Javier Muñoz has been playing the role of Alexander Hamilton in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit musical, Hamilton, since its off-Broadway run last winter, alternating for the Pulitzer Prize winning actor and composer for one performance a week. But on Monday, Muñoz began his first week as the new full-time Hamilton, following Miranda’s departure.
The 40-year-old actor has been in this position before, previously alternating – and then replacing – Miranda’s role in his first musical, In the Heights. The two are longtime friends and Miranda even promoted the name “Javilton” in celebration of Muñoz’s spot in the cast.
Here are five things you need to know about Broadway’s newest founding father.
1. He’s already played the role for some big names.
Hamilton has been known to attract a celebrity crowd and Muñoz has been center stage for some of the biggest – including President Barack Obama, Beyoncé, and the late Prince, who Muñoz told PEOPLE was his favorite celebrity guest yet.
“I don’t think there are words that I’m aware of to describe the feeling,” he says of performing for the president. “It’s like finishing that hike that you never thought you could do. When you get to the top, and there’s the whole valley and the sun and the open sky. And you’ve arrived, you’re there. That’s what moments like that feel like.
WATCH: Hamilton’s Javier Mu oz Talks Performing in Front of Prince!
2. He’s a cancer survivor.
Although he’s healthy now, Muñoz quietly battled cancer last year, stepping away from Hamilton for three months to undergo treatment.
“I’m not someone who gets scared,” the actor, who is also H.I.V positive, previously told PEOPLE. “It’s a very rare occasion that I genuinely feel just fear. I can get anxious, apprehensive about things. It’s a rare thing in my life to find myself face to face with something I’m scared of, and I was scared of this. I had never been more scared in my life.”
“Coming out of this, it’s sort of reinvigorated my passions,” he continued. “If success comes with those things in some way – and everyone has their own definition of success – that’s great. But it s the art that s my goal. It s the work that s my goal. It s creating something wonderful.”
3. He got his big break with a little help from George Michael.
When Muñoz had the opportunity to audition for the role of Usnavi in the workshop production of In the Heights, he turned to an old friend for help: singer George Michael.
Muñoz sang the former WHAM frontman’s song “Praying for Time” for his audition. “That’s been my money song for ages,” he said. “‘Cause it’s a song that everyone’s like ‘I know that song, but who is it again?’ And you’re like ‘It’s George Michael’ and they’re like “Oh yeah.’ And you get the callback.”
“It was the perfect thing,” Muñoz says of the choice, – which would go on to get him the role. “You want everybody to like the song that you’re singing and like the artist that you’re singing. So it was very calculated.”
4. He comes from a family of artists.
Born and raised in the Linden Projects of Brooklyn’s East New York, Muéoz is the youngest of three boys – all who had artistic ambitions, like their father.
“My dad was a visual artist and painter,” Muñoz explained. “My oldest brother is a musician, the second oldest, dance, and the third oldest was into producing music and creating music and is also a visual artist.”
Despite the family of artists, Muñoz was the only one who entered into the business. “None of them pursued their arts professionally. They all went into business in one form or another,” he says, adding that art “was respected, it wasn’t encouraged” in his household.
“My parents wanted all of us to have practical jobs that made a lot of money so that we could do better than them and have better lives – more freedoms, better options and such,” he said.
They’ve come around now, of course, and Muñoz cherishes the relationship he has with his family. “It is my root,” he admits. “Because no matter what’s been going on, no matter what obstacle I face, I always can go home. Always. It is vital to me.”
5. He’s an avid gardener.
Fans following Muñoz on social media have seen his green thumb at work, tending to a garden he’s created on the roof of Hamilton’s Richard Rodgers Theatre, which has been nicknamed the “#JaviltonGarden.”
Muñoz says he gets those instincts – to grow and take care of things – from his mother. “She nurtured those sort of things,” he says, adding that she also gave him cooking skills and a self-described “ridiculous sense of humor.”
“She was the only one who didn’t have any sort of an innate creative thumb, if you will. But all the other aspects of me come from her,” he said.