‘If my Black life matters, make sure I can take money home to feed my children’

Leslie Odom Jr. almost didn’t appear in the Disney+ Hamilton movie. (Tasos Katopodis/WireImage)

Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr.’s performance as Alexander Hamilton’s foe Aaron Burr in the original cast was so acclaimed that he won a Tony Award, and yet the actor almost didn’t appear in the movie at all.

As Odom explained on Monday’s episode of Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast, he was still in negotiations for his salary for the movie the day before it was set to begin shooting. He said that no one had contacted his agents when it was first announced the show would be filmed. When they did contact him, he found the proposed salary disappointing.

“They came to me with an offer, ‘Leslie, we’re shooting tomorrow,’” Odom said, “and 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.”

What he wanted was the same pay that a white colleague would make in his position.

“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 said. “So when I found out what he made, Dax, 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.’”

And he was very serious about that.

“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.’”

Of course, Odom ended up playing the role he made famous in the smash hit. The weekend it debuted alone, downloads of the Disney+ app were up 74 percent over its previous weekends.

The actor, whose many upcoming projects include the Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark, and a time travel movie reuniting him with Harriet co-star Cynthia Erivo, noted that pay equity on any job is vital to the fight for racial justice.

“I love my white liberal friends, love white people, but, you know, don’t be in the streets talking about Black Lives Matter if my Black life doesn’t matter,” Odom said. “Like, essentially, don’t wait for the f***ing cops to kill me before my Black life matters. If my Black life matters, make sure I can take money home to feed my children.”

Hamilton is currently available on Disney+.

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