'One Night in Miami' Star Leslie Odom Jr. on Double Oscar Noms: "It's a Sad Thing That I Can't Hug My Collaborators"

Leslie Odom Jr One Night in Miami
Everett

Earning nominations for his portrayal of Sam Cooke and for co-writing the original song “Speak Now,” Odom makes history as the first male performer to be nominated in both acting and songwriting categories.

Amazon’s One Night in Miami picked up three Academy Award nominations Monday morning, with two of those nods going to actor and singer Leslie Odom Jr. Earning a best supporting actor nomination for his supporting turn as soul legend Sam Cooke, Odom also shares a best original song nomination with Sam Ashworth for the tune "Speak Now" — which makes Odom the first male performer to be nominated for both acting and songwriting. A previous Tony and Grammy winner for his starring role in Hamilton, this pair of Oscar nominations puts Odom closer to the coveted EGOT.

But when speaking to The Hollywood Reporter mere hours after the nominations announcement, Odom focused more on the present (and on his collaborators — in particular Regina King, who made her feature film directorial debut at the helm of One Night in Miami).

Were you up early this morning watching the nominations? Or did you wake up to a bunch of texts and calls?

My phone rang [this morning]. I don't think I could set that alarm for 5 a.m., but I did leave my phone on, just in case. We made a movie that we cared about deeply, so whatever the phone call was … it could have really been for any one of us.

What was it like to sign on to play such an iconic historical and cultural figure as Sam Cooke, and what responsibilities did you have to tell this story even as you were promoting the film?

Film is such a public way to learn. It's a director's medium — the director really casts the vision and assembles the team. And so I just wanted to be a useful member of the 100, 150 people that we're getting to make this really special thing. I saw an early cut of the movie when Sam and I were going to write the song, and we just felt so lucky that we got to be a part of punctuating and underscoring some of the messages in this beautiful movie. And in promoting it, I got to lift up the work of these other actors and artists that I care about and was so inspired by. It's been a celebration of Regina’s triumph. I'm so happy to be part of it.

I know you wrote the song last year after Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the country. How did what was happening in our real world inspire writing the song for the film?

The only reason to do these history pieces is to do them in conversation with the times in which you live. Hamilton was similar in that its relevance and its power was in the retelling of that story in the most contemporary way. One Night in Miami was the same — we were looking back to learn something about us now. When Sam and I [were first beginning the song], we were imagining an audience filing out of the theater. It hasn't quite happened in that way. (Laughs.) We knew that the film did such a wonderful job of turning back the hands of time. We were transported, and we thought of our task as gently returning people to the now. We wanted to usher them out of the theater, holding on to the themes and messages of this movie [that were] hopefully activated within them while watching Regina’s beautiful movie. We thought we could maybe be a part of helping the audience make good use of that.

The Golden Globes proved that putting together a virtual awards show has its challenges. What are your hopes for the Oscars broadcast?

You know, it's an impossible time. Everybody's doing the best they can and, at the end of the day, these award shows are there to bring attention to the industry and the great artisans of cinema. It was such a difficult year, but there was still really wonderful filmmaking during this, so much wonderful work. We're just trying to find a way to bring attention to that and celebrate that, too. And to celebrate some of the stuff that really was a lifeline [during] a really challenging time. And it's my first time being invited at all.

If this is going to be a virtual event, is there something in particular that it's important for you to have by your side as you watch at home? [Note: The Academy later announced that nominees will be invited to attend in-person with a guest.]

It's a sad thing that I can't hug my collaborators — I can't lift Regina clean up off her feet. I don't think they'd be giving out tickets to the Academy Awards to my entire family, but you can bet our family will be in this house, toddler included. We have a little baby that's due any day. So we will all be in this house, with the best seats.