From a Dillon Panther to an NFL icon, Aldis Hodge goes deep on his most memorable roles
Aldis Hodge had a monster 2020, starring in both One Night in Miami and The Invisible Man. Now 2021 sees the actor, 34, returning to TV for season 2 of Showtime's City on a Hill (March 28) and shooting the DC film Black Adam, in which he plays Hawkman opposite Dwayne Johnson's superpowered antihero.
We asked the very visible actor to give us a tour of his career.
DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, 1995
Hodge made his film debut at age 7 alongside older brother Edwin (The Purge), playing Raymond, the nephew of Samuel L. Jackson's character in John McClane's third outing. "I didn't know Bruce Willis or Samuel L. Jackson," he says with a laugh. "I was not allowed to watch their films."
He was "allowed to be a kid," whether that meant randomly losing a tooth during a scene or asking for food no matter what else was going on. "We were doing a table read and I whispered to my mom, 'I'm hungry,'" Hodge recalls. "And Bruce was like, 'What's up? Is he hungry?' I said, 'Yeah,' and so they stopped everything and ordered a bunch of pizzas."
The goodwill of these strangers-turned-costars continued with Jackson, who gave Hodge's single mom advice on navigating the industry while also hiring Edwin to play his son in 1996's A Long Kiss Goodnight. "Sam was about employing these little Black boys," Hodge says. "I think Sam understands the importance of the mission, which to a degree I walk in and carry myself, to give opportunity where it's needed to our people in terms of giving us a start. I respect the fact that him in his position stepped out to help somebody come up."
While Jackson would be one-and-done in the Die Hard franchise, Hodge returned in 2013's A Good Day to Die Hard, only as a different character in CIA agent Foxy. "I guess I was that much off the radar that nobody really was paying attention, and it worked in my favor," he says. "I told absolutely nobody. I auditioned for it and I was like, 'They really don't know? Nobody is going to check this. Aight.' [Laughs] I just like to say that Raymond grew up to be Foxy."
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, 2006-2007
Hodge's depiction of standoffish quarterback Ray "Voodoo" Tatum, who was brought in to replace the inexperienced Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), was fueled by the "anger" he felt after his part in the original pilot of the CW's The Game was recast. The actor focused on "using every bit of my own personal feelings to push into this misunderstood character."
Voodoo's introduction in season 1 of the critically beloved football drama centered on Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland) recruiting him after the Tatum family was displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Coincidentally, Hodge had been in New Orleans just as the deadly hurricane was approaching the city. "People think he's angry and I'm like, 'Nah, he's hurt,'" the actor explains. "People are trying to use him but not necessarily help him."
Filming in Austin, Texas, was a "hell of a time," according to Hodge. That is, except for the filming and practicing of the actual football, with summer temperatures routinely over 100 degrees. He also learned that no high school football players in Texas are exempt from criticism, even fictional ones. "I remember throwing a pass while we were shooting and then the next day the local paper said, 'Shooting Friday Night Lights, Aldis Hodge, playing a star quarterback, throws a duck of a pass,'" he recalls. "Because I suck at throwing. If I was actually going to play football, I'd be a linebacker."
Or maybe eventually a running back…
On his 21st birthday, Hodge was cast on the TNT heist drama as hacker Alec Hardison. "How much better does it get?" he says of the milestone day. "In fact, I was so confident to the point that as soon as I left the audition, I told my mom, who was in the waiting room because that night we were going to have dinner as a family, 'I got the job.' I told her right then and there, and it wasn't too long after that that we actually got the call that said I got it. That was the first time I ever felt super-confident coming out of an audition — I just knew."
And Leverage proved to be "the engine that kept going." The series wrapped in 2012 after five seasons, but the majority of the cast is reuniting for IMDb TV's upcoming revival. "We're literally shooting the Leverage reboot right now," he says. "It's nice to feel the energy back again, to have the old crew back together. I feel like the crowd is going to be excited about it."
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, 2015
Before starring as MC Ren in the hit N.W.A. biopic, Hodge turned down the chance to audition for the more prominent — and famous — roles of Dr. Dre and Eazy-E (eventually played by Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell). "The very first person they came to me about was Dr. Dre; I don't look like him, I don't have the vibe," Hodge says. "I like to be responsible and respectful to the audience with knowing my limit when it comes to biopics. I declined Dre and then they took some time and came back with Eazy-E, and I was like, 'Are you kidding me?'''
