Leslie Odom Jr., the Oscar-nominated actor for his portrayal of singer-songwriter Sam Cooke in “One Night in Miami,” said he felt the same sense of “responsibility to the world” in playing the real-life character as he did in his Tony and Grammy-winning performance as Aaron Burr in Broadway’s hit musical “Hamilton.”
Odom is a double-nominee for “Miami,” scoring nods for Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Song, as composer and performer of “Speak Now.”
“One Night in Miami,” the feature film directing debut of Regina King, — fictionalizes a real-life meeting of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke in February 1964, on the night that Ali (then Cassius Clay) won the heavyweight championship. “Hamilton” also delves deeply into American history and breaks theatrical ground by casting many performers of color as white characters.
Odom said the imagined conversation between the legendary Black figures in “Miami,” largely dealing with racial issues of the 1960s, mirrored the conversation the cast of “Hamilton” performers had backstage during today’s climate of re-examining systemic racism.
Odom said the “Hamilton” cast was deeply affected by hearing about the deaths of Black citizens Sandra Bland, who committed suicide in a jail cell, or Philando Castile, who was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop.
“Every time (we heard about a) Sandra Bland or a Philando Castile, unarmed Black people who are murdered on the side of the road, we were asking ourselves backstage, wrestling with, ‘What is our responsibility to the world outside this theater, to our communities, what must we do at this moment?” Odom told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman.
Added Odom, “We knew we were just doing a little play, a little musical, but we also knew on any given night we had access to leaders and luminaries, world changers” via the popularity of the show.
Odom also said he felt a responsibility to the individual, Sam Cooke. ‘They were big old shoes (to fill), I wanted to honor the man,” he said.
Odom described every day on the set as tense and fraught with the challenge of getting it just right.
Odom added that he and the rest of the cast and crew never thought about potential Oscar nominations during production, continually concerned with the relationships between characters more so than individual performances, always wanting to gel as an ensemble of players.
“Awards and stuff like that was the last thing we were thinking about on that set,” he said. “All the ensemble awards that we have won make the most sense.”
For more of this interview please see the video above.