Why Hamilton's Leslie Odom Jr. Almost Walked Out On The Movie

Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) sings to the audience in 'Hamilton'

The release of Hamilton on Disney+ has led to a big increase in interest in the already beloved musical. That has meant a lot of positive attention for the cast of the film, who originated the roles they play on screen when Hamilton was on Broadway. But Leslie Odom Jr., who stars as Aaron Burr, almost chose not to participate, and nearly walked away from the opportunity shortly before they began to shoot the film.

There is no Hamilton without Aaron Burr. He serves not only as the lengthy story’s narrator but also ends up being the figure behind many of the pivotal moments in the musical, including the murder of the musical’s eponymous Founding Father. For those who’ve been fans of the musical since it first hit Broadway in 2015, it would have been hard to picture anyone but Leslie Odom Jr. bringing him to life in the Hamilton film.

However, the Tony-winning actor found himself faced with a tough decision when he and the rest of Hamilton’s original Broadway cast were asked to participate in the filming of their stage performance for the movie. He told the Armchair Expert Podcast that he wanted to make sure he was being paid what he knew his participation was worth:

They came to me with an offer and you know, ‘Leslie, we’re shooting tomorrow.’ Here's the thing: This is it. This is my area of expertise. This is all I have. This is my life's work on the stage, too. And so I just can't sell it away for magic beans. I can't give it away.

It sounds like the decision as to whether or not he would be a part of the film came down to the wire because Leslie Odom Jr. stood his ground:

The day before we shot that movie I called out. I was not kidding. I was not coming to work the next day to do the movie. You know, I was not kidding. It was a principle for me and sometimes it doesn't work out. Sometimes they look at you and go, 'We're just not paying it,' and you have to go, 'That's OK.’

Leslie Odom Jr. did his research, too, so he could be sure that he was being appropriately compensated for what would turn out to be one of the most buzzed-about movies of 2020:

So I can ask CAA (Creative Artists Agency), ‘What does my white counterpart, what does Aaron Tveit make to do Grease Live! on TV? What does he make to do Grease? This is Hamilton live, right? So when I found out what he made, I didn't ask for a penny more. I didn't ask for one penny more, but I said, 'You must pay me exactly what that white boy got to do Grease Live!’ That's the bottom line.

For Leslie Odom Jr., it sounds like the bottom line ended up working out in his favor -- at least to the point that he was willing to sign on for the Hamilton movie. That’s good news for fans, both new and old alike, because it means we can enjoy his stunning performance for years to come. It’s available to stream now on Disney+.

Katherine Webb