Javier Muñoz: The Secret Life Of Presidential Pets Javier Muñoz, from the musical Hamilton, tells us about performing for Lin Manuel Miranda, President Obama, and Beyonce. Then he leads a game about a president's best friend--their pet.

Javier Muñoz: The Secret Life Of Presidential Pets

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JONATHAN COULTON: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Jonathan Coulton here with puzzle guru Art Chung. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Thank you, Jonathan. Before the break, our contestant Vanessa won her way to the final round at the end of the show. We're going to find out a little later who she will face off against. But now, it's time to welcome our first special guest. He plays the secretary of the Treasury in a little known New York musical theater production written by Lin Manuel Miranda.


EISENBERG: The musical is called "Hamilton" and we wish it the best of luck. Please welcome Javier Munoz.


EISENBERG: They can't believe it.

JAVIER MUNOZ: (Laughter) Hi, everybody.

EISENBERG: I mean, I'm super psyched. Welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER.

MUNOZ: Thank you. This is exciting. I love it (laughter).

EISENBERG: Now, I have to ask you, whose shoes are harder to fill - Alexander Hamilton's or Lin Manuel Miranda's?


MUNOZ: I'm going to say Lin's.


MUNOZ: Yes because I think I have smaller feet.


EISENBERG: I like that on a literal basis.

MUNOZ: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Now, it has been said that your portrayal of Hamilton is the sexier Hamilton.


EISENBERG: Do you agree or disagree? Do you have a comment on that?

MUNOZ: No comment (laughter).

EISENBERG: No comment. But what do you bring to it that you think is different?

MUNOZ: You know, I always think it's just a matter of one's own experience. I just bring who I am to it, and combine it with what I know it's meant to be, scene by scene, lyric by lyric.

EISENBERG: Yeah. So when you are waiting backstage before every show, do you go through any, like, specific montra right before you walk out?

MUNOZ: I mean, there are moments where I do have to concentrate and focus and go through stuff, and then there are moments where I just goof off with my castmates (laughter)...


MUNOZ: ...And have a good time, yeah.

EISENBERG: That's - yeah. And they - I'm sure they both have their merits.

MUNOZ: Oh, totally.


MUNOZ: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: So you were on Lin Maneul's radar since you were an alternate for him in his first Broadway musical, "In The Heights."



EISENBERG: Did you still have to audition for "Hamilton?"

MUNOZ: (Laughter) I actually did.


MUNOZ: Yes (laughter). I was out in Oregon doing a gig, and I had to send in audition videos.

EISENBERG: OK. So first of all, I'm sure you hear the premise of the show.

MUNOZ: (Laughter) Yes.

EISENBERG: He called you up and told you...

MUNOZ: Oh, he did. He left me a voicemail, yes.

EISENBERG: And said I'm going to do a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton.

MUNOZ: It was at least a minute or two minute-long voicemail that did not make sense to me.


MUNOZ: And then I walked to the room and heard the music, and it just all fell into place.

EISENBERG: Did you think it was a joke or maybe that he had lost it?

MUNOZ: I just - I didn't understand it. I didn't know what was inspiring him. I didn't know where he was going, but, you know, it's Lin, so I trusted him.


MUNOZ: Yeah.

EISENBERG: OK. So then you are on board with the music. You send in one audition tape, and then do they go great?

MUNOZ: No, I sent in two.


MUNOZ: I got asked to do more songs, and then after the second one, then I got the offer.

EISENBERG: How'd that day go?

MUNOZ: It was pretty good.

EISENBERG: Yeah, I'd feel like...

MUNOZ: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: You personally have been through a lot. You are a cancer survivor. A - you've survived an HIV diagnosis.


EISENBERG: You've - and through all of this, how has your outlook of life changed?

MUNOZ: Due to my health challenges...


MUNOZ: ...Or due to...

EISENBERG: Overcoming everything and also having a high point in your career. There's coinciding things.

MUNOZ: Yeah. I mean, it's certainly at times been overwhelming, but I think overall the greatest thing is just seeing and learning and accepting what's really important...


MUNOZ: ...And not getting distracted by the things that really ultimately will not matter.


MUNOZ: Yeah.

