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BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Hamilton’s nemesis Leslie Odom Jr. Cookes up a storm as soul legend Sam 

Leslie Odom Jr. became a star six years ago, aged 33, when he portrayed Aaron Burr, the American founding father who shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel, in the musical Hamilton

Leslie Odom Jr. became a star six years ago, aged 33, when he portrayed Aaron Burr, the American founding father who shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel, in the musical Hamilton.

Odom originated one of the show’s signature numbers, The Room Where It Happens. But he’s glad he wasn’t in the room, or Hamilton, during his 20s, because there’s ‘no question’ he would have handled fame badly.

‘I don’t know who I’d be,’ Odom admitted in a phone call from his home in Los Angeles. ‘But I don’t think it would be anybody you would want to know.’

The purpose of our chat was to discuss the actor’s scorching portrait of 1960s soul singer Sam Cooke in the film One Night In Miami, out on Amazon Prime on January 15. But first, we backtracked to Burr.

He landed the role of ‘the damn fool’ who shot Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton after years on a career path best described as one step forward and one step back. But in Hamilton, his mixed discipline training — he studied acting, dance and singing separately — came together triumphantly.

I saw him at New York’s Public Theater, then at the Richard Rodgers on Broadway (where he won a Tony award) and the heat of his performance was startling. (A filmed version of the show has now helped lure subscribers to Disney+.)

Had his Hamilton success come any earlier, though, it would have ‘fractured and injured me’, he believes. 

‘I’m so grateful that I was a grown man when that opportunity found its way to me,’ he said. Being married helped, too.

Odom and his wife, actress Nicolette Robinson, are expecting their second child in March, something that makes him want to just cuddle up with his family and pull up the drawbridge.

The purpose of our chat was to discuss the actor’s scorching portrait of 1960s soul singer Sam Cooke in the film One Night In Miami, out on Amazon Prime on January 15

The purpose of our chat was to discuss the actor’s scorching portrait of 1960s soul singer Sam Cooke in the film One Night In Miami, out on Amazon Prime on January 15

But instead he’s going to be busy, with two other movies due to open later in the year, plus awards season contention for his performance in One Night In Miami.

‘Sam’s one of my teachers,’ said Odom, who grew up listening to Cooke’s songs. ‘I learned how to approach a song, caress a note.’

After Oscar winner Regina King (herself an Oscar winner for her role in Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk) cast him in the film, the actor studied other aspects of the singer’s life. 

Like how he had to play the game known as ‘code switching’: singing tame numbers like Tammy’s In Love for white audiences, and flipping to an edgier vibe for blacks. Both sides are on display in One Night In Miami.

The movie imagines what happened when Malcolm X (a powerful Kingsley Ben-Adir), American football superstar Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Cooke joined Eli Goree’s Cassius Clay (before he became Muhammad Ali) in a hotel suite, after he took the heavyweight crown from Sonny Liston in Miami Beach on February 25, 1964.

Had his Hamilton success come any earlier, though, it would have ‘fractured and injured me’, he believes. ‘I’m so grateful that I was a grown man when that opportunity found its way to me,’ he said

Had his Hamilton success come any earlier, though, it would have ‘fractured and injured me’, he believes. ‘I’m so grateful that I was a grown man when that opportunity found its way to me,’ he said

Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson at the world premiere of Murder on the Orient Express

Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson at the world premiere of Murder on the Orient Express

At the heart is a clash between Malcolm X and Cooke over what they, as young black men in America, stood for. Ben-Adir told me last year that he dug so deep into Malcolm’s psyche that he couldn’t always shake off the character. And Odom felt the brunt of that passion.

‘It wasn’t easy,’ he said, adding: ‘I saw the toll it took on Kingsley. It was a fraught, tense time, but it was worth it.’

Indeed, there’s no doubt it has resulted in a rare, raw energy on the screen.

Odom’s a versatile performer, having released several albums since Hamilton, including a festive offering, The Christmas Album, featuring a duet with actress Cynthia Erivo, who is godmother to his daughter.

Watch out for…

Lashana Lynch who, back in November, completed shooting a screen version of Debbie Tucker Green’s powerful play about black lives that matter: ear for eye

Lashana Lynch who, back in November, completed shooting a screen version of Debbie Tucker Green’s powerful play about black lives that matter: ear for eye

Lashana Lynch who, back in November, completed shooting a screen version of Debbie Tucker Green’s powerful play about black lives that matter: ear for eye.

I was riveted by it when it premiered at the Royal Court three years ago, though I did observe how uncomfortable it made some members of the audience (a good sign, I thought).

The BBC Film will be shown soon on BBC2. Lynch has just signed on for another stage-to-screen transfer: she’ll play Miss Honey in director Matthew Warchus’s picture based on the award-winning Matilda musical. 

The production, backed by Netflix, Sony and Working Title, was to have filmed last year, but the Covid crisis put paid to that. Lynch is about to begin rehearsing dance steps with Ellen Kane, who collaborated with choreographer Peter Darling on the original theatre production. 

The actress plays an MI6 agent with a licence to kill in No Time To Die. But the 007 movie keeps being postponed. A release date was set for April 2. Expect it to shift again.

Rob Brydon who is priceless as Uncle Bryn in Gavin & Stacey, and The Trip series with Steve Coogan. He has joined Lily James, Shazad Latif and Emma Thompson in filmmaker Shekhar Kapur’s What’s Love Got To Do With It. The film, now shooting in London, is a romantic comedy based on a screenplay by Jemima Khan.

Rob Brydon who is priceless as Uncle Bryn in Gavin & Stacey, and The Trip series with Steve Coogan

Rob Brydon who is priceless as Uncle Bryn in Gavin & Stacey, and The Trip series with Steve Coogan


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