Leslie Odom Jr. plays singer Sam Cooke in One Night in Miami (Picture: Patti Perret/Amazon Studios via AP)
Leslie Odom Jr. is already getting Oscar buzz for his performance as Sam Cooke in his new film, One Night In Miami, but the actor initially wanted nothing to do with the role.
Speaking exclusively to Metro.co.uk about his initial hesitation, the performer explained: ‘I’m sort of embarrassed by my hesitation to take this role because I almost missed out on the experience of a lifetime.
‘Being a part of this ensemble, and part of Regina King’s directorial debut. That’s a little embarrassing to say out loud. But Regina saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself and I’ll always be grateful for that.’
Thanks to Hamilton, the actor is already famous for playing historical figure Aaron Burr but he explained how the pressure to play a Black music icon made him shy away from the part of Sam Cooke.
The Harriet star recalled: ‘That was the aspect I was most afraid of. We really take our heroes seriously in the black community. We have some shining examples who managed to create and inspire and hold on to their integrity in spite of the really hostile environment that was made for them in this country.
The film imagines what happened Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay (Muhammed Ali) and Jim Brown hung out together in a hotel room in 1964 (Picture: Patti Perret/Amazon Studios via AP)
‘Sam is one of them and so we are protective of his legacy. I’d never seen Sam Cooke depicted in a film so I was not jumping at the chance to be one of the first ones to take that on. I feared I was setting myself up to fail.’
Thankfully, Regina didn’t give up and convinced the actor to look beyond the pressure of the film which imagines what happened when Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay (Muhammed Ali), and Jim Brown hung out together in a hotel room in 1964.
Leslie continued: ‘Regina called me and Regina believed in me so I didn’t want to make a liar out of her. I certainly didn’t want to let her down. She’s building this great legacy and I didn’t want her to fail so I worked like I’ve never worked before… if you can imagine that.
Leslie admits he was scared to take on the part but director Regina King helped him step up to the challenge (Picture: Patti Perret/Amazon Studios via AP)
‘With Lin-Manuel Miranda, he was the first director that gave me a great responsibility when he offered me the role of Aaron Burr. But it felt like he was asking me to do everything that I knew how to do and then a few things that I never thought I would be able to do. It was demanding that I learned some new skills quickly, and in front of an audience.’
He continued: ‘This film was the same thing, it was challenging. We did not have much time and Kemp made this gorgeous and challenging script. Regina who is nurturing and lovely as a director but demanding and exacting in her craft. She was asking me and these three brothers to do everything we knew how to do and some stuff that maybe we never thought we’d be able to do.’
The Smash star had nothing but praise for his director as he stated: ‘Nurturing is the adjective for her. She brought the same sensitivity and nose for truth behind the camera as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from her in front of the camera.
Leslie also wrote original song for the soundtrack, Speak Now, inspired by the music of Sam Cooke (Picture: Jess Rand/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
‘She just made me better. And in her own way, behind the cameras, she was playing all four men right along with us. So there was a great deal of Sam Cooke inside Regina. Sam was working through Regina in the same way that I was working hoping he was working through me.’
He recalled: ‘Anytime she came to offer me a thought or an idea, it always sent me down a more honest path and sometimes a more entertaining or funnier path. It was just a wonderful collaboration.
‘There was a great deal of trust in the people she’d assembled. She trusted our training and our expertise and our research. She trusted that we were the experts in our work and characters. She was just the perfect balance between trust and help when you needed it.’
Indeed, a lot of trust was put into the star to write and perform original song Speak Now for the movie’s soundtrack.
With several hit albums to his name, the singer is no stranger when it comes to making hit music. However, he had to dig deep to create a song he felt was fitting for the powerful movie.
Leslie admitted: ‘The easiest part of the artistic process for me are the beginning and the end. The middle is always challenging in every single process. The beginning starts with inspiration and that comes from the divine.
‘You’re inspired to do something so you start it and then you run into all the problems and challenges and the things you need to learn. Then you always feel great when you’re done because you achieved your goals.’
He continued: ‘Speak now was a hard one because how do you follow A Change Is Gonna Come? That is the hardest thing so we had to create an environment that was egoless and welcoming and loving and accepting of all ideas.
‘Myself and Sam Ashworth, my collaborator, we just said it’s not about competing with A Change Is Gonna Come. It’s not about competing with Blowing In The Wind, that inspired Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come.
‘This is about being additive, this is what we can put alongside what those bright brilliant gentlemen wrote and gave us. We’re just putting this alongside that and making another offering.’
Having already won best song at the Music City Film Critics Association, it’s safe to say this offering has already been resonating with all who has heard it.
As for talk about award buzz and the fact he could inch ever closer to the EGOT should he nab an Oscar for his work on the film, Leslie humbly stated: ‘Where I am in my career right now, I have already achieved more than I ever dared to dream for myself.’
One Night In Miami is streaming now on Amazon Prime, while the One Night In Miami soundtrack is also out now.