Most actors would probably consider winning a Tony Award the pinnacle of their career.
Not so Leslie Odom, Jr., who took home the 2016 Tony for Best Actor In A Musical for his role as Aaron Burr in Hamilton on Broadway — one of 11 the hit show earned.
As Odom sees it, that high point simply means it’s time to work harder.
“There’s a sense of really rebuilding after something like that,” he observed during a recent phone conversation with The Blade. “Rebuilding with this deeper knowledge of yourself and what you're capable of.
“You really do have to go back to the drawing board and go like, ‘What were the things that worked? What got me there? What were some things that I can let go now? What needs to change now?’ There's a starting over you have to do after something like that, but it's with a deeper knowledge of yourself.”
Odom visits northwest Ohio on Oct. 21 as a guest artist with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra at the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. The concert will include a tribute to Nat King Cole along with a liberal serving of Broadway and jazz hits.
Inspired by Ron Chernow’s acclaimed biography of U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical celebration of the nation’s first treasury secretary continues to draw impressive crowds, both on Broadway and at satellite companies in Chicago and Los Angeles. Odom performs on more than half the songs on the cast album Hamilton: An American Musical, which debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard 200 chart in August, 2015, selling more copies in the modern era than any Broadway show other than Book of Mormon in 2011.
“There's a question that I had always thought about: 'Am I really good enough? Do I have what it takes?' ” the actor reflected. “It's really all a theory what you think you can do, what you think you're capable of. ... Those kinds of questions are erased after a moment like [earning a Tony Award]. If you want any longevity you have to figure out, ‘How am I going to do it again?' It may take me 15 years to do it again; it may take me 20 years to do it again. But I'm on the path now of figuring out how to build it back up to a moment like that again.”
Not that acting and performing are new to the 36-year-old father and husband. He was a replacement in Rent at the age of 17, his Broadway debut, and after moving to Los Angeles in 2003 continued to guest star on various television shows such as Gilmore Girls, The Big House, CSI: Miami, and Vanished. His career continued with his role as Sam Strickland in NBC’s Smash, which ran for two seasons.
It was also during this time that he raised money through Kickstarter to independently release his debut solo jazz album Leslie Odom Jr. in 2014, which after its re-release in 2016 hit No. 1 on the Billboard jazz chart.
“It was a way for me to take some control over my creative life,” he said. “Before that, the only time I was working was when someone called me with the opportunity to work. That’s the main message when I go out and talk to young people; the thing I tell them more than anything is, ‘Don’t wait for someone to give you an opportunity to do the thing that you love. You find a way to do it anyway.' Eventually people will notice that.”
Today, he’s playing a new role as a father. He and wife Nicolette Robinson welcomed their daughter, Lucille, in April. In a profession that requires intense traveling and time away from home, there isn’t a script about how to play that part.
“I'm learning that; that’s still a trial-and-error type of thing,” Odom said. “When we can travel, we do. Lucy is so young she's pretty portable; she's not walking or crawling or anything like that, so once that starts it gets a little harder to drag her around on planes.
“It's also just being present when I'm home. I like to not be working if I can when I’m home because work is so intense when I'm not there. So I focus on what’s in front of me. If my family is in front of me, they're my focus. It's a balancing act, but I’m learning.”
Next month, the Hamilton star will be seen on the big screen with his role as Dr. Arbuthnot in Murder On The Orient Express, directed by Kenneth Branagh, a film based on the classic novel by Agatha Christie about 13 strangers solving a murder mystery aboard a train. The cast also includes Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Penelope Cruz.
Odom said Branagh hand-picked the cast based on the skill set of each actor. Playing a role for a film was something new for the actor.
“I assumed it would be very different ... because I haven't done a ton of film, [but] I didn’t know all the ways in which it would be different,” he said. “[Branagh] really was a master at making me feel comfortable and making that transition from stage to film in a way that felt natural and felt comfortable, and I really felt he had my back. I was really nervous coming in, but by the end [Branagh] had really created an environment where we were able to be relaxed and felt comfortable enough to just really do some work we were proud of.”
Odom reflected on how he maintains such a positive demeanor during a time of world-wide tragedies.
“I take responsibility for my own little corner of the world,” he said. “I really try to make sure that the people that are in my immediate circle, my family, my friends, people that I work with, we take care of each other. We lead with kindness; we lead with acceptance and equality.
“After [the Las Vegas shooting] I thought what a horrible way to lose a kid, what a horrible way to lose your parent. There’s some kids that woke up the day after that tragedy and their mom had been murdered or their dad had been murdered. I do concerts a few times a week. I say a prayer and step out on stage and I go if this was my last moment, if this was my last day, how would I have wanted to [have] spent it? What kind of mindset would I have wanted to have been in? Would I have wanted to spend my last day in fear? Would I want to spend my last day hating somebody or plotting someone else's downfall?
“When that stuff rises up, there also seems to be a concentrated effort to keep us afraid, to make us wanna lock ourselves in our houses and trust men in Washington to keep us safe. I don’t know if that’s the reality. When stuff like that rises up I think how, if this was my last moment, God forbid, if this was my last day, how would I want to spend it?”
Tickets are still available and can be purchased at www.toledosymphony.com. The concert begins at 8 p.m.
Contact Geoff Burns at: email@example.com or at 419-724-6054.
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