BWW Interview: Okieriete Onaodowan Reflects on Why the America of Today Needs HAMILTON
The #Hamilcountdown continues! As the world gets ready to experience the phenomenon that is Hamilton from their homes, BroadwayWorld is checking in with its stars ahead of the release on Disney+.
Not sure how to tune in on July 3rd? Let BroadwayWorld be your guide!
How excited are you that Hamilton was filmed?
I'm very excited now more than ever with what's happening today. With the murder of George Floyd, people really need to understand that to make great change, not only do we have to speak about it, but we have to write about it. What made Hamilton Hamilton was that he stood on a box and spoke up. A lot of people- old people, middle-aged people- are in the streets saying the same thing. I think America should not look the way that it looks. So that's the most exciting thing about this film coming out... I take pride that that's in it's DNA.
What does it mean to you that Hamilton will be reaching such a wide audience?
It means more people might really understand that the birth of this nation was from people saying, "This is not the America that I know. This is not the way it should be." And speaking out and fighting for it... many countries around the world still struggle with this. We're more advanced than other countries and some other countries are still in the throws of that, so I think it's a message to everyone all over the planet needs to hear.
I've taken so many people of so many different ages and races to come see the show and I just want you to talk about what makes Hamilton more relevant than ever in these times that we are currently living in...
Well I'll circle back to the first question. That's what makes it so relevant: the message. The message saying "Speak up! If you don't believe this is how things should be, use your voice, be as loud as you can, and most importantly find like-minded people!" I think another great message is that you don't have to do it alone. It takes the work of many to create one great thing. The show is a testament of that as well.
Have you seen it yet Oak?
I have not had a chance to finish it yet. They gave us a very very short window of time. It's very hush-hush! They literally gave us 24 hours to watch it with the link and unfortunately I wasn't able to see all of it in that 24-hour span. From what I saw though, it was great!
Who will you be watching it with?
By myself, just so I can fully have the experience. It's interesting. What we do in theatre is unlike film or any other medium. We can never really truly see the work that we made because we're in in. So even when we step out to watch an understudy perform, we can never truly see what it is. So this will be an experience I've never had and I want to be by myself so I can just have it and I don't have to think, "What do you think?" Let me have it first for myself to see what it's like. It's such a wholly knew experience for me.
I've always said to actors I wish you could step out of your skin and see what we see as an audience member. I can't wait for you to see the impact that your performance and everyone's performance and the impact Hamilton has on people.
Yea and that's what I'm most excited about. I think it'll be good for people who didn't necessarily want it to be known that they're gonna see Hamilton or maybe hated on Hamilton quietly by themselves. I like the idea that they can now watch it alone and really get an idea of what it was.
How has Hamilton changed your life?
In every way shape and form. As artists, we will always do what we do. It's just whether or not we have the spotlight on us, you know? For actors that came out of nowhere, it's like... no they've been doing good work for a long time, it's just fortunately now there's a spotlight on them. I think we've all changed because we've been working at such a high caliber. Hamilton was a lovely way to say, "Hey, look at these hard-working people. Everyone pay attention to these hardworking people." We had that light... it just opened doors. It opened many many doors that would have taken me longer to open.
At what point during the process did you realize how important the show was gonna be?
The interesting thing about theater is you never know. I'm sure you've seen readings or workshops of something and thought this is amazing and then it just disappears. By the time it gets to Broadway it's been modified and changed. So for me, I was like, "This is really dope!" from the first time I heard the demo. When I really realized that the rest of the world agreed with me was at The Public Theater. It was one week Weird Al came, the Clintons came, Dick Cheney came, Busta Rhymes came and Qtip came. I was like: "What?!" There's nothing I can think of in the world that would have all of those people nodding yes. When that happened, I was like, "Ok, this is a thing!"
What do you remember about that first performance at The Public with an audience that night?
It's rough, cause I can't! [Laughs] I don't actually know cause I can't really remember remember. In hindsight, I feel like it was more of an excitement to just see what this is, because in theatre the last member of any production is the audience. You don't know what you have until it's done in front of people. I feel like that first night was the final nail in the coffin. The final dotted I, the last little bit that we needed to know exactly what is this really. So it's just excitement and pure curiosity.
Talk about the audience and some of those favorite moments for you meeting audience members.
They're so effusive with their love... theatre fans. I'm a big comic book fan and there's a lot of parallels with them that they're just dedicated and loyal. There's not many people for the most part, before Hamilton... musicals were a niche thing. They're just very loyal and dedicated and my favorite memory is this couple who are historians. They would come and give me these old books about James Madison. I have an old book that was published in like 1912 or 1920 about his life. They were historians and just so excited. They would bring their students and come backstage and I grew to know this couple. They're just so loving and warm. I put a lot of value in old things, weathered things, so I was just so moved that they would share this with me. I'd say that would be my favorite interaction.
It must be really great too because I thought I knew everything about American History until I saw Hamilton and I realized there was so much more going on that you don't really learn about it school. Did you know the whole story of Hamilton before you got involved in this?
I knew nothing of American History because I didn't pay attention to American History in school. Because I did not see myself in American History in school. So I learned a lot. I think the one thing I took away from this musical- really learning how the inception of this country was and really learning what went into it and how it just didn't include me. It just didn't include black people at all in its inception. And learning of all the things it did include, and how all the laws were formed... all the things Hamilton wrote in and just realizing that all this came from like three minds! It came from a few dudes' ideas and we're still governed by that today. It just kind of blew my mind.
If you could sum up the best part of the experience of working on Hamilton what has it been for you?
The cast. This group of people. It's almost as if you took the hardest working person from every show and just put them in that room. Every person in that room was always the hardest working person in their shows. That's why. Every time I had a dope idea like, "We can do this!" There were five people already saying yes and, and vice versa. We really were working and figuring out how to maximize finding the best way and we didn't stop. Everyone everyday showed up and gave everything they could and was fully focused and dedicated to one goal. I have never seen that before in my entire career- so many people dedicated to one thing.
Many people who are going to see Hamilton have never been to anything live. They've never been to the theater to see something live happen in front of them. Because of Hamilton they're now entering this world of live theatre, it's gonna change their lives forever...
I think it's incredible, because at my core and at my heart, I come from a theatre background and as an actor, that is home. It meant the world to see kids excited about theatre. That's the great thing about Hamilton for me is to see young people who wouldn't normally think theatre is cool being really excited about how it works and getting involved. I think the movie is kind of a dope live version of something. Everyone's so used to listening to the record, but you love a live version for all the nuances, all the idiosyncrasies, all the differences that you wouldn't expect. I think for a lot of people they'll realize that's the appeal of going to live theatre. I think some folks think it's musicals are just the track. They don't understand how alive it is; how much it breathes; how much it's different. I think this is the best way they can highlight it by listening to the record and then watching it and saying, "Oh, I loved the fact that that wasn't exactly on beat!", "I loved the fact that he paused a little bit in this moment!" "I love the fact that they did it differently!" And then hopefully that will make them want to go see things and experience those subtle nuances and changes that happen naturally.
Sign up for Disney+ today for your chance to catch Leslie and even more of the original cast of Broadway's biggest hit from home on July 3!