Meet & Greet: Newest ‘SMASH’ Star Leslie Odom Jr. Talks the ‘Astonishing’ Katherine McPhee
Leslie Odom Jr. might not be a household name yet but in a few weeks he’ll be lighting up your radar. Leslie is set to play Ivy Lynn’s (Megan Hilty) best friend Sam Strickland on NBC’s most anticipated show SMASH. The show follows the inner workings of an ambitious Broadway musical that’s based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, and also stars American Idol alum Katherine McPhee.
In addition to SMASH, he also stars in Red Tails with Cuba Gooding Jr., and is set to guest star on the HBO show House of Lies. With all the projects he’s got going, we had to interview this breakout star.
How did you get the role on SMASH?
The role on SMASH came to me really as the culmination of almost 15 years in the game. I mean that. I’ve known Bernard Telsey, the casting director for the show, since I was 16 years old when I showed up at an open call for Rent in Philadelphia. He gave me my first professional gig in that show just a few months later. I had been in meetings with Craig and Neil, our executive producers, for the better part of two years by the time SMASH came around. … And Megan Hilty and I were a year apart at university! It was one of those things. I still had to work hard to get the part, don’t get me wrong. It was just nice to know that I had so many people pulling for me.
The show is about what goes into producing a Broadway show which means lots of singing and dancing. Do you have any musical aspirations?
I come from the theater. It’s where I received all of my formal training. I’d love to do more of it. There are some really wonderful opportunities on the horizon. But, yes, there is nothing quite like live theater. It is my favorite of all the disciplines. And I am convinced there is no better life for an actor than to be a working actor in the theater. You get back in direct proportion to what you put in on stage.
American Idol finalist Katharine McPhee stars in SMASH, did you vote for her when she was on the show?
Ha! You know what, I watched. I didn’t vote but I watched. The only AI finalist that ever made me feel like I had to pick up my phone and text or call or whatever was Fantastia. I had never seen anything like that on such a mainstream show. But McPhee’s work on SMASH is astonishing. I think everyone on that set is a little bit in love with her. I think America’s going to fall in love with her … again. She’s really wonderful.
What’s the craziest audition you’ve been on?
Wow! … um … starting out … before you establish yourself there are many many “crazy” ones. People will disrespect you and your work. Sometimes they’re rude. Dismissive. Brutal. Mean. It’s not for the faint of heart. And even “strong” or determined folks get beat down from time to time. Talented people get tired too. You just have to persevere. I am just so grateful that that stage is over. I hope! I hope it’s over. No more crazy auditions.
Since you’ve done a lot of television roles, is there a show that you’d like to guest star on?
I’d love to be on Mad Men. I’d love to work with [Dustin] Hoffman on Luck. Who wouldn’t? What I really hope is that I get to come back on some shows that I’ve already done. The character that I played on Supernatural was a blast! I hope they bring him back, and House of Lies was amazing. They just got renewed for a second season so I hope they bring my character back for the second season. Some really fun stuff with [Don] Cheadle.
You’ve worked with amazing actors like Don Cheadle and Cuba Gooding Jr., what’s the best advice they’ve given you about the business?
Cheadle told me to work on my own stuff. He told me to always have my own projects that I am working on. CGJ was all about having fun. He told me to just keep having fun.
What actor and or director would you like to work with?
Seriously who wouldn’t I like to work with? I’m still so new to the game you know? It’s taken a decade just to be in consideration for some of the things that I’d like to do. Doesn’t mean that I’ll always get the things I’m interested in, it just means now I can probably get an audition for some of those things. I’d love to work with the greats. … Brilliant people make you better. They challenge you in the work. I’ve gotten to experience that in the business already. I’ll take more of that.
We heard you got engaged via Twitter! How did you pop the question and who’s the lucky girl?
Ah. My fiancé’s name is Nicolette Robinson. She’s also an actress. She’s the kindest, gentlest, warmest, most beautiful human being that I’ve ever known. It was very intimate and private. I planned it that way. It’s an amazing time right now to say the least. I’m enjoying every second.
What’s next for you?
Well the last Sunday and Monday in February are the next times you can catch me on your TV. My character on House of Lies is introduced on episode No. 8, and on SMASH, I will be introduced on episode No. 4. I’ll be on every week after that!
Are you watching SMASH? Let us know in the comments below.