How Hamilton's Leslie Odom, Jr. Took His Shot With Nicolette Robinson

Showmance   How Hamilton's Leslie Odom, Jr. Took His Shot With Nicolette Robinson
To hear Billy Porter tell it, as he did at their wedding, the romance between Leslie Odom, Jr. and Nicolette Robinson was all his doing.
Leslie Odom, Jr. and Nicolette Robinson
Leslie Odom, Jr. and Nicolette Robinson

In 2008 Porter directed a production of Once on This Island in L.A. and Odom was his assistant director. It’s true that Porter cast Robinson, but the Tony winner can hardly take credit for the “friendly” pecks backstage and shared naps on the Equity cot.

Nicolette Robinson and Leslie Odom, Jr.
Nicolette Robinson and Leslie Odom, Jr.

Seven years later the two are hitting their stride — romantically and professionally. Odom has occupied the pages of Vanity Fair and the loveseat on Late Night with Seth Meyers to talk about his role-of-a-lifetime as America’s most infamous frenemy, Aaron Burr. His wife currently stars in the new Diane Paulus-directed Off-Broadway musical Invisible Thread and on the small screen as Jane in the award-winning Showtime series The Affair. Robinson and Odom open up about overcoming Odom’s fear of commitment, pushing past friendship, and why 2015 has been one big party.

You are a real power couple right now. You are both in such exciting new shows!
LO: It’s a dream come true, for sure.
NR: We’re equally as exhausted as we are very blessed and happy.

I bet! When do you get to see each other right now?
NR: After our shows. It takes us awhile to unwind at night. We usually go to bed around two in the morning; midnight to two is our time.
LO: Lately, because it’s the only time we get to talk to each other, we make sure the TV is off and we just catch up. There’s plenty of stuff — between special guests at my show or hearing about the changes that are happening over at Invisible Thread — to talk about in those two hours.
NR: I usually get home a little earlier than him because his show is longer, so I’ll probably just be getting out of the bath with Epsom salts by the time he gets home. Then we settle on the couch and try and catch up as much as we can before we can’t stay awake any longer.

Leslie Odom, Jr. and Nicolette Robinson in their first photo taken during <i>Once on This Island</i>
Leslie Odom, Jr. and Nicolette Robinson in their first photo taken during Once on This Island

That’s not a lot of time, but it sounds romantic.
LO: It’s totally sweet. There are no complaints. There are plenty of times we’ve been unemployed together as well — most of our relationship has been that. Actors spend a ton of time unemployed, so we try to just stay grateful and realize that this time is temporary.
NR: I’m sure we’ll look back on it one day and say remember the days when we were so exhausted and the nights when we would just stay up and hang until 2 AM. It’s definitely a new thing for us.

What’s it like when you’re both unemployed together? Do you have all day to just sort of hang out?
LO: You do still have to make sure that you carve out time for each other, because those days can get away from you, too. We almost always had breakfast together. Now we wake up at different times so we don’t usually do that. Then it’s free-form — this actor’s life. We try not to let those times go too long without some kind of independent project that we’re working on — whether I’m working on my music, or Nicolette is journaling or working on music.
NR: We go through phases, I think. We’re usually on a similar spiritual and life journey, where sometimes we just spend the days getting into TV shows. There was a time where we were literally working out in the mornings and then catching up on a whole season of Game of Thrones during the day. I think we finished two or three seasons in a week.
LO: You should have seen us; we were like drug addicts.

How did you originally meet?
LO: Do you want to tell the story?
NR: You tell it. I like your version better.
LO: Well, I was living in L.A. at the time, and Nicolette was in college at UCLA. There used to be a theatre company in L.A., which was kind of like the Encores! series here in New York, called Reprise Theatre Company. They were doing Once on This Island and Billy Porter was directing. I was his assistant director, so I got to sit in on the auditions, and this very lovely young girl came in to audition — this UCLA student — who I would have cast. That’s not blowing smoke. I just thought that she had an ineffable quality that is very rare and not really something you can teach. It was between her and another very talented actress, and Nicolette didn’t get cast.
In the middle of the rehearsal process, one of our cast members, Nita Whitaker, her husband, Don LaFontaine (who was a big voiceover artist in L.A. and a major legend in the scene) passed away. So Nita had to leave and Billy had to do some juggling within the cast. He moved roles around and he called that pretty black girl from the audition and had her step in. As his assistant it was my job to get her up to speed and make sure she was okay. We got very close very quickly, but normally those kinds of things — you call them showmances — end when the show ends, but ours never ended. We just had so much fun together.
NR: We were just really comfortable. We were very fast friends. We would take naps on the Equity cot. And we had our little thing backstage during “Waiting for Life.” We would always meet up in the same spot, and we would dance with each other. Every time we’d just get closer and closer...
LO: It was our little mating dance.
NR: Mating dance! [Laughs] I played Andrea, so my solo moment was later in the show, and whenever I would exit into the wings after my part, he would be waiting there for me and would give me a peck on the lips as I left the stage.

Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson
Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson Monica Simoes

That’s bold!
NR: It was never an obvious, “Oh, he’s into me.” I just loved and adored this person so much; it just felt like the most amazing friendship until we finished the show. That’s when we both were like, “Hmm is this more than a friendship?”

Did you ever have an official first date, or did you just keep hanging out?
NR: [Our first date] definitely became official, but we both went into it not knowing whether it was a date or not.
LO: It was what I needed as a commitment-phobe. Anything in an official capacity was going to make me nervous, but I could absolutely go hang out with a friend of mine and see what happened. In case we had a terrible time, we could have just said, “Oh, that wasn’t a date,” but it was very clear that it was more than friendship. So at the end of the first date I gave Nicolette a kiss, a real kiss, not a peck like in the show.
NR: I was still in college at the time and I was living with three other roommates, who were very close friends of mine. I went into the night telling them that I didn’t know if it was a date, and then he took me for a walk towards the end of the evening and that’s where he kissed me. I came upstairs to my roommates and I was like, “It was a date!”

What did Mr. Billy Porter have to say about this?
LO: Oh, he takes full credit.
NR: At our wedding he was like, “I made this happen.”

Andy Blankenbuehler, Leslie Odom Jr., Nicolette Robinson and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Andy Blankenbuehler, Leslie Odom Jr., Nicolette Robinson and Lin-Manuel Miranda Photo by Dianna Bush

Have you guys gotten to work together since you met in Once on This Island?
NR: We’ve done little things, like workshops, and we do a lot of music together.
LO: I did a couple of readings of Witness Uganda [the former title of Invisible Thread], but we haven’t done a full production together. I do a lot of cabaret stuff and concerts, and I beg my wife to sing with me all the time. Sometimes she obliges.
NR: Music stuff is definitely the most challenging when we’re working together because it’s more creative. It’s less, “You do your own thing and I do my own thing.” We have to come together on a creation, so that takes more patience with one another because we both have very different processes.
LO: She means patience with me. I don’t have a problem with patience with her.
NR: Well, because I’m the kind of person who needs to rehearse a lot and plan exactly what we’re doing and do what we plan. Les is just on the fly and like, “We’ll figure it out when we get there.” It drives me crazy.

What do you like to hear each other sing?
NR: There’s never a prouder moment than when I get to sit in the audience of Hamilton and he sings “Wait For It” for the first time. I can barely contain myself. It’s just a very out-of-body experience. I especially love watching the way the audience watches him. I remember on the opening night of Hamilton the audience went insane after [he sang], and I just burst into tears watching everybody respond to him. It was very special to see this man, who I have been with for so long, who has worked so hard for so many years, to see him get to this place where people can see him the way that I’ve always seen him.
LO: Okay, I want to answer my favorite song! They were doing a benefit performance for Roundabout of She Loves Me, the production that’s coming to Broadway this year, but Kelli O’Hara and Jane Krakowski both had commitments during the rehearsal process. They wanted to fully stage it for this one-night thing, so [casting director] Stephen Kopel called Nicolette to come in and be their understudy for those rehearsals that they had to miss. I remember the first time she sang, “Will He Like Me,” from that show. I would ask her to sing it for me all the time just because I wanted to hear it. She sounded so good on that. And obviously I’m like the biggest Invisible Thread groupie. I go every Sunday night after my matinee and I watch her bring the house down.

How did you celebrate your third wedding anniversary on Dec. 1?
LO: It’s really important to us that we live our lives every single day with a little bit of romance, and that we make it special whenever we can. It’s not like we go 364 days before we tell each other that we love each other or before we take ourselves out for a nice dinner. It’ll be wonderful to commemorate and watch our wedding video again and think about the day, but, this year especially has been like one long party, and it’s not over yet.

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