With a stacked roster of talent including Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr., the film One Night In Miami tells the fictionalized story of a conversation between Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Cassius Clay and Sam Cooke in 1964. Regina King’s feature directorial debut has garnered critical support including three Golden Globe nominations for Best Director, Best Supporting Actor-Motion Picture (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Best Original Song (“Speak Now”).
The film depicts the humanity of four influential African American legends at the apex of their careers, while leaving some room for interpretation. Goree (Riverdale, Ballers), who plays Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali), says he flourished under King’s direction. “I learned a lot about acting in terms of just being present and trusting the material and not forcing moments, but allowing moments to happen when you have a great project and a great cast, and you can really rely on your director,” he says. Of Odom Jr., who plays singer Sam Cooke, Goree gushes: “Leslie is a unique, special talent. I look at him like a big brother and I learned so much from him, but there’s certain things I mean, that voice. He’s just gifted. He can’t teach that.”
Goree’s electric portrayal of Clay offers a look at the 22-year-old icon after having been crowned the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. “We’ve seen him at other points in his life and we’ve seen his story told in other ways, but this is a time that hasn’t really been explored,” says Goree.
Embodying the GOAT was no easy feat for Goree, from meeting the physical demands to capturing his emotional mindset. “Hopefully I got to a point where I emulated his overall ability and the impression of him, but really, nobody can duplicate who Ali was in that ring. He’s phenomenal.”
Goree admits that although there are a lot of differences between him and his character, there was one idea that he connected with in a very significant way. “Clay was a quintessential extrovert and I am more of an introvert but I’d say the biggest correlation between our lives was our faith. I’m a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian and he’s a Muslim and I just felt like I understood that kind of devotion.”
Throughout the film we see Clay embracing his professional success while embarking on a personal transformation with pressures of the media, the government, the Nation of Islam and more. “Clay was wise beyond his years,” Goree says, adding that it was a challenge to show the range of Clay’s layers from his victories to struggles.
One Night In Miami showcases everything from the elation of Clay winning the title and his youthful excitement, to the insurmountable weight that comes with being an influential figure like Malcolm X, Jim Brown or Sam Cooke during that time. “I feel like one of the things that we do a lot of times with films that are about cultural history and things like that is we just indulge in trauma,” Goree says. “I feel like it’s so important to remember the beauty and the joy and the redemption of those moments, as well. That’s what got people through. That’s what makes it interesting and so inspiring.”
While the importance of having conversations is clear while watching One Night In Miami, Goree recalls the energy on set propelling that same notion. “We all knew the task at hand and the responsibility of carrying these legacies and the honor of this opportunity,” he says. “We were constantly talking about our characters, things we were discovering about each other, each other’s characters, ourselves and things that were inspiring us or influencing us in different ways.”
Fittingly, Goree’s go-to song while preparing for his inspiring portrayal of Cassius Clay was Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”