Leslie Odom Jr. wanted to be paid the same as a white actor doing the filmed version of a live musical

By Ale Russian
August 10, 2020 02:14 PM
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Leslie Odom Jr. took an important stance before filming the Hamilton movie.

Odom, 39, starred in the hit Broadway show as Aaron Burr, the foil to Lin-Manuel Miranda's Alexander Hamilton, and performed his award-winning role in the filmed version of the musical that hit Disney+ last month. Although he was one of the biggest stars in the production, Odom told Dax Shepard on the actor's Armchair Expert podcast that he almost walked away due to pay equity.

"They came to me with an offer and you know, ‘Leslie, we’re shooting tomorrow.’ I'm like, 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," Odom recalled.

"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?" Odom continued. "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."

Leslie Odom Jr. in Hamilton
Disney+

He believed in his stance so much that he was willing to prove it when it came down to the final days. Odom went on to win the 2016 Tony Award for best actor in a musical for playing Burr in Hamilton.

"The day before we shot that movie I called out. I was not kidding," Odom recalled. "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.’"

Joan Marcus

While it's unclear what Odom was offered in the end, the actor did star in the movie alongside Miranda and the rest of the original cast.

The hit Broadway musical premiered in 2015 and went on to win 11 Tony Awards, all while turning into a cultural phenomenon. The filmed movie version of the musical was originally set to hit theaters in October 2021, but creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda and Disney surprised fans by making it available during the 4th of July weekend on Disney+ — and it paid off big time.

The movie was a smash hit and dominated the conversation over a difficult Independence Day weekend as Americans reckoned with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and the heightened conversations about racial justice and police brutality.