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Aldis Hodge on how Straight Outta Compton broke the mold

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Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Straight Outta Compton was one of the year’s biggest surprises at the box-office, and F. Gary Gray’s biopic about the rise of West Coast hip-hop legends N.W.A. is in the awards-season mix — nominated by the Writers, Producers, and Screen Actors guilds for top awards. The film has garnered a lot of attention for the way it broke the mold in its representation of black culture — and that was a big takeaway for Aldis Hodge, who portrayed MC Ren.

“I think [Straight Outta Compton] disproves the [industry] fears that you can’t make a successful film based off of black culture,” he told EW at the People’s Choice Awards red carpet in Los Angeles on Wednesday. “There’s so many different ways you can show what [African-Americans] do, and this movie took an idea that people automatically assumed was going to be super ‘hood, super ghetto, and they realized it’s not that. Because the real N.W.A., they weren’t that. They were artists about the craft, and we really focused on that. It showed that you can make a really great artistic, creative movie involving black Americans and it doesn’t have to be something that adheres to the current stereotype.”

Hodge, who’s currently working opposite Tom Cruise in the Jack Reacher sequel, believes his upcoming WGN America series about the Underground Railroad, Underground (out March 9), succeeds in a similar manner.

“Most of the time we see black Americans in a victimized state,” he said. “Underground shows black Americans as heroes, shows us for our strengths, exhibits our intelligence, how we found the light and the darkness through those times — but it doesn’t just focus on black Americans. It focuses on the white abolitionists who didn’t believe in slavery and fought for us as well. The thing I love about it is it puts things into perspective. [It’s] not so much about black slavery, it’s about American history.”

As for working with Cruise on Jack Reacher, Hodge admitted that it’s not like working with just any other actor. “He’s a legend, but he treats you as an equal and that’s something you gotta get used to,” he said. “He expects everybody to be on their A-game, but he’s also very forthcoming and likes to make everybody else better.”