“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” star Leslie Odom Jr. was a fan of Rian Johnson’s whodunit series long before it became a series and he was cast in its latest entry. But that didn’t stop the Emmy- and Tony-winning performer from pitching some ideas to Johnson when he nabbed a spot in the starry sequel.
“I didn’t want to overstep or bombard Rian with silly ideas of my own, but I did want to bring some thoughts to the table about what I might be able to bring to Lionel that could be worthy of holding the frame,” he told IndieWire during a recent interview. “That’s one of the things that I loved so much about the first film, that I could feel his respect for his cast, I could feel his respect for the people he assembled. Whenever possible, he would hold as many of them in the frame as he could. He wanted to tell as many of those stories simultaneously as possible, so you’ve got this really layered experience as an audience member.”
Odom’s affection for “Knives Out” was clear from the jump — he remembers taking his wife Nicolette on a date night to see the first film early in its run, and the two were instantly smitten. “I just loved it,” Odom said. “It was one of those films that, every fifth person you talked to is like, ‘Have you seen this film?’ We watched it again with our families, streamed it again at home. It’s the kind of movie that I thought to myself, ‘Man, I hope that one day a spot could be made for me in an ensemble like that.’ It looked like so much fun.”
Even after he got the script for “Glass Onion,” Odom was intent on “earning that spot.” That spot? As Lionel Toussaint, a genius scientist stuck working for the (allegedly) brilliant businessman Miles Bron (Edward Norton). When Miles invites his closest pals, those he’s termed “The Disruptors” — including Odom’s Lionel, plus characters played by Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, and Dave Bautista — to his private island to indulge in a murder mystery game, he’s shocked when actual detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) show up, too. Perhaps there will be a real murder to solve?
As we soon learn, Lionel and his pals have some (understandable) beef with the big-talking Miles. For Lionel, a lot of that annoyance goes into his tangled relationship with Miles, who is both his friend and his boss. As we learn in the film’s opening moments, Lionel is often tasked with bringing to life Miles’ craziest ideas (which he loves to send to Lionel via fax, all vague directives like “CHILDREN = NFTS”).
Courtesy of Netflix © 2022
“Part of the tension of him at the top of this film is because he is so close to achieving something that would honor his years of study and the things that he cares about most, but he is aligned with someone that is duplicitous and that is manipulative and very wealthy and someone who pulls the strings,” Odom said. “A lot of us find ourselves in that situation in the real world. There’s a lot of tension in the relationship dynamics at the top of this movie.”
For Odom, that involved digging deep into Lionel’s psyche and experience in the world, all the better to add even more dramatic dimension to a fun and frisky film.
“I wanted to hopefully inspire something in Rian, maybe make him see something in Lionel that he hadn’t thought of. Certainly, I wanted to be a part of delivering an experience to an audience that felt as rich as the experience I had when I saw the first one,” he said. “I wanted to think outside the box about, what does it mean when the scientist looks like me?”
Odom said he looked for “real-world examples of Black rockstar STEM talent” to inspire his portrayal of Lionel. “I wanted to see who’s out there, who’s radical in STEM. Are there people out there that are doing it differently? I found some of those people. They’re there,” the actor said. “I just thought of Lionel in that way. I thought of him being in his profession, and if he’s not in the top 50, he’s number 51, and it pisses him off that he’s not the top 50.”
Lionel might not be too happy, but Odom? He’s delighted by the outcome.
“Man, I am just so happy that I was able to elbow my way into this ensemble, because I learned so much and I just had the time of my life making it,” Odom said. “If you get invited to a Rian Johnson party, I highly recommend joining it.”
Netflix will release “Glass Onions: A Knives Out Mystery” in select theaters on Thursday, November 23. The film will start streaming on Netflix on Friday, December 23.