Leslie Odom Jr. Explains His Big Role in the New Sopranos Movie

The actor and father of two takes us through his journey from West Oak Lane to Hamilton to The Many Saints of Newark.

Many Saints of Newark co-star Leslie Odom Jr.

Many Saints of Newark co-star Leslie Odom Jr. (Getty Images)

My full name is … Leslie Lloyd Odom Jr. My grandmother came up to New York from the South and was a maid for a family in Brooklyn. One day, she was on the beach in New York and heard a mother call out to one of her children whose name was Leslie, so she named her son after this little boy. And I’m Leslie Jr.

Friends call me … Les.

I’m doing this interview from … Serbia, where I’m filming a sequel to Knives Out.

I was born in … Queens. Came to Philly in the early ’80s, grew up in West Oak Lane, and graduated from CAPA. Then I left to go to college at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.

The first concert I went to was … when Kelly Costello, who’d been a classmate of mine at Masterman, took me to see the Smashing Pumpkins, with Garbage opening up for them, in 1996, at the Spectrum.

I got my big break … when I joined the Broadway company of Rent. I was 17. I got a check every Thursday and it was the first time that I got a glimpse of what life might be like as a professional actor. I realized you don’t have to be a starving artist. That if you were lucky and had some talent and training, you could make good use of yourself and maybe even provide a life for yourself. And it wasn’t until I was 34 that I began my Hamilton journey.

My wife is always telling me … that I should get my shit together.

The last TV show I binged was … I May Destroy You, with Michaela Coel on HBO. It’s fucking fantastic. Michaela is a brilliant artist from across the Atlantic. The show is a unique and honest look at sex and sexuality.

My role in The Many Saints of Newark is … Harold, somebody who works for “the family” — somebody who makes his living in illegal ways, let’s say. There is no Harold in the Sopranos series. He’s an expansion on the lore.

One question I wish reporters would stop asking me is … for the synopsis of the projects that I do. The Many Saints of Newark is a David Chase story. You say the wrong thing, and David Chase will show up to your house with baseball bats. [Laughs]. I’m so proud to be a part of this film and the legacy of the series.

I discovered my love for acting … at Freedom Theatre, one of the oldest Black theaters around. They had a painful last decade or so, and it doesn’t really exist in the way it used to.

Being a Black actor … has definitely changed since I first came onto the scene. Shonda Rhimes. Donald Glover. Issa Rae. Black creative talent and Black content have risen in power.

My secret junk-food obsession is … those puffy cheese balls in the giant plastic tub. I can get to the bottom of that tub more quickly than I probably should.

The last time I was in Philly was … when I took my daughter Lucille to see my parents when she was two. It drives my wife crazy. A solo dad traveling with a cute little girl — man, they roll out the red carpet everywhere you go. Lucille was a star everywhere we went.

If you’re coming to my house for dinner, I’ll probably cook you … orange chicken. During the pandemic, we didn’t eat out for months, and I like to eat good food. It’s not my wife’s passion. So I learned to cook good food myself, and I make an amazing orange chicken.

I’m a collector of … sunglasses. Embarrassingly, I have more than Colman Domingo has. And I invariably break them.

One movie I can watch again and again is … The Godfather.

If I weren’t an actor, I would probably be … a DJ. A world-renowned DJ.

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be … everything. Doctor. Lawyer. Fireman. Policeman. Singer. Writer. Teacher. And I have to give my parents credit: They didn’t burst my bubble. They let me believe I could be all of those things, and on some level, I think I grew up to do just that.

A version of this interview was published as “One of Us: Leslie Odom Jr.” in the October 2021 issue of Philadelphia magazine.