Leslie Odom Jr., best known for his role as Aaron Burr in Hamilton, appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on Wednesday night for an interview in support of the acclaimed new film, One Night In Miami, in which he co-stars as legendary singer and music industry pioneer Sam Cooke. Judging by early buzz—both about his performance as Cooke and about the song he wrote for the film, “Speak Now”—an Oscar may be joining Odom’s Grammy and Tony Awards on the mantle in the near future.
The debut feature film from director Regina King, One Night In Miami applies imagined dialogue to a dramatization of a meeting that actually took place between Cooke, NFL superstar Jim Brown, Nation of Islam figurehead/Black rights activist Malcolm X, and world heavyweight champion boxer Cassius Clay—soon to be Muhammad Ali—in February 1964. The summit, which took place at the Hampton House motel in Miami the night Clay won his first world title, represents a turning point in the evolving racial justice landscape of the ’60s and the beginnings of “Black Power.”
Following this unprecedented meeting of the some of the biggest Black figures in American culture, each of them proceeded in their respective careers with a renewed focus on racial justice. Clay officially converted to Islam, changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and went on to be considered the greatest boxer in history. Brown left the NFL to pursue a career in movies, leaving behind the exploitative nature of pro sports in favor of controlling his own image. Malcolm X split with the Nation of Islam and struggled with the ensuing chaos, but eventually published his famed autobiography before his assassination in 1965. Sam Cooke went on to debut his timeless protest anthem, “A Change Is Gonna Come”, on The Tonight Show just months before he too was murdered in December of ’64.
After joking about how they couldn’t find any negative opinions about Odom to use for the show’s regular “Mean Tweets” segment (“And you killed Hamilton!” joked Kimmel), welcoming his new baby daughter, and making his Broadway debut in RENT at age 17, the conversation moved to One Night In Miami. As Leslie explained about tapping into Cooke’s sound for the role as both and actor and a singer, “I had done my fair share of trying to sound like Sam Cooke in the shower, you know, and in my car. But they knocked me for a loop. When I got the gig, these recording sessions started showing up on my calendar, like two weeks after I was hired, and I called my team and I said, ‘What are these recording sessions for?’ And they said, ‘Leslie, you have to record the Sam Cooke stuff,’ and I said [panicked], ‘I’m singing the Sam Cooke stuff?!’ I could not imagine that they would want someone to sing it. We’ve seen brilliant actors take on people with signature voices and lip-sync and we buy it, so I couldn’t believe they wanted me to sing it, too.”
Following the interview, Leslie Odom Jr. offered up a performance of “Speak Now”, and original song he co-wrote and performed for the movie that plays over the closing credits. A “heed-the-call-of-the-moment” anthem inspired by the underlying themes of One Night In Miami, the live performance cast Odom alongside a pair of sharp-dressed dancers on a rooftop at twilight, adding to the song’s emotional weight. Watch the Leslie Odom Jr. interview and watch his performance of “Speak Now” from Jimmy Kimmel Live! below. One Night In Miami is now streaming via Amazon Prime.
Leslie Odom Jr. Talks Playing Sam Cooke In One Night In Miami – Jimmy Kimmel Live!
[Video: Jimmy Kimmel Live]
Leslie Odom Jr. – “Speak Now” – Jimmy Kimmel Live!
[Video: Jimmy Kimmel Live]