Tony Award-Winner Leslie Odom Jr. on Auditions and Broadway Casting Director Bernie Telsey
“There’s something about the fighting for it, I think, that’s healthy. You gotta prove yourself. I’m not above that. I will never be above that. Bring it!” – Leslie Odom Jr. on Auditioning
Okay, so how did Tony Award-winner Leslie Odom Jr. get cast in Broadway’s Hamilton? He was relatively unknown as a Broadway actor, and he was cast in a lead role in the hottest show in decades. It was certainly not an overnight success for Odom — in fact, his star turn in Hamilton happened after years of mostly failed auditions. He spoke to CBS Sunday Morning about the casting process for Broadway, and why he’ll always look forward to auditioning.
Odom says that there is one aspect of auditioning that he will always appreciate: the competition. He says, “There’s something about the fighting for it, I think, that’s healthy. You gotta prove yourself. I’m not above that. I will never be above that. Bring it!”
One of the goals of an audition that actors are going for is making an impression on the casting director in order to establish a relationship. Odom continues, “What a casting director does is they’re a connector. I mean, they can be a lifeline, especially if they champion you, which Bernie has done for me for 20 years!”
Broadway regulars will know “Bernie” as Bernie Telsey, who is responsible for casting a significant amount of Broadway shows per season. Telsey’s company has cast nine shows currently running on Broadway: Paramour, Fiddler on the Roof, On Your Feet!, The King and I, Finding Neverland, Kinky Boots, Wicked, Waitress and, of course, Hamilton.
According to Telsey, his job is to narrow down possible actors for a role in order to save the creative team time. He explains, “We need to find out who the best people are to show the creative team, because they don’t have the time to see every single actor that exists.” Later, Telsey adds, “Some people ask, ‘How do you sit through hundreds and hundreds of people when most of them are not right?’ Because you know what? One might be.”
Despite being on first-name basis with Telsey, Odom admits that it doesn’t mean he have an inside connection on roles. He confesses, “I haven’t gotten hundreds of jobs that I’ve auditioned for.” However, he believes that rejection can also be valuable. “It gets you better at auditioning, and you gotta get good at auditioning. So every single one of them has gotten me to this moment. I’m grateful for all of it now, because it makes you stronger.”