Variety's Virtual TIFF Studio
Actors Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr. take on a major challenge in "One Night in Miami" playing real-life legends Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke…
Actors Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr. take on a major challenge in “One Night in Miami” playing real-life legends Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke, respectively.
Hodge was the first actor to sign on for the historical drama directed by Regina King, while Ben-Adir and Goree had previously battled for the chance to portray Clay in a biopic set to be directed by Ang Lee. Ben-Adir won the role before the project fell apart.
“I just simply got too old,” Ben-Adir jokes, explaining the switch up when the cast joined Variety’s Virtual Studio at the Toronto International Film Festival.
From Goree’s perspective, he’d always hoped the opportunity to play Clay would return, so he jumped at the opportunity to audition for King.
“When this came around, it was a perfect fit,” Goree recalls. “It was just such a wonderful story and then it all kind of came full circle when I found out that Kingsley had been Cassius in the other film that hadn’t happened was just one of those odd things.”
And though Will Smith and Denzel Washington have already earned Oscar nominations for their portrayals of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X respectively, Goree and Ben-Adir were not intimidated by the prospect of taking on the roles.
“You read this script, and you just go ‘This is Malcolm in a whole new light, this is an opportunity to investigate him on a particular matter,’” Ben-Adir explains. “And Dick [Gregory, comedian activist and close friend of Malcolm X] also described him and said, in private, he was a sweet and bashful man. And I thought, ‘Damn, that’s a Malcolm X that we haven’t seen before.’ The images that are projected onto us of him…were always him reacting to the most atrocious incidents of racism.”
He continues: “There’s a pressure, but it’s a pressure to just make sure you’re putting everything you’ve got into it, rather than like who did it before or wherever.”
Tony Award-winner Odom Jr. had previously been offered the role of Sam Cooke in productions of the play, but the timing never worked out. And when the film came his way, the “Hamilton” star initially turned it down.
“I wasn’t too inclined to step into the shoes of Sam Cooke,” Odom Jr. admits, sharing that he also turned down the opportunity to play Sammy Davis Jr. in another film. But after his team asked him to reconsider the Cooke role, Odom Jr. saw the project in a new light.
“I saw what brother Kemp was doing with these four gentlemen on this actual night, that this imagined interaction with them was that he was having a private conversation publicly,” he says. “There were some things that we could say in this room that we don’t share. You know, we don’t have these conversations publicly. And there’s something exciting about that.”
Hodge signed on for similar reasons, explaining, “The conversation that these men are having throughout this entire film, speaks to everything that we’re dealing with now. So, we can put that conversation on a grand stage and help to either teach people what it is [Black people are] going through and also teach us how to have that conversation within our own circles, so that we can keep moving forward towards real progress.”