His lyrical movement netted him the 2012 Fred Astaire Award as Broadway’s outstanding dancer. His singing, acting and rapping landed him a Tony for playing Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” whose bestselling album also netted him a Grammy.
Leslie Odom Jr. is all that and a bag of chips. The multitalented artist has rarely looked back since making his Broadway debut at 17 in “Rent.” But he’s had doubts at times, Odom said by phone last weekend in advance of shows next Friday and Saturday with the Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by Sarah Hicks.
Odom, 36, postponed a concert with the orchestra in November to appear on the Victoria’s Secret television special, but partly redeemed himself with a Super Bowl pregame appearance, singing “America the Beautiful” at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Q: What can people expect from you next weekend?
A: We don’t want people to be disappointed, so we do show tunes, standards. We know people are coming hoping to hear some stuff from “Hamilton,” so we definitely do that. I have self-titled albums, one of standards and also a Christmas album. Our goal is to make sure that people leave with a smile on their faces.
Q: From the outside, your life looks pretty spectacular. But I imagine it’s been studded with moments of doubt.
A: I just finished writing a book called “Failing Up.” The central [theme] came from a mentor in my life when I was at one of those crossroads. Around my 30th birthday, I was really tired of the roller-coaster ride of the business. I was looking for more consistency — to grow up and become an adult. Things felt like an extended childhood. Not knowing how I’m going to pay my rent — do I have to borrow some money? I was just tired of all that. So I met with a mentor to talk about my career.
Q: What did he say?
A: He gave me the best advice I’ve ever been given, which was: “You can quit, and we can make plans for that, but I’d love to see you try first.” At that point I had been on Broadway a couple of times, had done a bunch of television, so I was confused by his comment. He said, “I think you’re sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring, and when the phone rings, you do really well. But with you sitting here in front of me today, that means the phone didn’t ring. And what did you do in the absence of a ringing phone? What did you read? What did you write? Did you e-mail or call anyone to let them know that you’re looking for work?”
It hit the nail on the head for me. I was neglecting at least half of my business, my responsibility, as an artist.
Q: Then you got Aaron Burr. That seems like the role of a lifetime.
A: It was. It was the kind of work I always wanted to do on a stage in the American theater, but never really saw people of color get a chance to do it. So when [“Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda] put Burr in front of me, it felt like: Here’s my chance; it’s now or never.
Q: Burr is a complicated character. Did you initially feel affinity for him?
A: I’m not sure writers had looked at Burr with as much compassion. [Biographer Ron] Chernow was the first. Lin had written him with such compassion and complexity, it was a no-brainer. It was the best role I’d ever seen for an actor of color. I thought: This will be so much fun.
Q: Would you do a hip-hop role again?
A: In a heartbeat.
Q: “Hamilton” has come at what seems like a pivotal moment in cultural history.
A: You look at what’s happening in my business and in other industries. It’s a moment where women are finally getting to be at the center of their own narratives. People of color have been preparing for this moment their whole lives. It feels like we’d better make the work we’ve been desperate to make. That’s what “Hamilton” felt like.
Q: Speaking of “Failing Up,” how’s your life now? You left “Hamilton” after a year to pursue other opportunities.
A: It’s a trip, in all the meanings of that word. We’re just sort of rounding a bend here, but it does feel like things are more balanced. A couple of things got canceled recently, so I got a week and a half off. I looked in the eyes of my wife and looked in the eyes of my little girl. I got to check in. No complaints. I’ve got a big movie with Kenneth Branagh [“Murder on the Orient Express”]. I did the Super Bowl. And these great concerts. But balance has been really a struggle. Now it feels like we’re in the good part of the story.