The ‘One Night in Miami’ Cast on How They Prepared to Play Icons Onscreen

Video Source: Youtube

The following interview for Backstage’s on-camera series The Slate was compiled in part by Backstage readers just like you! Follow us on Twitter (@Backstage) and Instagram (@backstagecast) to stay in the loop on upcoming interviews and to submit your questions.

Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Eli Goree as Cassius Clay, Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke together give four of the year’s best performances in Amazon Studios’ acclaimed historical drama, “One Night in Miami.” From screenwriter Kemp Powers and Oscar-winning actor Regina King, who here makes her feature film directorial debut, the film examines race relations in an America that finds itself at a civil rights crossroads. Sitting with Backstage in a pre-recorded session, the four exemplary actors discuss building their performances of these iconic men and contemporary heroes, the resonance the film’s story has today, and the advice they’d offer other actors looking to marry their politics with their craft.

Shining a light on Malcolm X behind closed doors was Ben-Adir’s way in.
“The whole idea of seeing these men in private felt like a very, very interesting thing to explore, so I just sort of jumped on the ride and went with it. And I guess it was when Regina and I connected on really exploring Malcolm as a father and as a husband and really trying to tap into the vulnerability and the stakes of what was happening for him at that time. Yeah, Regina and I connected on that and it was just, you know, for all of us in our own ways, it’s a very short amount of time to prepare and get ready, and we just had to sort of get to work.”

For Odom Jr., telling an urgent and authentic story is what set him—and us—free.
“With these four men, we’re really seeing a snapshot and a representation of tenets of Black life in these United States. And the idea that we could see quite possibly a more truer representation of Black humanity, of our humanity, up on the screen, I absolutely wanted to be a part of that. If I may for a moment: The Bible says, ‘The truth will set you free. They will know the truth and the truth will make them free.’ And I know you feel it, too, I know everyone on this Zoom feels it, as a result of what we went through last year, we’re telling more truth to one another. We’ve been free all these years, right? Free. But we’re telling a deeper truth about who we are to one another... We are freer because of that deeper truth. What Kemp wanted to do, what Regina wanted to do, was to tell a deeper truth about these men than has been told, than even these men, on some level, would’ve allowed.”

LISTEN: Aldis Hodge Joins “In the Envelope: The
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Hodge was interested in examining Black success in a white-dominant culture.
“I think with Jim Brown, a lot of people are aware of his accomplishments in sports and film, I don’t think they understand the nucleus of the driving force behind his accomplishments, what he went through as a person. There’s a detrimental trend or perspective that happens in this industry where when you reach a certain peak of success, people seem to allow that success to eclipse your standings as a human being. As Black men, we reach a certain peak of success, people think we are absolved of the issues that we face as Black men in the world. ‘You’re rich, you’re famous, you’re fine!’ It’s like, no: We never get to outrun someone’s hatred or someone’s ill-perceived notions of who and what we are and how they get to treat us. So when you see Jim Brown and you think about the success that he has as a football player, you forget the fact that he’s still fighting racism within that. He left the world of football to go to film to control his narrative because of issues within the football world that he was dealing with as a consequence of racism and being devalued. He understood his value.” 

Likewise, Goree played Clay by finding what drove him and where he came from beyond his accomplishments in the boxing ring.
“You have to kind of start at where this person comes from at the roots. I think that’s where it started for me. I had a really great dialect coach who kind of helped me to understand how even just the way someone speaks is affected by where they come from. So if you’re from the south in the ’40s as a Black man, how you speak and how you choose to use your words and the times you choose to be silent and the times you choose to be loud is all very calculated because they’re all life or death decisions. So that was something that I kept in mind when I was being Cassius and when I was choosing to be pensive, when I had to learn the drawl and I had to learn the southern accent, all those things went into that. And then when I added on the rhythmic speech and the rhythms of the culture, the rhythms of the music that he was growing up listening to at the time, the rhythms of the movements that were happening socially, all those things kind of incorporate into how a person ends up expressing themselves.”

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