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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Continue reading ‘Many Times, Mental Slavery Is The Real Cage’