Q+A: Screen and Stage Actor Leslie Odom Jr.
What do the Broadway musical, Leap of Faith, about a charlatan preacher; the NBC musical drama Smash, revolving around the intrigue and egos of the creative types working on a musical about Marilyn Monroe; and the Princess Grace Foundation have in common? The actor Leslie Odom, Jr. Odom, who has received praise and award nominations for his role as Isaiah, the antagonist to Raúl Esparaza’s con man-of-the-cloth in Leap of Faith, has a continuing role on Smash, and has won a Princess Grace Award for Acting.
T+L spoke with the multitalented actor about the stage, screens both big and small, and dancing his butt off in New York.
Q: How did you get to Broadway?
A: I was born in New York, grew up in Philadelphia, attended Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, and after school moved to Los Angeles where I have lived for nine years, working in television and film, ranging from NCIS: LA to the Gilmore Girls to House of Lies, starring Don Cheadle. I was supposed to be a part of the Los Angeles production of Leap of Faith last year, but was cast as Sam Strickland on Smash, which is actually shot in New York. I moved to the city to do four episodes, was prepared to go home to California, and then the character was extended through the first season. So I was in New York when the opportunity came about for the Broadway production of Leap of Faith. It has been a thrill. I have been waiting for this role for 13 years. I sing and dance my butt off.
Q: Tell us about your character.
A: I play Isaiah who is studying to become a minister. My character comes home for the summer from Bible college to a small town in Kansas where he encounters the hustler played by Raúl Esparza. I soon find out he’s not the great man he pretends to be. The director is Christopher Ashley, the artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse, who coincidentally also won a Princess Grace Award in theater.
Q: Princess Grace of Monaco was a great supporter of the arts in general and ballet and dance in particular in Monte Carlo and as Grace Kelly she was, of course, a Hollywood star. Tell us about the recognition from the Princess Grace Foundation.
A: The Princess Grace Awards recognize young artists in theater, including playwriting, and film, as well as dancers and choreographers in the United States. It is remarkable because the award is based on potential the foundation identifies and not on accomplishment. I was in my junior year at Carnegie Mellon, tuition was a stretch, and the generous grant support in significant ways covered my final year. Like my experience at Carnegie Mellon, it put me in touch with a wonderful community of artists. The people I have met through the foundation and are connected with remains a real gift. It is one of the most important foundations for young artists that I have ever encountered.
Q: What’s next?
A: Smash starts shooting its second season in June, and I’ll return in the role of Sam Strickland. It is privilege to be able to work in film, television, and theater. But for now, there’s not much time for travel…or sleep.
Mario R. Mercado is the Arts Editor at Travel + Leisure.
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