How Leslie Odom Jr. fought for fair pay for his ‘Hamilton Live’ movie performance

Leslie Odom Jr.’s performance in “Hamilton Live” as Vice President Aaron Burr almost didn’t happen.

Odom’s role in the popular musical “Hamilton” won him a Tony award. However, when it came to “Hamilton Live” for Disney+ audiences, the award-winning actor was still negotiating his salary up until the day before filming began, in order to ensure he was receiving equal pay in comparison to his white counterparts.

The 39-year-old actor candidly opened up about his experience in a recent podcast interview with Dax Shepard.

Odom recalled, “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. Right? And so I just can’t sell it away for magic beans. I can’t give it away,” he said.

“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.”

The day before the movie was shot, things got down to the wire.

Odom said, “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.'”

In the podcast interview, Odom continued to expound on his experience as a Black actor especially in the current political climate as Black Lives Matter demonstrations continue across the nation following the killing of George Floyd.

“Don’t be in the streets talking about Black Lives Matter, if my Black life doesn’t matter. Essentially, don’t wait for the [expletive] cops to kill me before my Black life matters. If my Black life matters make sure that I can take money home to feed my children,” Odom said.

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