BWW Interview: Leslie Odom Jr.
What do you do when you win a Tony Award for starring in one of the biggest hit musicals in Broadway history? Well, if you're Leslie Odom Jr., or as some people know him "Aaron Burr" from HAMILTON, you take as many opportunities as you can to perform. One of those opportunities is to perform with the San Diego Symphony at the Bayside Summer nights.
Because of the fanfare surrounding this musical and his character, it might be easy to assume that this Odom just appeared on the scene. Yet he has been a working actor since 17 years old, and while he has been in some famous shows prior, like RENT, and JERSEY BOYS, he is excited to grab as many opportunities as possible that come from exposure like HAMILTON offered.
I was lucky enough to chat with his this week about a his variety of projects and, like Burr says in HAMILTON, "I'll let him tell it."
Congratulations on an amazing year, your new baby, the Tony Award, the new album, and working on the new Agatha Christie movie!
I've been every very lucky. Life changing year, that's for sure. HAMILTON changed everything; doors opened that have never been open to me before in my career. It is more than anything I could have hoped for.
How did this opportunity to sing with the orchestra come about?
A week later I left the show, I left the Richard Rogers theatre, 1400 rabid, screaming fans I went to 125 seats down the road at a place called the McKittrick, with the same band that I'm bringing to play with the orchestra. Music , again, was one of those doors that was not open prior to HAMILTON. So I signed a record deal with S - Curve, they really wanted me to make sure it was something I was focused on and that I focused on it and really took some time to focus on that side of my business. So we've been performing a couple of dates a month, for the last year. It's just now, and I'm glad it took a while, because it's just now sort of grown into t is orchestra and symphony show that we are developing.
It is only the second time to play with an orchestra. We played with the Boston Pop's about a month ago, and San Diego is only the second time. It's a real honor to perform with the orchestra as a singer, because it's not done often. Singer's don't get to seeing with orchestra s that often because t is very expensive. It is really a very rare thing for a vocalist to do, and the charts are very expensive, so it's quite an undertaking. So we're excited that we're one of the few that gets to try it out.
The other thing, when you get to come into these towns with the orchestra has built a following for itself and there are people who are fans of the maestro and the orchestra, and you get to piggy back on the success of something that is really working, like in San Diego it's a gift to us and we're so excited to come.
What has it been like balancing these projects and going from music to movies and back again?
It's what keeps the whole thing interesting for me, the more diverse my day is the more diverse my week is the better. I am very lucky, after 15 years of hard work, and really trying to get somewhere we've gotten somewhere. I got to do that cool thing like "Murder on the Orient Express" in London where I got to be on set with people like Johnny Depp, and Dame Judy Dench, Penelope Cruz, and Michelle Pfieffer, and Williem Dafoe; not to mention someone like Kenneth Branagh and learn.
I haven't done a ton of movies, this is my second film that I've ever done. So this is a new world for me. To get to learn from people who have been making movies for 20 or 30 years is invaluable. To soak up and learn how they sustain a the process for the run of the film, or for a difficult day of shooting is really invaluable and there's a way that it informs music. Music informs filming; it all makes you a better performer.
It's a mystery movie, but what can you tell us about it?
Even if you know the ending, come in and enjoy how the story is told this time. With new actors, the same story is told again. We keep retelling these stories because there is something that stands the test of time,. I think Agatha Christie is one of the greatest storytellers of our time and so I hope people come in and see it with fresh eyes. It's very respectful telling, but it is a modern filmmaking and it's a fun ride. It's a popCorn Movie, a movie that is entertaining first and foremost it is that.
While every performer dreams of being in a successful show, what was it like living in the middle of a cultural phenomenon like HAMILTON?
It is just as good as it gets. To be in something that is artistically fulfilling, culturally relevant, and commercially successful? That is the trifecta. That is what most people are striving for and if you are blessed, it is timing, and hard work, and a lot of things have to line up for something like that to happen. So we are aware at every single moment how lucky we were, how blessed we were, and that it was our responsibility to carry that torch for our moment in time. It felt like a dream come true.
Tommy Kail our director was so good at so many things but one of the things he was tremendous at was making it so that the theatre is a quiet space, so that we really left all of the hype and hoopla and frenzy, and noise outside the theatre. We came to the stage door of the Richard rogers theatre and award nominations, no award nominations, all of that stuff was left outside that stage door. When we came into that theatre we are going to make our show, from scratch e very single night for the brand new audience with the same humility, honesty, and love that we made it the night before or that we made it the year before at the public. It was as crazy as it has ever been in my life, late night talk shows, interviews, White House visits, and it was nuts. But inside that theater we managed to create a quiet and safe space to create for our audience in the same way we were making it before anybody knew HAMILTON existed.
Any guilty pleasure to help you relax in the down time behind all these projects?
We've got a 10 week old baby at home so every single moment that is not spent working, and there is a fair amount of work right now, every single moment is on her. She is the most entertaining; there is no tv show I'd rather watch there is no movie I would rather watch, It's Lucy all the time She's got all my focus and attention if I am not at work.
Leslie Odom Jr. is performing at San Diego Symphony Bayside Summer Nights at Embarcadero Marina Park Friday July 7th and Saturday July 8th at 7:30pm Don't miss a chance to be in the room (outside) where it happens!
For ticket and showtime information go to www.sandiegosymphony.org
Cheesey Hamilton references are officially done now!
Photo Credit: San Diego Symphony