'The Many Saints of Newark' Star Leslie Odom Jr. Reveals Personal Connection to His Empowering Role (Exclusive)

When the highly awaited Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark hits theaters on Friday and begins its 30-day stream on HBO Max, audiences will grow acquainted with one of the movie's newest, tough characters: Harold McBrayer, played by award-winning actor Leslie Odom Jr. While working as a runner for Richard "Dickie" Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) during the late 1960s and 1970s, Harold reaches a tipping point amid the 1967 Newark riots — a backdrop that plays a pivotal role in one of the movie's most central relationships.

But as Odom Jr.'s Harold pushes against the grain in a movie moment that is both awe-inspiring and powerful complemented perfectly through the Gil-Scott Heron track, "Your Soul and Mine," Odom Jr. tells PopCulture.com in an exclusive interview that bringing his character to life in the Sopranos world, where Black characters have not previously been prominent, had a lot to do with the series creator David Chase's faith in him.

"I was empowered by David Chase's confidence in me and Alan [Taylor, the director] too," Odom Jr. said. "Unlike our dear Michael [Gandolfini], I didn't have to compare myself or be in a relationship with any of the characters from the series because this was someone from the ground up."

Building a character from the ground up for Odom Jr. also meant looking at the impact his grandfather made for him growing up. "I thought a lot about my grandfather, and I was inspired by his story and David's brilliant writing to create Harold," he said. "Great writing is always empowering, and Harold's story mirrored my grandfather's story — not the crime part — but the immigrating from the south and the reasons why they decided to move their families. It mirrored. So, the chance to get him, some of my granddad, up on the screen was too good to pass up."

While talking to Rolling Stone, Odom Jr. touched on the lack of Black voices and characters on The Sopranos, which ran from 1999 to 2007 on HBO, admitting it's all about the "truth of the meaning" when it comes to the reflective reality of mob stories. "The thing about art is to show how people are acting in private, to show private moments publicly. While they may be hurtful or lacerating or surprising, that's the point of it," he said. "Anytime Scorsese does it, or David did it, I knew I was in the hands of someone thoughtful, someone who was showing me a truth. It was my choice if I would continue to look at this truth. I knew I could trust the creative; I've seen that throughout."

The Many Saints of Newark hits theaters on Oct. 1 and will also be available to stream for 30 days on HBO Max. For more on the movie and all your Sopranos news, keep it locked to PopCulture.com for the latest.