The day after winning a Tony Award for his role of Aaron Burr in Broadway’s Hamilton, Leslie Odom Jr. went to film a music video. “If we could’ve chosen another day, we might have,” the multi-talented performer says with a laugh. “It’s taken 15 years for me to have a moment like I’m having with Hamilton and blessed to win the Tony, now is the time that you work harder than you ever have in your whole life. So you get up the day after the Tonys to shoot a video for 12 hours. You beg your wife to come with you so you can spend the day together.”
The video Odom filmed was for his latest single, a tenderly passionate interpretation of the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves” off his re-released self-titled debut album. The clip (featured above) is washed in warm orange, yellow and blue as he croons in a lounge between scenes of him running around and later fighting with his lover through Central Park.
The video’s director, Simon Asher, was the reason for the accidental timing of the video’s filming after such a landmark night in Odom’s career. The artist had really wanted to work with Asher and, due to their busy schedules, the next available window would have probably been after Odom leaves Hamilton on July 9th. Beyond Asher’s talent, Odom’s choice to work with him was for sentimental value as well. “My opening night gift for the cast [of Hamilton] back in August was that we made a little documentary film of the day so that we could always have it,” Odom recalls. “Simon shot that for me, and it was such a fun and collaborative experience that we had working together.”
Like filming the video, which Odom describes as a “trying 48 hours,” getting the recording of “Autumn Leaves” just right took patience and dedication. “It wasn’t working the first couple times that we tried it, and we put it down and said ‘If this song isn’t working, it’s not the song’s fault,'” he bluntly explains. “It’s one of the greatest songs ever written.”
When reflecting on the strong emotions he felt in the period of going straight from a Tony win to making a moving video for a song he is incredibly proud of, Odom refers to his friend Nate Parker, the star, writer and director of the highly-anticipated film The Birth of a Nation. “Nate’s on the precipice of something really big and a really landmark moment in film,” he says proudly of his friend of nearly a decade. “His wife is also about to have a baby, so it’s all happening at the same time. He’s charged with making sure that Birth of a Nation is not the last time we hear from him. When things are great professionally and you really get that ball rolling, that’s when you work the hardest because it’s not time to take a break now.”
As important as it is to him to work his hardest at such a pinnacle moment in his career, Odom also knows when to step down. He cites his body needing a break as a reason for leaving Hamilton in a couple weeks. Once he wraps with the show, he’ll take some time to rest before jumping back onstage to sing songs from his album and work on the next one. “I’ll still be performing live but we’ll take a break from eight shows a week for a while,” he says while chuckling. He teases announcements coming soon of residencies in both New York and another city as he begins to finalize those plans.
He’ll also be back in the studio, hoping to release an album either later this year or early next year. “I’ve been picking up the pen and writing with some collaborators, so I hope to have an original song or two on the next album, but I’m not interested in only singing songs that I write,” he says of what to expect from his sophomore release, which will most likely remain jazz-inspired. “It’s a pleasure of mine to dig through all the greatest songs ever written, pull out a song like ‘Autumn Leaves’ and give it a shot.”
As for what he will not be working on, Odom shot down rumors that he’s participating in the New Edition biopic that was teased during Sunday’s BET Awards. Earlier reports had falsely indicated that he would portray Jimmy Jam. “I don’t know where IMDB got that,” he reveals, though he’s excited to watch the film.
Because of his focus on working his hardest at such an integral moment in his career, Odom dedicated another full day to an important shoot: he joined the cast of Hamilton for an official filming of the show. There were concerns that he wouldn’t be a part of the recorded version given that he is leaving so soon, but the cast and crew worked it out to make sure that all of the original principals — including Jonathan Groff — and most of the original ensemble would be on hand before Odom, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo departed.
“There was some stuff behind the scenes that had to get ironed out, but like all of the other times before with these people that I work with, we came to the table with our humanity, our love for this material and our love and respect for one another and we worked it out,” he offers. “I’m exhausted and so happy that we made it happen. It’s another example of what I was telling you before: in the midst of Tony stuff, post-Tony stuff, getting ready to leave and releasing an album, we had to rise to the occasion and show up. [Monday] was our day off but we had a 12-hour shooting day. That’s what we do! You’re working harder than ever to meet the demand and expectations for this glorious show.”