the most honest look at them ever, at least in my lifetime. We’re really seeing them, and we’re tearing them apart. And thank God [laughs],” says Javier.
“It’s hard to go through times where pop culture is reflecting the worse of us, but we need to see that. We need to accept the ugliest parts of ourselves.”
The larger umbrella topic of masculinity also played into his decision to share his own experiences as they related to the #MeToo movement. “It’s a difficult choice to come forward as a man who has experienced any sort of abuse. I’m not gonna lie, it was terrifying for me,” says Muñoz.
He continues, “The thing about it for me was how there was no conversation happening. When I experienced it I was younger, and it was like there was no place in my mind to store it, or make sense of it. I had no one in my life to even talk to about it. When I finally wanted to face it and deal with it, it was startling to realize, like ‘Wow. I buried this because of my idea of what it means to be a man. And this makes me feel so vulnerable. And that vulnerability makes me feel even less masculine,’ and that became the process. I needed to own that vulnerability and not see it as a weakness, but as my strength—which is what it became, eventually. My greatest power comes from my most vulnerable place, it’s why I live so openly now. It’s what comes forward on camera, it’s what comes forward on stage, it’s what I bring to these characters.
“And if folks want to tear someone down, I dare them to come for me. Because there’s not a damn thing anyone could bring up that I haven’t talked about myself. They’re just words, and I’ve heard them all, so bring it.”
“What I love about the #MeToo campaign is the brutal truth, it’s beautiful. I don’t want to come across as disrespectful or demeaning, or belittling at all—but there’s beauty in the strength to come forward, and there’s a beauty in the support [for the victims]. It’s moving, and it’s so healing,” explains Muñoz.
“I needed to own that vulnerability and not see it as a weakness, but as my strength—which is what it became, eventually.”
“We’re in a real pivotal moment. The world is actually getting woke on things that have been true for a very long time. And the ripples from this moment could be so wonderful for us as a whole. This is going to be a weird comparison, but when Hamilton opened and diversity became a real conversation in casting, the thrill that came from [the idea] that creative minds, producers, casting directors, could all support each other in hiring the best person for the job, as oppose to the person who would be safest for their ticket buyers—as a minority actor, it was immense. And everything that is happening now as far as discourse and conversation [with the #MeToo campaign] feels just like that,” Muñoz explains.
Five years after that first moment of thrill, Javier reflects back on his journey as he prepares for his final performance as Alexander Hamilton. “It’s been a long road. It was 2012 when he [Lin-Manuel Miranda] invited me into the process. There were six songs on the page, we didn’t know what it was going to be. First it was one act, then the one act became two. Then we started working on My Shot, we’re going through the harmonies, we’re putting it together and I’m thinking ‘Whoa, dude [Lin]. You’re on a whole different planet.’ But the clincher for me as far as perceiving that Hamilton was going to be something great, was the first time I heard Quiet Uptown. In that moment I thought ‘Holy crap, Lin is in such an emotional, connected place. This is a whole new voice. Let’s do this,’” Javier remembers.
A half-decade later, he hasn’t yet been able to grasp what it is they’ve built together on stage with Hamilton. “I haven’t really understood the impact of it all just yet, because I haven’t had any separation from the process. No one can really have a clear perspective until they’ve left a situation, right? So I’m looking forward to being able to walk away and actually see what it is, and what it’s become.”