The lengthy and expansive casting search continued, with producers eventually returning with another offer: MC Ren. Upon studying the "prolific writer," Hodge decided he could "do him justice." Considering Ren takes more of a backseat to Eazy, Dre, and Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) in the film, learning how to be observant was key. "I was often quiet in scenes, so I had to observe and gather, and understanding as a performer how to speak without speaking," says Hodge, whose biggest thrill was getting to re-record the group's legendary titular album. "I can't even hear when it is them and when it is us."
THE INVISIBLE MAN, 2020
Released just a few weeks before COVID-19 shutdowns, the Elisabeth Moss-fronted horror film, which grossed almost $150 million at the worldwide box office, marked the last time many people were in a theater. "It is weird," admits Hodge, who played Det. James Lanier. "If people think, 'Remember when we used to go to movie theaters and the last thing I saw was Invisible Man,' I'm not gonna lie, I'll take it."
And given the current world we're all living in, Hodge is missing his "paid vacation," a.k.a. filming in Australia. "I wish I could go back to that time," he says. "I would have taken far more advantage knowing what I know now."
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI, 2020
Similar to Straight Outta Compton, Hodge initially rebuffed the chance to try out for football icon Jim Brown in Regina King's Oscar-nominated telling of a fictionalized meeting between four Black icons — until the director came calling. "I almost walked away from a really great opportunity, which I would have been kicking myself right now," he says. "I didn't really see myself in Jim Brown's shoes, so I told them no to the audition because I didn't think I could handle it. And then they came back around, like, 'Hey, Regina says she wants to see your audition.' At this point I didn't care what I thought. If Regina King says she wants to see you audition, you're going to audition."
Hodge isn't only thankful for One Night's critical success, but more importantly, the film's place in an all too timely civil rights conversation. "When we shot it, it was very personal to me, because this is a life I live; nothing is new here for me," he says. "So I knew how important the context was, but we shot it in January and February of 2020, and then we had to take a break because of COVID, and then after that we get into the upswell of the Black Lives Matter movement, the increasing attention paid to police brutality. Police brutality didn't increase, the thing that increased was the attention paid by people who are not generally inflicted by police brutality. Because they were stuck in their homes and they had to sit and watch, they couldn't turn away or distract themselves when George Floyd happened, or Breonna Taylor, or Ahmaud Arbery. So when the movie hits, this is a project that has so much potential to be an asset to the progress that we really do need to see. I'm so proud to be a part of a vehicle for that change, because, as an artist, how often do you get the opportunity to do something that affecting with your work?"
At the top of this story, watch EW's Around the Table video with Hodge, King, and the rest of the One Night in Miami starring cast.
CITY ON A HILL, 2019-PRESENT
In addition to playing Boston assistant district attorney Decourcy Ward on Showtime's 1990s-set crime drama, Hodge adds the title of producer in season 2. And being in that position in 2021 means more important responsibilities than ever. "The primary task has been making sure people feel safe and healthy to do the work that's needed," he says. "I have to take these things into account in a much different way; there's real accountability and responsibility."
On screen, he warns that "changes" are coming: "The way it ends is definitely not going to be what people expect." And that goes double for the ever-evolving relationship between Decourcy and corrupt FBI veteran Jackie Rohr (Kevin Bacon) "We're going through different levels of fear, terror, self-reflection when it comes to who these people are in the space they're in," Hodge says. "Even Jackie has those moments where he has to look in the mirror and say, 'Who am I? And is this who I really want to be?'"
BLACK ADAM, 2022
Meet Hawkman. Hodge is getting in the superhero game with a major role opposite Dwayne Johnson in the upcoming DC movie Black Adam. Unsurprisingly, the actor can't yet share any details on the highly anticipated project, which will soon start shooting, but that doesn't mean he can't be a great hype man.
"You know I can't say nothing about Black Adam," he says with a laugh. "All I can say is that, yes, I'm absolutely excited. It's going to be a wild ride, and the way things are shaping up already, it's going to be a truly insane movie in the best way possible. For a lot of us this is the biggest movie of our careers, so there's a lot of attention and detail being paid to getting it right and making sure that the audience has, not a movie, [but] a film — a cinematic experience. And there will be no punches pulled here. I think you will be quite surprised, and that's all I can say without getting in trouble."
City on a Hill returns to Showtime on Sunday.