Leslie Odom Jr. on playing soul legend Sam Cooke: “I’ve been a fan my whole life”

The 'Hamilton' star is one of the main players in Regina King's upcoming new movie 'One Night In Miami'

Leslie Odom Jr. has spoken about the challenge of portraying Sam Cooke on the big screen in the forthcoming film One Night In Miami.

Directed by If Beale Street Could Talk star Regina King in what is her directorial debut, the film is a cinematic adaptation of Kemp Powers’ 2013 play which imagines a meeting between Cooke, Malcolm X, Cassius Clay and American footballer Jim Brown during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Speaking to NME about how he prepared for his role in One Night In Miami, Hamilton star Odom Jr. explained that he’d “been a fan of Cooke my whole life” and that his music remains “omnipresent”.

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One Night In Miami
‘One Night In Miami’ imagines a 1964 evening where Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown gather to discuss global events. Credit: Image Net

“There’s never a time that I don’t remember ‘Chain Gang’ or ‘You Send Me’,” he said. “As I introduce my three-year-old to my music, what I hope for is the day that she goes to discover these artists on her own. I’m just exposing her to it, introducing her to it, but I long for the day she goes and digs in the crates and discovers the music and the albums for herself.

“That’s what happened for me with Sam Cooke: I heard a cover of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, and there’s power in the lyrics and melody even when he’s not singing it. But that sent me on the path to looking for the original, and so I discovered the Sam Cooke version. It was on loop for years after that! So you can imagine how daunting it was knowing that in this film I’d have to attempt singing it myself.”

Odom Jr. said he was “grateful” to King for how she planned the shooting of the film, given that he finished filming One Night In Miami just as the coronavirus pandemic shut down the vast majority of film production in the US back in March.

“[Cooke] was as close as he was gonna get to me by then, you know? I had really drawn him closer and closer throughout the shooting of the film, so I was the most full of Sam that I was gonna be on the day that we shot the ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ scene,” he explained.

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Odom Jr. explained that he was drawn to the project by Powers’ ambition to hold “a private conversation publicly” with the cinematic adaptation of his play.

“I recognised Kemp’s desire to do a scary thing, a dangerous thing, an exciting thing: having a private conversation publicly,” he said. “It’s daring because it is pulling back the curtain; knocking down the fourth wall, if you will. It’s what this thing, this acting or performing thing, is supposed to be about, but it’s still very rare that I’ve been given the opportunity to do that.

“We can set aside for a moment that these are going to be portrayals of legends, as this is possibly a side of them that you’ve never considered and you’ve never looked at. So set that aside and look beyond that, I think the exciting thing — I speak for myself here — was to have a private conversation publicly.”

One Night In Miami, starring Leslie Odom Jr. has yet to receive an official UK release date.

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