EISENBERG: Now, you know, when you started acting, you said - and it's true, of course - that there weren't great roles for Latinos.

MUNOZ: No. It was like drug dealer number two, thug number five, yeah.

EISENBERG: Not even number one.

MUNOZ: Nope, nope.

EISENBERG: So how have you seen this change throughout the course of your acting career?

MUNOZ: I've seen both sides of the story. I've seen casting directors expand and call me in for things that I would never have been called in for. And that's - that's so promising. It's wonderful to be in the room and be one of a handful of actors of color and the character is perhaps not that, right? And so it's wonderful. And, you know, then there are also situations where it's like, wow, nothing's changed, you know? So there's still more work to do.

EISENBERG: Is there a particular thing that you remember going out for that it was the first time that you're like, wait a second, this is not at all typecasting?

MUNOZ: Yeah, it was on a clear day. I got called in for one of the principles, and I was the only actor of color in the waiting room, and I felt wonderful about that because it was - it was an arrival of sorts for me really.

EISENBERG: Absolutely. So many amazing people have been able to come see the show. Obviously, you know, there's the general public, and then there are celebrities. But...


EISENBERG: ...How did you feel when Beyonce and Jay-Z came to the show?

MUNOZ: OK. So...


MUNOZ: I did not know the entire show that they were in the house. And then Jen, who is my dresser, and Jonathan Groff are standing at the entrance to the dressing room shoulder to shoulder, like, you know, clearly these two were up to something. So they announced it was Beyonce and Jay-Z to which I then in my underwear and shirt collapsed behind the chair squealing like a child.


MUNOZ: And Jonathan did take a photo of it, so it was documented.


EISENBERG: But you knew going in when the president was coming to the show.

MUNOZ: I did, yeah.

EISENBERG: I'm sure you would notice anyways because there would be a huge amount of...

MUNOZ: Major security, yeah. No, that was astonishing just the fact that I got to do that performance.


MUNOZ: You know, it was so thrilling. That was my very first performance during the Broadway production. That was the...

EISENBERG: That was your first one?

MUNOZ: Yeah. I mean, I had performed off-Broadway, but this was my very first one at the Richard Rodgers - for the president.


MUNOZ: No pressure.

EISENBERG: I love the low stakes that...


MUNOZ: Totally - no but it - you know, the fact that I was given the chance to still do that show and it was scheduled was so generous. And then I was surprised that I just wasn't nervous. I was so excited to do it, and it was one of three times that Lin was getting to watch the show. So that was the most important thing to me was...

EISENBERG: Oh, so he was there.

MUNOZ: Yeah.

EISENBERG: But he didn't say, oh, the president's coming. I'm going to be on stage.

MUNOZ: No, that's what I'm saying. He was totally generous. I was allowed to continue to do the show.

EISENBERG: Wow. And so he sat and watched.

MUNOZ: Yeah. He sat - I think - I believe he was a row or two in front of the president.


EISENBERG: Only Lin is in front of the president.


EISENBERG: Now, I'm sure people quote lines from "Hamilton" to you all the time.

MUNOZ: Never - never happens.


EISENBERG: Do people come up to you in the street, recognize you and they just throw out a line?

MUNOZ: Sometimes. I mean, generally if I've engaged with them, yes, they'll feel comfortable to do so.


MUNOZ: But they don't start with the line (laughter).

EISENBERG: They don't just walk up to you and like...

MUNOZ: Right, just like blurt it out, no (laughter).

EISENBERG: Is - and what's the most common?

MUNOZ: Not going to throw away my shot.

EISENBERG: Yeah, all right. They're like, hey, I'm going to say hi to you because I'm not going to throw away my shot.


MUNOZ: You're totally right.

EISENBERG: Yeah, exactly. Javier, we - we're really excited that you agreed to help us lead a game...


EISENBERG: ...An ASK ME ANOTHER challenge. So are you - are you ready to go?

MUNOZ: I am so ready.

EISENBERG: OK. Javier Munoz, everybody.


EISENBERG: Now let's meet our next two contestants. First up, Jere Hester, you are a news director at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and you used to be a reporter for the New York Daily News.

JERE HESTER: That's right, New York's hometown paper.



EISENBERG: I love that. You just threw in the tag line immediately.

