After bringing down the house at Symphony Hall earlier this year, Leslie Odom Jr. will once again team up with the Boston Pops for this year’s star-studded Fourth of July show.
“It’s one of those things that can really bring a tear to your eye as a performer,” the former “Hamilton” actor says of his last appearance with the orchestra. “It’s a real gift to perform with the Pops.”
Between performing, shooting a blockbuster movie and welcoming a new baby girl to the world, the 35-year-old Tony Award winner has a lot on his plate at the moment. But we managed to score some time with the star who gives us a sneak peek into the Independence Day show and talks art in the time of Trump.
What should fans expect from your latest team up with the Pops? Will you rock out to any “Hamilton” tunes with Andy Grammer and Melissa Etheridge?
They want the material that we’re actually doing to be a surprise. I will say, if you are a “Hamilton” fan, I don’t think you’re going to be disappointed. There’s a “Hamilton” tune that might happen, a first time, televised thing. The “Hamilton” company is obviously very protective of those songs. We’re not really allowed to perform them publicly a lot. But the Boston Pops are possibly a very, very rare exception. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been a fan of Melissa Etheridge since I was a kid, and Andy Grammer and I are label mates. So I’m going to be a fan boy.
Between things like the Kathy Griffin and “Julius Caesar” controveries with Donald Trump, the worlds of art and politics seem to be at odds. What’s your take on art’s role in commentating on social issues?
It’s the job of the artist to take in the world around you and make work out of it. That is our job and role in society. Maybe it’s divisive in New York City, but the art that’s coming out of Kentucky or Arkansas might not feel as divisive depending on which side of the argument you sit on. I don’t think our role has change, but obviously right now, we have our work cut out for us because it’s about bringing together and not leaving people behind. Just because you’re particular group might be OK, it’s about thinking about your neighbor and somebody who is afraid right now. Stand with those people. We’ll stand together and try to get voices heard.
Your upcoming book, “Failing Up: How to Rise Above, Do Better, and Never Stop Learning,” is reportedly organized like an inspirational commencement speech. What’s the best piece of career advice any has ever given you?
About five years ago, I was looking to quit, looking to transition into possibly another area of the business, basically a desk job. I wanted to know that I’d get a check on Thursdays. I was really tired of the rollercoaster ride. The highs are so high and the dries are so dry. You can have a big job then it’s gone the next week. The best advice I was given that my mentor said to me is, “You can quit. That’s OK. We can talk about that if you want to, but I’d love to see you try first.” What he meant was, “I think what you’re doing is you’re sitting at home, and when an opportunity comes across your desk, you knock it out the park… But what did you do today for yourself? Did you call anyone to let them know you’re looking for work? Did you send any emails?” And he was absolutely right. I was doing at least half of my responsibilities as a businessman. I wasn’t generating everything from myself. That was the best advice I was ever given and it changed my life.
Since you’ve only done a handful of movies in the past, did it freak you out to work on “Murder on the Orient Express” with stars like Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz and Michelle Pfeiffer?
I fought for this the same way that I fought for the “Hamilton” opportunity. I just knew that it was going to be such a fantastic learning experience. There’s no better environment to be in. To learn from somebody like Kenneth Branagh, who came from the theater and rose to prominence in film and television, and is now behind the camera. I wanted to learn from these people so I was not freaked out. The role was the perfect size role, and it’s a juicy supporting role. There wasn’t much on my shoulders. I knew I’d get to come in and have some great moments, but primarily, I’d get to be there and watch [these] Oscar winners and nominees. It was more than I could’ve hoped for.
Who did you bond with the most on set?
It’s sort of a cheat answer because Josh Gad, we’ve known each other since we were 18 years old. We went to college together. We’ve never worked together since we graduated. Obviously we stayed in touch and our bond could never be broken, but we hadn’t spent that much time together since college. Josh and I, whenever we could get a couple days off, we’d head somewhere in Europe. I would laugh until I cried. Josh was the one I hung out with the most. Nobody on this planet makes me laugh like Josh Gad. We were in Dublin and planned to party the night away, but around 12:30-1 a.m., I had to go to my room, take an Advil and go to bed because I had a splitting headache from laughing at Josh.