'Hamilton' Star Leslie Odom Jr. and Wife Nicolette Robinson on the Important Lessons They Pass on to Their Children
Four weeks after their second child, Able Phineas, was born in March, Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson got all dressed up to go on a date—to this year's Oscars. Able tagged along. It's not that there was no one to look after him—he and his big sister, Lucille, 4, have two sets of grandparents living within a five-block radius. The hitch was that Robinson was breastfeeding. Skipping the awards was not an option, as Odom had made history as the first male performer to be nominated for both best supporting actor and best original song for One Night in Miami—in which the real-life couple play husband and wife. So what to do about Able?
The Broadway-famous pair—Odom originated the role of Aaron Burr in Broadway's Hamilton, and Robinson was the first Black woman to play the lead, Jenna, in the musical Waitress—enlisted the help of Amazon, the studio that released the movie, and the awards-show organizers. Robinson's mother and Able were put up at a hotel 10 minutes away from the ceremony, and a Sprinter van shuttled Robinson between the Oscars and the hotel. "I'd pop out, hang my dress in the van, and nurse him," Robinson says, laughing, "and then go back to the Oscars." She did this twice, which meant that date night was also family night, and definitely a night to remember.
What was it like to play a couple in One Night in Miami?
Robinson: We've done music together. We help each other with auditions. But this was the first time that somebody hired us to play opposite each other onscreen. It just felt really easy.
Odom: We got to lean into the comfort of our 13-year partnership. But the characters—based on real people, singer Sam Cooke and his second wife, Barbara—in the movie, they're 20 years in. They met in grade school and are at a contentious time in their marriage. They've lost a child and there's been infidelity. Those parts you imagine as much as you can let yourself.
Your daughter, Lucille, goes to pre-K this fall. What are your hopes for her with school?
Robinson: We're really excited about the social aspect of it for her. When she spends time with other kids, there's just such a huge leap in her development.
Odom: She's our first kid, so we're going to learn a lot too. We're no experts!
What was school like for you two growing up?
Odom: It was a little bit of a drag. It was way more buttoned-up than Lucille's preschool is. I turned out okay, but I'll say I was very excited to relieve my kid of some of the pressures by choosing a place that is less about testing and grades.
Robinson: I loved school as a kid. I was a really well-behaved kid, so my parents didn't have much trouble with me, but school was competitive. The circle that I grew up in, it was very much about doing the best, being the best. That is something that I want to protect Lucille from, just to allow my kids to fail. I was so afraid of failure growing up.
What do you bring to parenting from your childhoods?
Odom: Before I became a parent, I thought, "I'd better start making a list of all the things that I want to teach them." How do you remember all of the things that you want to teach your kids? [Now] I think you're lucky if your kids remember three to five things that you say. I think you need to pick the three to five things that are most important to you and find a 100,000 ways to say those three to five things.
What are those things?
Odom: I know one right now. I really want my kids to know how to be in a relationship. If you know how to make a friend, you can build your whole life on that. You can build your whole life on your support network, and that will cover you in places where you may fall short. That extends to partnerships and to intimate relationships.
Robinson: Also, how to set boundaries. How to say no. How to stand up for yourself. One of our favorite stories came from my mom, who saw it happen on grandparents' day in Lucille's preschool. Lucille and her best friend were playing in the sandbox, and there was this other little girl who was bullying them, trying to kick them out. My mom said Lucille told her, "Don't talk to us like that." It reminded us that we have a tough cookie.
How did the experience of being home during the pandemic change you?
Odom: I am more cautious than I like to be, moving through the world.
Robinson: Usually, Les travels for half the year. So being able to have family time has been such a blessing. On the other hand, when you have a newborn, you're already conscious of germs. So I've had to manage my anxiety.
How do you hope things might change for the better?
Odom: We used to always talk about how we wanted to be more intentional with our time, but it was really hard to do. Things would get scheduled, and suddenly family time got gobbled up. Then quarantine wiped everything clean. So now at least we can say, OK, let's be mindful about how we come back.
Robinson: It's become a lot more clear how important friends and family are. As we move forward, we'll look at work in a different way. We'll choose the things that feel worth it. Also, the world, our country, and our entertainment community experienced a lot of loss to COVID-19, so that's made us keenly aware of how precious time is.
Odom: I just have never been home this much. Even as a struggling actor, I was out and about. A lot of dads have the idea that we go out and we acquire things to bring back. To spend a year losing my footing a bit and having to find a new way to be of service to my family was really valuable. I was making my daughter breakfast or the family dinner. Those are things that will stay with me.
How would you say music and theater and parenting intersect for you?
Robinson: My mom was a choreographer, and I grew up sitting against the mirrors, watching her rehearsals. It shaped my childhood in such a strong way. I developed such an appreciation and a love for the arts. Music and performance are a way to connect to other people.
Odom: You know what it's like when there's a VIP in the audience, whether it's a teacher or a mentor who is very important or your parents or your grandparents? There's a certain kind of shine that does something to you. It makes you rise to an occasion. You want to show them the best of yourself. I've got two VIPs. Even if they're not at the show or on the set of the film or in the studio when I'm recording, I'm making work with them in mind. I'm making work that I imagine one day they may discover. What do I want them to know about their dad when they discover it?
What You Need to Know About Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson's Family
How we teach kindness
Odom: We do our best to model it. If we treat our kids respectfully, big human to little human, we can ask the same of them.
Fave children's book
Odom: The Book With No Pictures, by B. J. Novak.
Robinson: The Rabbit Listened, by Cori Doerrfeld.
Tunes we listen to at home
Robinson: If Lucille had anything to do with it, we'd listen to the Trolls sound track at top volume ten to 15 hours a day.
Odom: Emily King is an artist we can all agree on.
Songs we all sing together
Robinson: "You Are My Sunshine."
Best part of the day
Robinson: That's what I was going to say!
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's September 2021 issue as "Laying a Strong Foundation" Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here