In “One Night in Miami,” stars Kinglsey Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom, Jr. had some big shoes to fill.
“Whoever was going to be the first or one of the first people to take on that mantle, to take on that legend, it was a large responsibility,” Odom said of playing legendary musician Sam Cooke.
The actors and Regina King took to the Variety Streaming Room to discuss with film awards editor Clayton Davis what it was like to create a film that encapsulated the humanity and greatness of Cooke, Malcolm X, Cassius Clay and Jim Brown.
“The pressure to honor the story of someone you depict and someone who’s real, that pressure remains, whether they’re here or not because you still want to really just celebrate their legacy and make sure that the audience knows that you came at it with a great degree of respect,” Hodge said, who played Brown, the only person of the group still alive.
With such legacies, role preparation required lots of research. Odom noted consuming every interview, documentary and book possible about Cooke. Still, it was an overall group effort.
“You got to see your character from someone else’s perspective and from someone else’s eyes,” Goree said. “I learned a lot more about Cassius just by how like I’d have conversations with Kingsley about things that he had said he noticed when he was studying Malcolm about their relationship.”
“One Night in Miami” did not just rest on the eminence of these men. As mentioned by the cast, King’s leadership ensured a successful story translation to screen. Ben-Adir was even quick to commit to the idea of a Broadway run of “One Night in Miami,” so long as King directed.
Goree recalled working through a scene in his audition in which Cassius breaks down to Sam why the four men have to be there for one another— that no one else understands what it’s like to be young, Black, righteous, famous and unapologetic.
“I was just trying to do all this actor’s stuff, trying to talk loud and like, ‘It’s Black power,’” Goree explained. “Regina was in her graceful way that she always does. She was just like, ‘You don’t need to do any of that. All you just need to do is just understand that this is your brother and understand the moment and just say the words, and it’s there. It’ll be there. It’ll be special.’”
The film is based on Kemp Powers’ play, which reimagines a historic night in February 1964. The four men celebrate Clay’s victory over Sonny Liston, just as he’s on the precipice of becoming known as Muhammad Ali.
“I wanted to be a part of a story that just represented the men that I love and know so well, through the voices of men that I love and know so well,” King said. “At the end of the day, they’re men; they’re brothers, they have emotions and fears and concerns like any other Black man without those titles. And we get to see them have a very private conversation publicly.”