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+TALK: JAVIER MUÑOZ

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid and Broadway star, Javier Muñoz.

KARL
“Hamilton” star Javier Munoz next.

Welcome to +Talk on +Life where we are all about turning positive into a plus. My guest today is a Broadway star and a really good friend, Javier Munoz, who is absolutely turning positive into a plus. Good to see you, Javier.

JAVIER
It’s good to see you.

KARL
It’s been a minute, but here we are. And I know there’s a lot going on in your world, some really exciting stuff coming up. But let’s go back a little bit, because for those who don’t know, you have this great relationship with Lin-Manuel Miranda. How did that all come about “In The Heights” back in the day?

JAVIER

  1. I had… Okay, so I had been living with HIV for three years at that point, and both of my parents had been diagnosed with cancer, both of them, within six months of each other. They’re both alive and healthy and well now. And I was not booking work. I couldn’t get arrested in New York City. No one wanted to hire me for anything. So I quit the business and I literally signed on, I got hired as a GM to open a new restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen, and I hated every second of it, but I had health insurance and I had a regular job and I could help my parents financially, and I could help myself with the insurance, and so it was a practical decision. And just randomly a college friend had written his first musical and was doing a sort of like backer’s audition to get some producers on board, so we did like a month of performances. And he badgered me to do this thing, and I was like, “Okay, fine. This is my swan song, the last thing I’m ever gonna do, and then I’m gonna just stick with this GM gig.” And an actress in that who I did not know after the first day of rehearsal contacted me to tell me about this audition that she thought I’d be perfect for because she’s part of a new musical that’s being developed that’s called “In The Heights.” Would I be interested? And so I invited her to the restaurant because I believe in that kind of thing happening that like the universe was like, “Okay, okay, I’m knocking on your door right now. Open up the door.” So I invited her to the restaurant. We sit down. I listened to the first tracks and I’m just enthralled by the opening number. She lets me read the script overnight. I say yes to the audition. And I then spend two weeks at MTC workshopping “In The Heights” and meeting Lin for the first time and the whole crew. And we just like, we probably couldn’t be any bigger, two giant nerds who just found each other and would geek out in the corner over all the things that we love. So that was the birth of our friendship.

KARL
And what I love about this is if you had not gotten HIV, if your parents hadn’t have been in the situation that they were in, if you guys had not been in this kind of dark space and where everything’s done, you wouldn’t have quit, you wouldn’t have got maybe the GM job, and this wouldn’t have happened. I know it sounds weird, but that’s kind of a crazy full circle thing how HIV has changed your life for the better.

JAVIER
All these things literally had to happen in the way they did for all of this to line up. And I tell you, very honestly, at that age, we’re talking 2005, I was really young in the business, and testing positive so impacted my drive, my fire, my ambition, my determination, and defined, really that’s the root of who I am today and the platform that I’ve built and living with it openly. It all started then because I was so fortunate to find “In the Heights,” and it all just gave me that drive to say, “This isn’t over.”

KARL
“In the Heights” takes off. And then really the show that changes his life, your life, and pretty much anyone who sees it lives, “Hamilton” comes along. What did that do for you as a performer but what did it do for you as an activist and as a person?

JAVIER
Oh my god, you phrased that well. It completely changed my life. I don’t know that anyone before “Hamilton” in this industry was ever prepared for something like that. I know none of us were in that building. We’ve all sort of tasted success in theater, but nothing quite like this, and it was sort of, I like to phrase it that I got to experience so much so that I could clarify what it was that I wanted to succeed within what I wanted to stand for, who I wanted to be in this industry, what I wanted to do with this attention and this spotlight on me, and that I really wanted to take this opportunity to be out and open with my sexuality, out and open with my HIV status, and be very vocal and use this spotlight and this platform to be visible, as visible as possible. Because I kept thinking of young Javier in 2005 who needed someone to look to to say, “Your dreams aren’t over. It can still happen. Keep going.” And I wanted to make sure that people who were living with HIV, people who were LGBTQ, could see me standing up there in that role, on that stage seven times a week in full health, in full strength, and really succeeding.

KARL
Let’s talk about this project you’ve got coming up: “Three Months.” It sounds like, I’m jealous I’m not part of it.

JAVIER
That’s awesome. You know what? It is so beautiful. And if I may indulge in a quick story.

KARL
Please.

JAVIER
The writer, director, Jared, this is his story, and it’s based on his own life when he himself tested positive. And after his testing positive, he’d gotten wind of my story. And the first scene he wrote when he finally committed to putting his story down on paper was the first doctor visit that the character takes to get tested, and he was writing the role of the doctor for me. And so here he is sitting there sharing this journey and hoping I’ll say yes to play this role, and I’m like ready to freaking explode and just cry. It’s like, “Are you kidding? How can I say no to that?”

KARL
And how does it make you feel as an HIV activist and someone living with HIV that we are now telling stories in a real positive light about HIV. We’re normalizing HIV in a way that we’ve normalized things like cancer and diabetes and heart disease.

JAVIER
It’s beautiful and it’s powerful and it is normalizing. It is saying to anyone out there whether you live with HIV or not how normal this life is and how hopeful it still is, how healthy you can maintain. This is not 1980s. This is not where we were. We’re in a completely different place. And thank goodness and how miraculous and maybe that can spark an even deeper conversation about where we’re going and what we need right now.

KARL
Absolutely, and I think films like this, and I think messaging like U=U, things like that, we talk about equity and making sure everyone has the ability to get to undetectable. But we can use film like this and we can use messaging like that not to make people feel isolated that maybe they don’t have access, but to encourage and to push, to go look. If everyone has it, then we’re good. And so I see these kind of things as a positive way to push equity for all when it comes to HIV care.

JAVIER
100% agree with you. Yes. And that’s what I hope is gonna happen with this. I think Jared is just generous and courageous and really putting his story out there to make a difference. I remember being on set with these producers who cared so much about getting this story right and giving it integrity and dignity. And so we’ve come so far that now it’s like, oh yeah, MTV Productions picked this up, it’s gonna be on Paramount+. That’s a very big difference from production being scared to touch it, and here we are, and look at who’s in this film. That’s progress too is also encouraging more films and more stories like this to be made.

KARL
Javier Munoz. I could stand here and talk for hours with you. I’m so happy to know you. I’m so happy that we’ve had the opportunity to work together as colleagues. For everything you do, thank you, thank you. We can’t wait for the film “Three Months.” Very excited. Great seeing you, my friend.

JAVIER
It’s so good to see you. Thank you so much.

KARL
That’s gonna do it for this episode of +Talk. If you want more information, check out the website pluslifemedia.com. And remember, you can follow us across social media platforms. We are @pluslifemedia. Until next time, take care of yourself and each other. Bye bye.

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