Leslie Odom Jr. is definitely one of the people who made 2020 just a tad bit easier to get through. Thanks to the Disney+ release of Hamilton and his new Christmas album The Christmas Album, it's accurate to say the hyphenate-performer provided us with plenty of joy. And Leslie hasn't let the pandemic slow him down, partnering with Verizon to make sure everyone is able to stay connected during this time. The Broadway star recently spoke to BuzzFeed over Zoom about that partnership, his upcoming movie One Night In Miami, and so much more. Here's what we learned:
1. What is the first thing you do in the morning?
The first thing I do in the morning is turn on the TV for my daughter. I don't love that that is the first thing, but I'm sleepy in the morning. I'm still tired. We used to be dropping her off at preschool early in the morning but now, just while dad catches an extra hour, hour and a half, or so of sleep, she's gonna watch her Blue's Clues or Daniel Tiger. And then I'm gonna make a cup of coffee when I do get up.
2. What’s the last thing you searched for on Google?
Today's my anniversary, so the last thing I was searching for was my favorite florist in LA [J'Adore Les Fleurs]. I was looking for what flowers to buy for Nicolette [Robinson].
3. How have you stayed connected with your family and friends during quarantine?
Lots and lots of FaceTime. Lots of Zoom and family Zoom [calls]. It's part of the reason why the partnership with Verizon made sense. Number one, those promotions got me because we're all doing a lot of streaming. A lot of Hulu. Lots of music on Apple Music. It's been all we've had, right? FaceTime and Zoom stuff.
4. What is a movie or show that people would be surprised to learn that you auditioned for and didn't get?
I really wanted that role in The Trial of the Chicago 7 — that Aaron Sorkin one. [It] was such a great script. And Bobby [Seale] didn't have a whole lot to do, but there was a chance for him to really make an impression in that film. I wrote Aaron a letter and I really was proud of my tape. But I saw it with Yahya [Abdul-Mateen II]. I thought he did great. And things worked out. I ended up doing One Night in Miami with Regina [King]. But I really wanted that part.
5. First Broadway show you ever saw?
The first show doesn't count because I was 17 years old when I went into Rent on Broadway. I auditioned in Philadelphia. The tour was in my town and I went to the open call. When I got to New York to do it, I had to watch the show to get prepared. That was part of my rehearsals: watching the show. But the first one I bought a ticket for was a show while I was in New York at that time. I bought a ticket to see a review of Smokey Joe's Cafe. Why? Because there were Black people on the poster. And I wanted to see Black people on Broadway. So that was the first show that I ever bought a ticket to see. And it was great.
6. Funniest backstage memory from Hamilton?
I'm not the best one to answer that. If anybody has seen the show — or the film now on Disney+ — you've seen that I had a lot to do. And also, Burr's not the comic relief of that show. So I took it all pretty seriously. I took the proceedings pretty seriously. There would be times where they would be laughing and stuff offstage. And I would have to find out why later because I was so focused on my thing. I really didn't notice any of the shenanigans. I'm sorry!
7. Biggest challenge performing Hamilton live versus for film?
With [performing] live, you can fold in your mistakes. With film, there's something final about that. There's a finality to it. So you have to make sure that doesn't make you stiff. But that is on your mind; that it is for posterity. And so it does weigh on you a little bit.
8. Have you taken any wardrobe pieces or props from the sets of your previous projects?
They took some antique photos of us on the set of Harriet with some period cameras — some cameras of the day. They look beautiful and aged in that way that we're all obsessed with. So, I took those photos from Harriet.
9. Which of your roles was the hardest to prepare for: Aaron Burr in Hamilton, Sam Strickland in Smash, or Sam Cooke in One Night in Miami?
Sam Cooke. With Sam Cooke, you can pull up the footage, you can pull up the record, and do a direct comparison. So it was daunting, and it's why I ran from the project for as long as I did.
10. Favorite memory from the set of One Night In Miami?
If I'm being honest, I've made a handful of movies now — not a ton — but it's not always the most fun. I'm a live animal. I love live performing and that communication that happens with an audience, but you don't obviously get that on a set. So I found film sets a little sterile, a little technical. One Night in Miami was the first time that I felt that thing where I felt, We're in a moment, and I got goosebumps. I knew if any of that shows up in the film, we'll be all right because I'd never felt that on a film set before. Just, like, spirit.
11. Best takeaway from working with Regina King, who directed the film?
Regina doesn't limit herself. Regina is gonna do all the things that she's charged to do. And she attacked the film with the same fierceness and nose for veracity, and open heart. And she mines for truth in the same way that she does in front of the camera. She's awesome.
