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Category: Interview

Aldis Hodge Calls ‘Underground’: ‘The Hardest Job I’ve Ever Experienced’



VARIETY – Aldis Hodge became an actor because his older brother wanted to be “in the box” and his mother promised him some Batman toys. He’s been working tirelessly ever since — including a stint on TNT’s “Leverage” — but now he’s finally having a breakthrough moment. After appearing in “Straight Outta Compton” as MC Ren, he’s starring in WGN America’s new series “Underground” as Noah, who leads his fellow slaves in a daring escape on the Underground Railroad. (The 10-hour drama, which is exec produced by John Legend and creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, debuts March 9.)


Below, Hodge tells Variety about the role he calls one of the hardest of his career, how this series offers a new perspective on slavery, and the humble beginnings that taught him to appreciate the career he has now.


What drew you to this part? What made you want to take on this role?


I respected the character, and how they were executing the storytelling. The most important thing to me was as far as the characters, usually the subject matter of slavery depicts black Americans as victims. It kind of elevates their weaknesses. This particular story, the way they did it, it exaggerates our strengths and celebrates the fortitude of these people in the times that they were in, and how they actually flourished as a culture dealing with all of this, and managing to keep some sense of sanity. It showed how courageous they actually were, and that’s something I’m proud of.


How did you find your way into this character?


We did research, we studied, we watched documentaries. There’s a really great documentary called “Many Rivers,” which documents the totality of slavery from its inception and then it gives you a little history on how America came to prominence. It’s crazy, the first black man to actually step foot in America came as a free man, as an explorer, with the Spaniards. That’s something for me, as a black American, it gives me a little bit of pride because we were free and respected somewhere else, before slavery became what it was.


We read memoirs, actual accounts from real enslaved Americans who went through it. Also, it really just came from trying to be honest to the fact that I wanted this character to be courageous, I wanted him to be a good man. He has moral value, and I wanted to pay homage to that. I wanted to make sure that this character actually had a life; he had an identity and a soul. Most people say they’re slaves, but in my opinion, to say that I am a slave is to take ownership of actually being a slave — to be a tool, be a thing. Basically cattle.

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‘Straight Outta Compton’ star Aldis Hodge lands role in ‘Underground’

ROLLING OUT – WGN’s new dramatic series, “Underground,” follows a group of courageous slaves who use their ingenuity and perseverance to break free from an abusive plantation in Georgia, despite the life-threatening consequences that potentially wait ahead. The 10-episode program was put together by executive producer John Legend, creators and executive producers Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, executive producer Akiva Goldsman, and director and executive producer Anthony Hemingway. As a collective, the creative team has done an outstanding job at focusing the storyline on the revolution that happened during slavery and not the occupation itself.


Actor Aldis Hodge, best known for his role in box-office smash Straight Outta Compton and on the small screen in “Leverage,” plays the lead character, a young blacksmith named Noah, who is the brainchild behind the revolt of men and women attempting their great escape to freedom in the North. Because of his occupation, Noah was afforded the opportunity to travel and see what the world has to offer, unlike the rest of his fellow slaves. “I love the fact that he knows how to sacrifice his own well-being for the sake of the greater good. He learns along the way that it’s not just him and that everybody has to be free,” he says.


In addition to Hodge, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Christopher Meloni and Alano Milleralso bring captivating performances to the small screen as part of the “Underground” cast.


Hodge spoke with rolling out to discuss the physical challenges he was faced with while filming in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, why this is the perfect time for the show to be released and his thoughts on the lack of Black history lessons being taught in the education system.


“Underground” premieres Wednesday, March 9, 2016, at 10 p.m. EST on WGN America.


What sets “Underground” apart from previous slave narratives?

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Interview: Actors Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge of Underground


SIX BROWN CHICKS MEDIA – The series begins with fear, and a sense of urgency to #breakfree.


The first scene sets the tone for a journey back in time to African descendants during the slave era in North America. Unlike many other films and TV series featuring of slavery, Underground tells this story and includes modern day music. The soundtrack enhances the narrative with hard tracks to provide a different feel to a never told story.


Underground tells the story of the preliminary stages of the Underground Railroad including all sides of this revolution (the abolitionists, the slaves in desperate need of freedom, and those opposed to the freedom of the impoverished African descendants.


I had the pleasure of viewing the first episode of Underground recently at the DuSable Museum, and was also fortunate to speak with the lead actors Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge.


Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who plays, Rosalee, a big house slave says: “The underground railroad is really a very small part of our history a lot of us don’t know about. But it is very important and it should be taken (and viewed) with pride. The people who were apart of the Underground Railroad were really building a grassroots movement to help recruit abolitionist who then helped bring down slavery. This whole civil rights movement is vital for us to look back on today.”


I also asked Aldis, who plays the character, Noah, a blacksmith slave, if it was difficult to adjust to a character that was a slave.


Aldis: “There were moments when I had to challenge my personal pride as a man…you are not submitting to love, you are submitting to oppression. Understanding where his mind was and what he thought his plan was, made it a little bit easier in preparation for the role.”


Underground is created by Misha Green, and Joe Pokaski, and executive produced by John Legend. This is a worth watch series and it airs on WGN on March 9th.

Aldis Hodge talks about latest project ‘Underground’ on WGN


PIX 11 – Aldis Hodge, who was last seen on the big screen in “Straight Outta Compton” and on the small screen in “Leverage,” talked to PIX11 Morning News about his newest project “Underground.”


WGN America’s escape thriller “Underground” takes viewers on a pulse-pounding journey with revolutionaries of the Underground Railroad.


The 10-episode series follows a group of courageous men and women who use their ingenuity, power and perseverance to attempt the greatest escape in history and break free, despite the dire consequences that await them on the other side.


“Underground” is created by Misha Green of “Sons Of Anarchy” and Joe Pokaski of “Heroes,” who executive produce alongside Academy Award-winner Akiva Goldsman of “A Beautiful Mind,” of Weed Road Pictures; and Joby Harold and Tory Tunnell of Safehouse Pictures.


Visionary artist and producer John Legend, an Academy Award, Golden Globe® and multi-Grammy Award winner, and his Get Lifted partners Mike Jackson and Ty Stiklorius executive produce. Anthony Hemingway of “The Wire” and “Treme” directs and serves as executive producer for the first four episodes.


“Underground” will premiere Wednesday, March 9, 2016 at 10pm ET/PT on WGN America.

‘Many Times, Mental Slavery Is The Real Cage’


EURWEB – In March, actor Aldis Hodge premieres in WGN’s ambitious new series “Underground,” which follows a group of slaves who plot an escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad.


Hodge, last seen on the big screen as MC Ren in “Straight Outta Compton,” plays their brave leader Noah, who takes it upon himself to inspire and lead the group 600 miles north of their Georgia plantation.


At least that was the original plan.


Not only are slave catchers just waiting to make fast money by snatching up runaways, but Noah must also deal with the stress of knowing whom among his fellow slaves he can trust with the escape plan.


“Many times, mental slavery is the real cage. And when you look out into the wilderness and nothingness, the first thing you think of is defeat,” Hodge said during WGN’s portion of the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour Friday in Pasadena, Calif. “You think of all the things that can kill you. If it’s not the heat exhaustion, it’s gonna be the snakes, it’s gonna be the alligators, it’s gonna be the slave catchers.
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Aldis Hodge on how Straight Outta Compton broke the mold

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY – 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.”

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‘Straight Outta Compton’s Aldis Hodge: Tom Cruise Is “Remarkably Awesome”

DEADLINE – When N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton took critics and audiences by storm, the cast were in for some major accolades, among them SAG and Critics’ Choice noms for the ensemble cast. Aldis Hodge–MC Ren in Compton–is also the lead in the new John Legend-produced series Underground and is currently filming the next Jack Reacher film with Tom Cruise, an experience he’s very much enjoying. “Tom has been remarkably awesome,” Hodge says. “He is really accessible when it comes to trying to learn something. He’s really forthcoming with information with his experience, how he sees filmmaking. His main priority is making sure that every actor on the film looks great, feels great, does great. He’s one of those actors who is trying to promote his team to be the best that they can be, and you can feel it. He speaks to everybody on set, he’s nice to everybody, because he understands. He’s not just an actor, he’s not just a marquee name on the ticket, he is also a producer. So he’s going to produce the best product.”


Hodge is no newcomer, having various TV projects on his resume (The Walking Dead, Leverage, Rectify, Private Practice, Castle), and film work (The East, A Good Day To Die Hard), but surely the response to Compton has been something of a head-turner for the cast? “At the end of the day we haven’t won anything yet,” Hodge says. “We can’t get too crazy, but what we have been doing is celebrating the success of it all. This was a big legacy that was on our backs, and we did not want to be the ones that messed it up. We wanted to get it right, we wanted to make sure that we represented these people well, we wanted to represent the fans well.”

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