Since leaving the cast of Hamilton in July 2016, Leslie Odom Jr. has done pretty much everything except… slow down.
He’s starred in multiple films, including his latest, Harriet (about the life of Harriet Tubman opposite Cynthia Erivo), recorded two albums, including his latest, Mr., guested on several TV shows, including The Good Wife, and became a dad to daughter Lucy, 2, with wife Nicolette Robinson.
Part of his success, he tells PEOPLE, is always being ready for that moment, the call that can change your life. For him, it came from Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton.
“I knew that it was the freshest, most literate, most exciting piece of original material I’d ever been given,” Odom Jr., 38, says. “I was ready for what he was potentially asking me to be a part of.”
The first time he heard the score, he recalls: “It is what falling in love feels like. Twenty-five seconds into it, I was in the tank for it and I never in a million years thought I would be in the show.”
When he got the chance to audition for the role of Aaron Burr, he says, “I wanted to do something memorable. I wanted it to be difficult for them to call somebody else. It’s my job to go in here and make Lin never want to see another Aaron Burr.”
The rest is Broadway history. Odom Jr.’s portrayal of Burr, for over 500 performances, won him a Tony in 2016 and a Grammy (for Best Musical Theater Album) and launched his wide-ranging career.
“If I’m known at all as a singer, it’s primarily as an interpreter of other people’s music, on Broadway or Nationwide jingles,” says Odom who appeared in the 2016 Nationwide commercial. “So it was a little scary to step out on faith. But my wildest dreams came true a while ago and so now I’m trying to think of the next scary thing to do. What else do you do, right?”
For starters, he recently joined the board of the Princess Grace Foundation USA. The group, which grants scholarships to emerging artists, helped him pay his college tuition back when he was a struggling student at Carnegie Mellon University.
Now he’s paying it forward by helping the foundation support young performers and raise money by giving occasional private concerts. At a recent concert, held at the home of PGF-USA supporters Roy and Jenny Niederhoffer, Odom joked with the guests, “I just want to make a good return on their investment.”
He also told a story about when his wife, Nicolette Robinson, singer and Broadway star of Waitress, applied (and received) a Princess Grace Foundation grant when she was a student at the University of California, Los Angeles .
They heard the news when they were on a trip to Palm Springs, California. “A 212 number came up,” Odom told the guests. “And I said only good things come from 212. ‘Answer all 212 numbers! Are you crazy? That could be Broadway calling!’ And we called back and it was Princess Grace Foundation with good news.”
In the new year, Odom will be on the big screen again in the Sopranos movie, The Many Saints of Newark, out in September 2020. (The film is about a young Tony Soprano played by James Gandolfini’s son, Michael, 20.) But he’s not allowed to say too much about it — yet. “I can’t talk about it but I have a great part,” he says with a smile. “They’re super protective of that franchise.”
Between screen, stage and song, Odom has a big year ahead.
One of his biggest fans is Princess Grace’s nephew Chris Le Vine. “His voice is spectacular and he makes everyone in the room feel good,” says Le Vine, who’s also on the board of PGF-USA. “He just keeps getting better and we’ve been cheering him from the sidelines for a long time. One day, he’ll sell out Madison Square Garden.”