12. Favorite Sam Cooke song?
I spent so much time studying "A Change Is Gonna Come." I mean, it's a masterpiece, right? It's hard to not choose that one. But, there was an undiscovered one that I found. "A Change Is Gonna Come" was actually a B-side. That was not the song he thought was going to be a hit. Back in the day, a B-side, that's the song you liked, but the A-side was what you were leading with.
The A-side of "A Change Is Gonna Come" was a song called "Shake." "Shake" is a little dance song that I'd never really heard, so I love "Shake." But of course, they were both released after [Sam] passed away. When people heard "A Change Is Gonna Come," it was haunting. It was like the message was now coming from a ghost. And so, "A Change Is Gonna Come" obviously has become his most famous, most lasting gift to us. And I think he'd be all right with that.
13. If you could invite anyone — living or dead — to a dinner party, who would they be?
I would sit down with [Michael Jackson]. He was such a larger-than-life presence. So much of what I do in this business was inspired by Mike and his legacy has gotten awfully complicated. So I'd have some questions.
14. Name something on your bucket list?
I would say skydiving but that's on a lot of people's bucket lists. But I don't know if I would really have the cojones to actually follow through with that. I've never been to the motherland. I've got to do that. And not just general Africa. I want to travel around Africa. I want to get in there and explore.
15. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I almost quit. The very true, real truth is I was turning 30. And I was really tired of the ups and downs. I was really tired of the roller coaster that this business can be and how unsure your footing can be, always. And my mentor gave me the best piece of advice. I went to him. I sat with him at Marie Callender's over chicken pot pie. And I poured out my heart to him. I was really looking for a career as a way to take the things that I do well and transfer to another career. I didn't want to become a better actor. I wanted to get a check on Thursdays and know what it was going to say. This is after 10 years, mind you, of being in the business and having some success.
"You can quit. That's fine. We can talk about the things you might do if you quit. But I'd love to see you try first."
And he said, "You can quit. That's fine. We can talk about the things you might do if you quit. But I'd love to see you try first. I'd love to see you try before you quit." And I looked at him like he was out of his mind because I'm like, "What do you think I have been doing?" But he said, "I think you've been waiting at home for the phone to ring. And when the phone rings, you show up and you're on time. You're prepared. You're an affable guy; you can make things happen for yourself. But the phone didn't ring today. Right? So what did you do for yourself? In the absence of a ringing phone, did you call anyone? Did you write anything? Did you read anything? Do the people that you've worked with in the past know that you're out of work?"
I wasn't singing at all. He said, "You know how many places would love to have you play the lunch hour? How many coffee shops?" He just pointed out all these ways that I was failing myself. It changed my life. I haven't really stopped working — besides the pandemic. I haven't really stopped working in eight, nine years since he gave me that advice.
16. First album you ever bought?
I think it was Aaliyah. Age Ain't Nothing but a Number. "Back & Forth" was a bop. We didn't call them bops back then; we'd probably called them jams or something like that. She was an intriguing talent.
17. What's the best Christmas gift (or any gift) you've ever received?
Karaoke machine. My parents got me a karaoke machine when I was 10 or 11 years old, and I just wore that thing out.
18. What’s a Christmas song you wish you wrote?
"The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole.
19. Guilty pleasure?
I'd say my guilty pleasure is TV. It's a really passive activity that we do. Reading is much better for us, or even watching a film they say is much better for us and our way of thinking. So TV or that scrolling that we've all gotten used to doing. Doom scrolling is what they've come to call it, where we're just like, "How bad is it gonna get?" Checking social media is not necessarily bad, but wasting time on there is wasting time.
20. Biggest fear?
My biggest fear is any kind of loss of my freedom or loss of my liberty. A Black man don't want the loss of his liberty.
21. Who was your childhood celebrity crush?
22. Hidden talent?
I can't say it here.
23. What is your go-to adult beverage?
24. Which emoji do you use the most and why?
This one: 🤟🏾. It's like, "I love you," "Rock on," and "Thank you." It's just quick.
25. Last person who texted you?
My mother-in-law. She comes and gets my daughter to watch her for a couple of hours. And she starts sending us pictures like five minutes after. We're like, "We were just with her all morning." [Laughs]
26. One has to go: baked mac 'n' cheese, collard greens, or yams?
Collards. Sorry. Blame Terry! I don't want any of them to go. But if you pick one of them, I will find a new vegetable. I will find any vegetable to eat, but I'm not going to be able to replace mac 'n' cheese or yams.
27. Finally, what do you hope for in 2021?
2021, I'm hoping for the healthy, safe, and blessed arrival of this little boy that we have on the way. That's what I hope for the most right now.