Leslie Odom Jr explains why he initially turned down One Night In Miami

Laura Harding, PA Deputy Entertainment Editor
·3-min read

Leslie Odom Jr has explained why he initially turned down the role of singer Sam Cooke in One Night In Miami.

The actor and singer, best known for originating the role of Aaron Burr in the Broadway production of Hamilton, says he said no to the chance to play the A Change Is Gonna Come musician in the film that imagines the meeting between Cooke, Malcolm X, Cassius Clay and Jim Brown in 1964, because he feared he would do a bad job.

He told the PA news agency: “Who would want to do that? Sam Cooke – those are mighty big shoes and it took me about 15 years to get any kind of acceptance for who I am.

“Hamilton was really the thing that allowed people to have a little bit of putting a name with a face, and I just felt like I can be myself a little bit.

“Because when you start out, people are like ‘You’re the next Denzel!’ or ‘You’re not quite Denzel enough’, or ‘You’re the next Don Cheadle’, ‘You’re not quite Don Cheadle enough’, and so for the first time I felt people were letting me be the very best version of Leslie Odom Jr, so why would I try to be a terrible Sam Cooke?

“But it was Kemp Powers’ script that really won me over, he was trying to do something daring in this movie and I knew that Regina (King, the director) was the one to lead the way.”

British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir, who plays Malcolm X shortly before he split publicly with Nation Of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad and a year before he was murdered, said he also felt nervous to take on the role, but was determined King, the Oscar-winning actress who was making her directorial debut, would not know.

He said: “I wanted to present her with my own version of fearlessness because I didn’t want her to feel at any stage that the person she was employing to play Malcolm X was cautious or unsure, even though the Malcom in this film required such a huge vulnerability.

“Even if I was frightened, I was fronting to Regina that I was super-confident and there was nothing scary about it and it was something that I wanted to do.

“I don’t know how much of that was a defence mechanism, trying to block out how significant the pressure was.

Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X
Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X (Patti Perret/Amazon Studios)

“But the good thing for us was by the time I was cast I only had 12 days to prepare, so I didn’t have time to worry or think about anything, other than trying to do a real deep dive into Malcom and who he was, and more importantly who he was at this time, on this night.

“I think one of the most interesting things about this project was understanding in the research that the changes that were going on for Malcolm at this time were huge, there was a real sense that his life was in danger and his religious and political thinking was about to undergo a huge shift.”

One Night In Miami is out now on Amazon Prime Video.