INTERVIEW MAGAZINE – Aldis Hodge is a man of many hobbies. When the North Carolina-born, New York- and New Jersey-raised actor isn’t working on television shows like Leverage, Turn, or Friday Night Lights (he played Ray “Vodoo” Tatum in the first season), or films like Straight Outta Compton (as N.W.A. member MC Ren), The East, and the forthcoming Jack Reacher sequel, Hodge makes his own watches. “Back when I was at ArtCenter [College of Design] 10 years ago, I was designing everything: cars, jets, motorcycles, houses,” he explains over the phone. “I’ve always known I wanted to be in design somehow. It was going to be architecture, but I would’ve had to quit acting for it,” he continues. “I realized with horology, I could learn at my own pace.”
In the near future, Hodge hopes to start his own watch line. “I’ve always wanted a company to be able to pass onto my kids, whenever I have them,” he says. “Watches, it’s a tough game. It takes time to make time, which a lot of people don’t realize. You can sit there and design a watch and develop it, but it may take two or three or 10 years to develop it properly.”
Now 29, Hodge started acting as a young child alongside his older brother Edwin. This year, however, is something of a breakout for Aldis; in addition to Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, the younger Hodge also stars in Underground, the new drama from WGN America premiering this week. Set in the Antebellum South, Underground follows the evolution of the Underground Railroad from multiple perspectives: runaway slaves on a Georgia plantation and the peers they leave behind, black and white abolitionists, and white slavery-supporting southerners, including a slave catcher struggling to provide for his young son (Christopher Meloni) and a plantation owner with roots in the more liberal North. Hodge’s character, Noah, is at the center of the narrative. Calm, confident, and a natural leader, it is Noah who convinces his fellow slaves—including the pretty house slave Rosalee (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and self-serving overseer’s assistant Cato (Alano Miller)—to make a run for freedom. “I’ve been a slave all my life. Waiting to die, to live, or for a miracle,” Noah says. “I’m done waiting.”
EMMA BROWN: Obviously slavery is a very upsetting subject matter, and there are some very upsetting scenes in the show. Is it hard when you’re there, day after day, working 16-hour days?
HODGE: The time frame and how people treated each other was upsetting, but what’s great about this story is that they really focus on the strengths of these people and the strengths of the culture, of who these Americans were. That, actually, is uplifting. Even though the topic itself is the big, screaming elephant in the room, we still get a chance to have fun and enjoy what is on the screen, and we have moments where we’re actually happy.
It is a very serious subject—I don’t want to take away from that—but initially my assumption was that it was going to be super heavy and super dark. Granted we are a very gritty show—we are raw, we are real as it can get—but I didn’t realize that these people were strong enough to find moments where they can be happy and find moments when they can have fun and enjoy each other and laugh. That’s something that’s not really talked about, and it hasn’t really been shown too many times before in entertainment, and that’s something we get to explore here. They are people. Even though they were dealt a wrong hand, they made the best of it, and that’s where you really see the strength of who these people were.