“Hamilton” actors lend their voices to ESPN’s annual Upfront presentation


NEW YORK – Tony Award-nominated actors Leslie Odom, Jr. and Daveed Diggs from Broadway’s “Hamilton” opened ESPN’s annual Upfront show to advertisers on Tuesday morning in the Minskoff Theatre.

ESPN approached the performers – Odom portrays Vice President Aaron Burr and Diggs is Revolutionary War soldier Marquis de Lafayette and President Thomas Jefferson in “Hamilton” – and asked them to compose an original piece focused on sports to create a live, unforgettable moment for those in attendance.

That performance can be seen above. The actors took time to sit down with Front Row during rehearsals to talk about the piece, the power of live and what it feels like to be part of a team.

What ESPN has already shown the world and what ‘Hamilton’ has done is to show that we are better for inclusion. We’re smarter, we have more fun, we’re just better for including each other.
– Leslie Odom

Are you familiar with television Upfronts? What did you think when you were approached for this project?
Leslie Odom: I’ve done TV for a decade so I’ve done my share of Upfronts and I even performed at one, as part of NBC’s “Smash.” But this was exciting – Daveed and I have collaborated quite a bit but this was the first time we were going to sit down to write something together. It’s a big deal and it’s quite a show, and we take it very seriously.

If the Marquis de Lafayette [played by Diggs], Thomas Jefferson [Diggs] and Aaron Burr [Odom] were athletes, what sport would they play?
DD: I feel like Jefferson would for sure just be an owner. My Jefferson is not trying to run for nobody – but he is for sure he wants all the best athletes on his team. He’s [Dallas Mavericks team owner] Mark Cuban.

LO: Burr was a soldier so I feel like he would have been one of those early football players with no pads. And one of those who was fast and compact and small – I think Burr would have been a really good football player.

And Lafayette?
DD: He’s such a team player but he’s also so graceful. My problem with playing him is that he’s so much more graceful than I am. . . so I want to say gymnast or something but – maybe a cheerleader? Maybe glee team? Something atypically masculine but he’d be so passionate and focused on it that it doesn’t faze him at all – he’s going to be the best at it.

Daveed Diggs: I didn’t know what Upfronts were and I still don’t. I mean, people keep explaining it to me but I feel like until I’m there, I don’t really know. I am acutely aware of their importance and it feels like you’ve entrusted us – and we don’t take it lightly. And, basically if I’m asked to do something with Leslie I’m going to say yes. I love working with this guy.

Are you sports fans?
LO: I’ve never really had a team that I’ve been ‘live or die’ for. Sitting courtside at a basketball game – there’s not many things on earth I like more than that. They’re gladiators and there’s a showmanship to it. There’s a performance aspect as well, which I have a kinship with and understand – but I’ve never had a team until ‘Hamilton.’ This is my first team.

DD: I’m a [Golden State] Warriors fan for sure, so it’s going really well for us right now. And I’ve always been a Raiders a 49ers fan. I’m from Oakland and the 49ers won the Super Bowl literally as I was born in 1982. So I’ve always been pretty ‘ride or die’ for them.

I also grew up running track – that was some of the gladiatorship I got into because I appreciated it both from a technical standpoint as well as the showmanship. It’s all about what this one person can push themselves to do in this moment. It’s a lot like theater – you have to do it again every single time. And it doesn’t matter if you’re the fastest person in the world — you could lose today and what separates you from the other guy is basically just a breath.

The diversity of “Hamilton” has received so much attention and we at ESPN are focused on diversity because we want to reflect our audience. What can we take away from “Hamilton” in that regard?

What ESPN does – and this is a ‘Hamilton’ thing, too – is that you have to come as yourself.
– Daveed Diggs

LO: I remember growing up when it was so rare to see women have any association with sports. It’s so different now, which is beautiful and right. What ESPN has already shown the world and what ‘Hamilton’ has done is to show that we are better for inclusion. We’re smarter, we have more fun, we’re just better for including each other.

DD: What ESPN does – and this is a ‘Hamilton’ thing, too – is that you have to come as yourself. So there’s not just this one way that a sports fan looks. You guys have nerds all over the place and people who are quirky and specific in the way that they love sports. And you throw them all together with professional players – it’s the diversity of experience that I think is really crucial and you’re doing a great job of that.

(L-R) "Hamilton's" Daveed Diggs; ESPN's John Skipper; Disney's Bob Iger; ESPN's Ed Erhardt and "Hamilton's" Leslie Odom, Jr. backstage at the 2016 ESPN Upfront. (Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)
(L-R) “Hamilton’s” Daveed Diggs; ESPN’s John Skipper; Disney’s Bob Iger; ESPN’s Ed Erhardt and “Hamilton’s” Leslie Odom, Jr. backstage at the 2016 ESPN Upfront. (Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)

  • JennyJenJen

    This was terrific! I can’t believe they had time to compose an original piece on top of the 8 performances a week, constant media interviews, and Tony stuff! BRAVO.