Broadway legend Audra McDonald and “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom, Jr. are inspirational performers who dedicated themselves to the craft for many years before catapulting onto the theater scene. The Tony Award-winning talents shared insights and advice for actors in Interview magazine, as well as other publications. Here are some of the duo’s words of wisdom for performers:
Odom knew auditioning for the part of Aaron Burr in “Hamilton” was an opportunity of a lifetime. And so, he fought hard for the role, even though he was relatively unknown as a Broadway actor at the time. He did readings and workshops for about 18 months before being invited to sign the contract to star in the hit production.
“I got to work my stuff out in the dark for so many years. Nobody was paying attention for so long, so I was in the woodshed,” Odom told McDonald. “I was still growing, still trying to figure out how to work more and how to find my way into better rooms. When I got presented with a masterpiece, which is what [Lin-Manuel Miranda] gave me, I felt like I knew what to do with it, which was damn near nothing. You and I both know, you have to do so little. I trusted the material more than anything.”
Keep preparing so you’re ready when opportunity knocks.
Although the “One Night in Miami” actor fought long and hard to portray Burr, he believes that landing the complex role was partly attributed to luck. “It’s such a hard thing to tell people because you don’t want the advice to be, ‘I got lucky, you should too.’ You don’t want that to be the advice, but man, you really want to be prepared when that opportunity comes,” he shared.
McDonald is in a league of her own when it comes to talent and achievements. The 52-year-old star is the first person to earn a whopping six Tony Awards. The classical soprano told Odom, “When you start out in this business, it’s like, ‘Career, career, career, career.’ In some ways you feel very fertile, as far as what’s going on with your career. Even if you’re not successful, you’re fertile with your creativity.”
Odom and McDonald have also offered the following advice for actors over the years:
Be grateful for rejection.
Odom admitted to CBS News Sunday Morning, “I haven’t gotten hundreds of jobs that I’ve auditioned for.” But with all the rejection he endured, he gained valuable insights. “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.”
Don’t play it safe.
At Lincoln Center, McDonald advised actors to choose parts that scare them. She explained, “What attracts me is something that scares me. Something where I’m going to be challenged, something where I feel at the end of the experience, I’m going to know more than I did going into it. Evolution is very important to me as an artist.”
Take advantage of the opportunities that come your way.
The “Porgy and Bess” actress encouraged performers to work as frequently as possible. “Do it, and even just the nature of the people you’re working with, and the experience that you’re having [will] send out into the universe that you are accepting, and more will come.”
Whose opinions matter?
Regarding praise and critiques given to actors, McDonald has come to value only certain people’s opinions of her work. “Friends and family will tell you the truth. Even if the truth hurts, they’ll always tell you with love. Keep people whose opinions you trust around you, and anybody who kisses your butt on a daily basis, keep far away.”
Follow what you love.
“Follow what you love,” McDonald continues. “If you love [something], and it makes you feel like you’re flying or soaring, do it. Follow that. That is your soul telling you, ‘This is a yes.’ And the way that you see little kids when they’re three years old, they don’t know why they’re doing it, but they’re being moved by something. So follow that. Trust that instinct.”
See yourself as casting’s solution.
Regarding the audition-room jitters, McDonald advises performers to shift to an empowered mind frame. She suggests, “Go into the room being the solution to their problem. Instead of saying, ‘They’re going to judge me,’ say, ‘Hey guess what? I’m going to solve your problem for you. I know you’re looking for the right person, and apparently I am that right person.”’”
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