Warning: Minor One Night in Miami spoilers ahead.
He’s one of the most musically gifted actors working right now, a Grammy- and Tony-winning alumnus of Broadway’s mega-hit Hamilton, but Leslie Odom Jr. says he initially “ran from” the chance to play pioneering soul singer Sam Cooke in One Night in Miami.
“I didn’t want to be bad, those are some mighty big shoes,” Odom told us about playing the late “You Send Me” and “Wonderful World” crooner (watch above). The actor declined the request to even meet to discuss the role for the Regina King-directed, Kemp Powers-scripted film, which offers a fictionalized spin on a real-life meeting between four African American icons in 1964: Cooke, Malcolm X (Kingsely Ben-Adir), Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).
“I had plenty of reasons to say no to this movie. It didn’t feel like I had enough time to prepare… It was just like, ‘No, I don’t need that. No.’ It was a very easy ‘No.’”
It wasn’t until Odom’s representatives — his agents and manager — tag-teamed him, joining together on a phone call asking Odom to reconsider.
He did, and can now reflect on just how wrong he was. All four actors have drawn wide acclaim for riveting performances, but Odom, especially, cooked up a portrayal so poignant that it has earned awards recognition, including two Oscar nominations, for both Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Song (“Speak Now”).
“I have to keep telling this story, so that I don’t forget that,” he says. “The truth is always the best, right?”
In addition to his reps, Odom largely credits King, the Emmy- and Oscar-winning Watchmen and If Beale Street Could Talk actress who made her directorial debut with Miami.
“She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” he says. “So that’s just always baked into this experience for me. This is not something that I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I wanna go after that! I’m gonna kill that!’ This was not that at all.”
Speaking of killing it, there’s no better way to describe Odom’s climactic, chill-inducing performance of Cooke’s 1964 hit “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which he is seen performing on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson after Malcolm X challenges the singer for not using his platform to make more meaningful music at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
“We shot that on my final day in New Orleans,” Odom says. “So Sam was never closer to me than he was on that day.”
“It was a very delicate moment, we had to take our time,” King told us about of capturing the sequence. “So often when we’re shooting films with music, they’re pre-recorded, and the actor is lip-syncing … and that wasn’t lip-syncing. That was live, in the moment. So that’s one of the things that makes it particularly special.”
One Night in Miami is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
Watch our full cast interview:
-Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jason Fitzpatrick
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