HESTER: Old habits die hard.

EISENBERG: So what kind of pieces did you write for the hometown paper?

HESTER: Oh, I was kind of a general assignment reporter, so I got to do anything and everything. I actually went undercover a couple of times.


HESTER: Once as a cab driver.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah?


EISENBERG: And what did you find? Was it a scary job?

HESTER: It was frightening at times, but in some ways, the bigger problem was less being frightened out of there and was dealing with, you know, passengers who weren't always nice, let's just say.

EISENBERG: Wait a second. You're saying some people in taxicabs are not nice.


HESTER: I was shocked, shocked by that.

EISENBERG: Your opponent is Corissa Carlson. You are visiting us from New Haven where you're one year away from receiving your Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

CORISSA CARLSON: Yes, finally.


CARLSON: (Laughter) Thank you.

EISENBERG: Ph.D. in clinical psychology. All right. So this is it. Are you raring to go out into the real world, or are you freaking out?

CARLSON: Not at all.

EISENBERG: You're freaking out. Yeah. What's your main concern?

CARLSON: I have no idea where I'm living next year (laughter).

EISENBERG: Yeah, yeah, you got to get on that, yeah.

CARLSON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: How do you feel about lack of structure? How are you with structure? Haven't thought about that - sorry.


COULTON: I don't think you're making it easier for her.


EISENBERG: So we have a trivia game for you called The Secret Life Of Presidential Pets. So "Hamilton" is a musical about American history, but it may surprise you to learn that some of the most important decisions in American history were actually made by presidential pets. In this game, Javier and I will give you clues about a president from the perspective of that president's pet. So buzz in to identify the president. Remember, Jere and Corissa, the first of you who wins two of our games will move on to our final round at the end of the show. All right. Here we go.

MUNOZ: All right. I'm Fighting Bob Evans, a guinea pig. My owner kept more than 50 different animals at the White House, but he loved hunting - weird.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah. Puzzle guru Art Chung, do you want to give a hint?

ART CHUNG: Well, though he loved hunting, he famously refused to shoot a baby bear.



HESTER: Teddy Roosevelt.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that is correct.

MUNOZ: Yes (laughter).


EISENBERG: OK. I'm Pauline Wayne, a cow. I told my owner to try skim milk or at least 2 percent to help him get in shape, but let's be honest. He was getting stuck in that bathtub no matter what.




EISENBERG: Taft is correct, yes.


MUNOZ: All right. I'm Pushinka, a mutt from Russia. Thank goodness I calmed my owner during the Cuban missile crisis or we'd all be borscht now.



CARLSON: Kennedy.

EISENBERG: Kennedy is correct, yes.


EISENBERG: I'm Misty Malarky Ying Yang, a Siamese cat. Yeah, that's right, not problematic at all, no.


EISENBERG: You know that ugly sweater the president wore on TV after he turned down the heat in the White House? I put it in my litter box.


EISENBERG: (Laughter) Jere.

HESTER: Jimmy Carter.

EISENBERG: That is correct, yeah.


MUNOZ: OK. I'm an alligator with no name - sad. I had to watch my owners swim naked in the Potomac every single day. I wonder if his dad skinny-dipped when he was president.



HESTER: John Quincy Adams.

EISENBERG: That's right, yeah.


EISENBERG: The alligator was a gift from Lafayette, by the way.

MUNOZ: Really? I did not know that.

EISENBERG: Yeah, but it had no name. I feel like that is not a pet.




EISENBERG: Don't you have to give it a name?

MUNOZ: Yes, absolutely (laughter).

EISENBERG: That's weird. All right. This is your last clue. I'm Millie, an English Springer Spaniel. One day, my owner scolded me. Read my lips - no new biscuits.


EISENBERG: And then he gave me a Ross Perot chew toy.



HESTER: George H. W. Bush.

EISENBERG: That is correct, yes.


EISENBERG: Puzzle guru Art Chung, how did our contestants do?

CHUNG: They both did great. Jere, congratulations, you're one step closer to moving on to the final round.


EISENBERG: Javier Munoz is currently starring in the title role in the Broadway production of "Hamilton," and he'll be back later in the show. Give it up for Javier Munoz.

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