On July 9, it will be four years since Leslie Odom Jr. left the Broadway stage for the last time as Aaron Burr. On July 3, his Tony-winning performance can be seen again — and again — as the film of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking Hamilton debuts on the subscription streaming service Disney+.
The movie, directed by Hamilton’s Broadway director Thomas Kail, is a recording of the live Broadway show, captured during two 2016 performances just before the original cast started peeling off. Viewers can watch the Friday release for as little as $6.99 with a one-month trial subscription.
The East Oak Lane-raised actor and singer is riding out the pandemic in Los Angeles with his wife, actress Nicolette Robinson, and their 3-year-old daughter. On Tuesday, he spoke with The Inquirer about finally seeing himself as Burr on stage, the experience of being part of the original cast, and the new animated series he stars in with his Carnegie Mellon classmate Josh Gad that’s brought out his “inner park ranger.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The only bittersweet thing about this whole thing is I had been looking forward to getting together with that group of people to watch the movie. I really was excited to be in a room with them, because we’ve never seen the show [with the original cast].
We did the show and I’m not complaining about that — that was an experience that very few people had — but from what I hear it’s quite a ride in the audience. So I was excited to experience that with my brothers and sisters, with my cast. That’s what I was most looking forward to, slapping them on their backs and hugging their necks and, you know, being a fanboy over these people and their work.
So we won’t get that, but we get lots and lots of other things. When I was coming up, a Broadway ticket, a really great ticket in the orchestra, was $75, and that was way too expensive for my parents. So I didn’t see a Broadway show until I was able to afford my own tickets.
And Hamilton, you and I both know what those ticket prices reached. So the fact that for the low price of a subscription to Disney+, you can gather the family in the living room and have an experience that’s pretty close to what it felt like to be in a Broadway theater, that’s a special thing. And I’m grateful to be a part of that.
I don’t know if it feels more important. It feels in a lot of ways the way it felt the first time around. We made something that we believed in. We were so inspired by Lin’s words. He lit a fire in our bellies. And so we were so excited to bring the show to those first audiences downtown at the Public Theater [in February 2015]. We had no idea what would happen.
We could have never imagined that people would have taken it into their hearts and really made a place in the cultural conversation that’s happening in the country. And there’s really been a place for it made amongst the great works of art.
I’m curious to see how if the show can meet this moment, and offer something of value to the conversation. As Lin wrote, you don’t really control who lives, who dies, who tells your story. The audience mirrors your work back to you, or points you to meanings and hidden meanings, subconscious things you didn’t even know were there. I mean, I don’t think Lin ever intended to have a tell-all book from this administration [John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened] named after one of his songs.
It is a preservation of that work, or a look at what was happening there, but I don’t have any fear that when theaters are open again that the film will stop people from going to the show. There certainly were moments in my living room that I wanted to stand up and cheer, watching it. It’s faithful to those high moments in the theater.
Before I’d seen it, I was hearing from people who’d both seen the show and the film [who said] it enhances the experience, “because I had a great seat, but I didn’t have that close-up. So I didn’t see those little subtle moments off to the side that bring a deeper meaning to the show.”
So it offers something new, something that we hold right alongside the cast album, something that you hold right alongside the experience of seeing the show live.
We filmed two performances in front of an audience. And then there was one full day and a half of cameras onstage, getting in close on some of the moments.
The audience didn’t get to step on stage with us. So that’s something that they can do in this film version that we could obviously couldn’t do on stage. It’d be crowded on stage with 1,300 people roaming around.
Yeah, because I’m in a different kind of head space, you know, a different zone. Hamilton was a peak for me, it was like me, yet in a way that I’d never seen myself. And so to watch that back, I mean, there’s times that I don’t recognize that guy. Which is great fun for a performer.
Oh, absolutely, yeah. All these roles I’ve played, they’re all in me. There’s a lot of Owen in me. He’s a different guy. But there’s an inner geek. There’s an inner park ranger, 100%.
We’re working on Season 2 right now. Apple sent all the equipment that we needed to our homes and so we’ve been able to keep our work going.