This past year has been a big one for Leslie Odom Jr. His performance as Aaron Burr was given a huge and glaring spotlight thanks to the release of the oringal Broadway cast’s work on Disney+'s Hamilton. Now, The singer and actor is a Golden Globe nominee following his portrayal of Sam Cooke in Regina King’s One Night In Miami. Amongst an all-star cast playing important figures in the Civil Rights Movement, Odom Jr. gets a huge third-act moment with a historical performance.
One Night in Miami closes out with Sam Cooke singing “A Change Is Gonna Come,” a notable change of tune for the artist and songwriter from his lighter, love songs like “You Send Me.” It’s the most powerful moment in the Amazon Prime Video film but, as Leslie Odom Jr recalled, it was a challenge to bring to screen. As he described it:
If you go and you search 'Basin Street Blues' on The Tonight Show, you can find it. If you search for 'A Change Is Gonna Come,' you can't find it. It doesn't exist. The tape has been destroyed. I thought for sure when I got the job I was like, 'That tape exists somewhere, and they're going to show me that tape. Somebody has that tape,' but nobody has the tape. So that set us free, of course, because on some level we knew that we're going to build this [scene] based on everything we know of him, but we can take a leap of the imagination because we don't have a reference.
As Leslie Odom Jr. told EW, he did not have a recording of the actual landmark performance to draw from before recreating the moment for One Night In Miami. There is footage of Sam Cooke debuting the tune right before “A Change Is Gonna Come” on February 7, 1964 on The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson hosted the show, but the song itself cannot be found anywhere.
It forced him and director Regina King to have a number of discussions about how Sam Cooke may have performed the song for the first time. As Odom Jr. expressed:
[Regina] wanted more emotion, she wanted more, and it was really important to me that the tear was in the song. I thought that the weeping would be in the music. I just couldn't imagine Sam on The Tonight Show crying his way through a song.
The final scene in One Night In Miami is certainly a heart-wrenching moment that the entire film builds up to, but Leslie Odom Jr. decided not to make it weepy in the performance. He said he had to compromise with King because he truly felt he would leave the emotion of the substance for the song itself.
“A Change Is Gonna Come” is a song Sam Cooke wrote from the heart, based on his own struggles as a black man during the ‘60s. It went on to become an important song to the Civil Rights Movement. It serves as a great culmination for One Night in Miami, which is based on the fictional account of one night when Malcolm X, Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali), Jim Brown and Sam Cooke were all together in Hampton House, Miami.
Leslie Odom Jr. is up for two Golden Globes on behalf of One Night In Miami, for Best Supporting Actor alongside Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Kaluuya, Jared Leto and Bill Murray and best Original Song for “Speak Now.” In addition, Hamilton is up for Best Picture in the musical/comedy category. Look out for Leslie Odom Jr. during the 78th Golden Globes airing on February 28.