It’s been nearly a year since actor and singer Leslie Odom Jr. left his role as the original Aaron Burr in the Broadway musical Hamilton. He’s since won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for that role, welcomed new daughter Lucille Ruby with wife Nicolette Robinson and entertained audiences across the country—including one at Symphony Hall, where he sang with the Boston Pops earlier this month. He’ll perform with the Pops again for an even bigger crowd on July 4 alongside Andy Grammer and folk-rock singer Melissa Etheridge for the annual Fireworks Spectacular at the DCR Hatch Shell. We chatted with Odom about his Boston gig, life after Hamilton and his next act.
First of all, congrats on becoming a father! How has life changed for you in the past two months since your daughter was born? It’s amazing to think back from two months ago and even two weeks ago to now. I look at photos of when I’m with her, and I don’t even recognize myself. I don’t think I’ve seen myself as joyful or gleeful before.
The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular typically draws in about a half-million people. Does audience size change your approach to performances? Probably. I like to get to a venue early. You want to do a performance that’s site-specific, something that makes sense for where you’re at that day. I’m sure that will affect it. You know, it’s the energy of the crowd, the weather … I like to do something that makes sense. I’m excited!
What should the audience expect from your performance? I’m sharing the bill with the legendary Melissa Etheridge, who I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid, and Andy Grammer, who I’m under the same label with … I’m really looking forward to it. I recorded my debut album after raising money from Kickstarter—this was maybe four years ago. To hear those arrangements played with an orchestra is a dream come true to say the least. To see your art and your material like that, it’s really special.
Do you have any rituals before your live performances? I like to warm up. I like to get quiet and focus. I still look at it as an honor to get to perform. I respect people’s time and money. I make a pretty good living. I get to live my childhood dream. You won’t really catch me backstage goofing off. I like to focus. And I think about the deeper message and meaning on what I’m trying to leave people with. I thought this with Hamilton, that whenever we step on stage to perform we have an opportunity to change people’s lives for the better.
You’re also writing a book, Failing Up: How to Rise Above, Do Better, and Never Stop Learning, due out in March 2018. What’s the drive behind this book? Why now? When I met with the company, I didn’t think I had one in me. As they got to know me and got to know what I was passionate about, they got to me and said, “It seems like you go back to this inspirational thing.” … That’s where the juice was and passion. There were some dark times. It’s a tricky and challenging road. I depended on people to lift me out of it. There are these are lessons learned from that journey. The highs are high and the lows are low in this business. If there’s anything I can share from my 20s that can help make someone’s decade of life a little easier, that’s what I’m looking to do. We titled it “Failing Up” because if there was something I wish that someone told me earlier, it was to be a little more courageous and be more willing to fail sooner. It’s where you’re going to learn the most.
You left the cast of Hamilton last July. What’s the best lesson you’ve learned a year out from that experience? There was so much output and so much expended energy. There was so much taking in. I wanted to get quiet with the birth of my daughter and spend time getting to know my family and my wife in this new role. Now it’s about taking in. I still feel like I’m taking in info about this new world, this new administration and our new role on the map. I still feel like I’m taking in information before I start talking again and putting things out there.
You seem to move easily between the stage and the screen. With Murder on the Orient Express set for release in November, are you going to seek out more film roles now? Do you have any preference for one or the other? Those were doors and opportunities that were not open prior to Hamilton. I remember it well. I remember life well prior to Hamilton. The things I was most interested in I would never have been able to do … Film I’m very interested in. I want to learn and grow. With Murder on the Orient Express, I knew I was going to be around people who had 25-30 years’ experience in film. What I was most surprised and grateful for was not only seeing their process, but we got to spend time together offline on Friday nights and Saturday nights in London. I got to know how someone like Penelope Cruz has two kids, her own family, and how she manages with her career.