Playing the lead in a Broadway musical takes stamina—more so if the show’s a confirmed hit and you’re stepping in for the beloved Tony winner who just happened to create it.
But Javier Muñoz, who steps in for departing Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda today, has proven he’s made of stern stuff.
Muñoz, Miranda’s understudy throughout Hamilton’s run, has stepped into the role once a week on the star’s day off and watched nearly every performance for nuances and flow.
But he’s also faced down struggles in his personal life: Openly gay, the 40-year-old actor was diagnosed with HIV in 2002—and, last year, was diagnosed with cancer.
In October, Muñoz underwent surgery and chemotherapy, missing weeks of performances. Thankfully his cancer tests have come back negative.
“I had my first follow-up in March, and all green lights,” he tells The New York Times in a new interview. “I’m good.”
Though his viral load is undetectable, Muñoz says having HIV has made him more focused on his health overall.
“I’m strong and I’m very out about [my status] because of the stigma still attached to it,” he says. “But I’ve had a healthy fear about my health since I tested positive, and I asked how to test myself for lumps, because both my parents had cancer. And very early on in my learning how to do a self-examination, I found the lump.”
He initially held off telling his Hamilton family about his cancer: “I was filling myself with disappointment, as if you can blame yourself for cancer… I had to ask for help, and that was the hardest thing in the world.”
He got the help he needed, though, and is seemingly back at full power. But Muñoz is still giving himself a break—once a week understudy Miguel Cervantes will fill in as America’s first Treasury Secretary.
“Someone else gets to be sexy,” he teases. “I’m going to go eat pizza.”