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Leslie Odom Jr.: Aaron Burr, Sir

Leslie Odom Jr. on <em>Ask Me Another </em>at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York.
Mike Katzif
Leslie Odom Jr. on Ask Me Another at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York.

Every night, Leslie Odom Jr. kills Lin-Manuel Miranda. To be precise, Odom plays Aaron Burr opposite Miranda's Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway musical Hamilton. The Pulitzer Prize-winning musical has become a phenomenon by using hip-hop and a racially diverse cast of black and Hispanic actors to tell the story of the early Republic. And night after night, Odom laments the infamous duel between Burr and Hamilton. "I really do feel bad about killing him every night, I really do," he tells Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg at The Bell House in Brooklyn, NY.

While Hamilton is undoubtedly Odom's most high-profile show to date, it was not Odom's Broadway debut. A 17-year-old Odom skipped class to audition for Rent, and to his surprise, he got the part. But the lure of Broadway did not keep him for long: Odom returned to finish high school and continued his studies at Carnegie Mellon University. Since then, Odom has appeared on Broadway's Leap of Faith and on TV shows like the musical drama Smash.

Playing Aaron Burr in Hamilton, however, has challenged the performer to unlearn his studies. "We want to see passion. We want to see where it's ugly and scary. We want to see you do the things we're too afraid to do on stage. That was the unlearning process. And Hamilton offers me the opportunity every single night to go to places that are scary and to be vulnerable," Odom explains to Eisenberg, "We were given permission every single day to fail."

While on the Ask Me Another stage, the Broadway star gave the audience a sneak peek of the musical by singing "Dear Theodosia," accompanied by Hamilton's guitarist Robin Macatangay, as well as a song from his debut self-titled album. And if that wasn't enough, Odom joined Jonathan Coulton to lead a music game to the tune of Taylor Swift's hit, "Shake It Off."

This segment originally aired on April 21, 2016.


On how much he knew about Alexander Hamilton

I knew as much as Michael Bay put in that commercial. I knew that Aaron Burr shot him in a duel. I knew that he was on the ten-dollar bill. I knew he wasn't a president. I knew that little tidbit, some people get that confused, but I didn't know much. People don't teach the nuance of this history in school. That's a shame. Hopefully this will change that.

On the writing of Hamilton

It's an incredible achievement in writing from Lin Manuel Miranda. I think it's just beautifully written. It kind of came out of him like a fever dream. A six-year fever dream. It really poured out of him. I'd get a new piece of music in front of me--I just gotta tell you, this is so rare--it was finished. You work on something in the development usually there's a development process. We would get stuff that we were doing exactly the way we got it on the first draft. Because it was perfect. That never happens.

On auditioning for Rent as a high schooler

I was in eleventh grade. I cut school and went to the audition. I did not go into that audition thinking I'm going to be in Rent anytime soon. But, I was just plucked from high school--the things that a 17-year-old is thinking about--into the center of my wildest dreams. I did the show for a very short time and then went back to finish high school and went to college. My parents did a good job; they were like, "Congratulations, you're in a Broadway show. So, what college are you going to go to. Because that's still the plan!"

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