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The filmed version of the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical Hamilton swooped in at just the right time to save us all from pandemic-caused hysteria and boredom. But the movie, available to stream on Disney+, almost didn’t have a key member of the original cast. Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Hamilton’s main rival, Aaron Burr, almost walked from the adaptation due to pay disparity.
Odom Jr. starred as Burr in the original 2015 stageplay, and day-one fans probably can’t imagine anyone else playing opposite of Miranda’s Hamilton. But, as Odom Jr. explained to Dax Shepard in the August 3rd episode of Shepard’s Armchair Expert Podcast, his participation in the film was dependent on salary parity.
“They came to me with an offer and you know, ‘Leslie, we’re shooting tomorrow.’ 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,” Odom Jr. said.
Hinting at a possible pay disparity, Odom Jr. said he pulled out of shooting the movie the day before filming started.
“I was not kidding,” he said. “I was not coming to work the next day to do the movie...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 okay.’”
What he did next was something Aaron Burr would respect: His research.
“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? So when I found out what he made, I didn't ask for a penny more...but I said, 'You must pay me exactly what that white boy got to do Grease Live!’ That's the bottom line.”
Obviously, standing his ground worked. Odom Jr. reprised his role as Aaron Burr for the filmed adaptation and narrated Hamilton’s story as he did in the original musical. Let this be a lesson to not give away your shot at standing up for yourself and for what’s right.