HEAT VISION

Aldis Hodge on 'One Night in Miami' and Getting the 'Black Adam' Call from Dwayne Johnson

Aldis Hodge
Amy Sussman/Getty Images
The actor, who has been dreaming of a superhero role for years, didn't quite believe it when he landed Hawkman: "It was literally like what I imagined winning the lottery to feel like."

Despite taking place in 1964, One Night in Miami felt eerily similar to present day, according to Aldis Hodge. In Regina King’s feature directorial debut, Hodge plays NFL legend Jim Brown who’s introduced in the film during a return trip to his hometown of St. Simons Island, Georgia. Upon his arrival, Jim visits the plantation-like estate of his neighbor, Mr. Carlton (Beau Bridges), who seemingly welcomes Brown onto his porch for a glass of lemonade and some small talk. Even though he was proud to say that he was from the same island as the great Jim Brown, Carlton quickly bowled Brown over when he casually referred to him as a racial slur and denied his entry into the house. Unfortunately, for Hodge, his family and so many others, this scene hit awfully close to home.

“I’ve never really been swayed by the rose-colored glasses perspective. What Jim went through in that particular scene is something I’ve been through and many of my family members have been through,” Hodge tells The Hollywood Reporter. “There are so many people who don’t understand cultural empathy and don’t necessarily prioritize it, and they think that there’s nothing wrong. So that scene showed the truth of the ugliness of what a lot of us have been dealing with for so long and what a lot of us are dealing with on the forefront right now, directly. We have to push through people’s ignorance to get to our own truth.”

In September, Hodge landed his biggest role to date as he will portray Hawkman/Carter Hall in Dwayne Johnson and DC Films’ superhero epic, Black Adam. Earning a superhero role has been a long time coming for Hodge since he’s spent the last 15 years auditioning for such roles. As a result, when Johnson called to deliver the news, he initially thought it was a prank call. And once Johnson convinced him that it was actually “D.J.,” Hodge then assumed he was calling to deliver bad news.

“There was some part of my brain that said, ‘He’s calling to tell me that I didn’t get the job.’ So I was preparing for that while I was in a state of disbelief. And when he said, ‘Welcome to Black Adam,’ it was literally like what I imagined winning the lottery to feel like,” Hodge shares. “I had been very, very much looking forward to being a part of any kind of superhero universe. I didn’t care what it was for such a long time just because I had been such a fan. I grew up on graphic novels. I got into the business so I could earn money to buy Batman toys, you know? It was like 13 to 15 years of constantly going up to bat and getting told no. So it really was a validation of those last few years of pursuit, hustle and preparation.”

In a recent conversation with THR, Hodge also reflects on the valuable advice that Samuel L. Jackson gave his family on the set of Die Hard with a Vengeance, the disturbing ending of The Invisible Man and going toe to toe with Kyle Chandler on Friday Night Lights.

To put it mildly, it’s been a challenging year, but your career is thriving in spite of everything. What’s this year been like for you in that regard?

Well, it’s twofold. Professionally, it gives me a sense of appreciation in a time where there’s still so many people not working. And of course, for a time, my industry was down and we all weren’t working. So to be in this position and to have the best professional year of my 32-year career is really kind of insane, but I look at it as a reminder to maintain faith and gratitude. At the same time, I’m now put in a position to help, so I’ve got to figure out what the real mission is. There’s a reason I’ve been blessed with this kind of opportunity in this particular time, and I have to use it responsibly. It’s also coupled with the experience of so much loss and so much pain that we’re not removed from, given this year. My family has experienced quite a bit of emotional and personal hardship, so that’s not lost on me. I’m just in a better position to have access to more options to do some work. Beyond the TV, beyond the movies, it’s not about that. That’s not the work. The work is representation and creating opportunities. I used my advantages this year to try to make as many opportunities as possible for myself and the people around me.

One Night in Miami introduces each character by showing what they’re up against in early 1964. And during Jim Brown’s introduction, he, along with the audience, were lulled into a false sense of security as things took a very sharp turn via Beau Bridges’ character. When you first read that scene in the script, did you have a similar experience given its sudden swerve?

Oh absolutely. For me, I’ve never really been swayed by the rose-colored glasses perspective. When it comes to how people see me, I’ve always been open to trying to figure out what their truth is and letting them show me their truth before I presume it. What Jim went through in that particular scene is something I’ve been through and many of my family members have been through. The thing I love so much about it is there are people who don’t understand the state of their perspectives. They don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. They don’t think they look at you as less-than. They’re so comfortable to just throw a slur or an insult your way, and not think anything of it. And I think it was so truth-telling when it came to how we see where we are today in this country. There are so many people who don’t understand cultural empathy and don’t necessarily prioritize it, and they think that there’s nothing wrong. So that scene showed the truth of the ugliness of what a lot of us have been dealing with for so long and what a lot of us are dealing with on the forefront right now, directly. We have to push through people’s ignorance to get to our own truth.

Did you consume everything you could find involving Jim, or did you watch just enough to understand his essence without risking an impersonation?

I watched his interviews, but I didn’t watch any of his movies. I was trying to catch as much of him and his real state as possible. His movies were just him playing a character. That’s not the real Jim, and I tried to get who he was. There were several interviews that I watched on repeat and I kept listening to them consistently while we were shooting to maintain the voice, the mannerisms and the cadence. At the end of the day, whether we’re playing real human beings or characters, the job that we have is to play the honesty of the scene and the honesty of what this moment means. So that’s always paramount. And then when it came to keeping Jim consistent, a lot of that relied on maintaining the relationship amongst the four of us characters in the room. That’s what helped distinguish and sort of verify who they were in this moment.

Since your director, Regina King, is also one of the best actors alive, did she talk to you more like a fellow actor, rather than a director? Did she offer more performance direction than most directors?

No, she’s truly a director. Very much. She gave us our respect and our room to breathe life into our characters through whatever way we saw fit. So she came at us as a seasoned and professional director. I mean, I think it was not lost on any of us the magnitude of her career as an actress and performer, because she’s inspired us all. But the thing that I really appreciate about her was she gave us enough grace and patience to figure it out ourselves, and as a director, she really just allowed us to understand her vision and worked with us. If we had something we wanted to feel out, she would allow us to feel it out. We would talk to her about tone. We would talk to her about where we wanted to drive the scene, what it meant for the film and what it was supposed to mean for the audience. I feel like she really is an impressive director and with this film, hopefully people will begin to acknowledge and give her proper respects. Yeah, she’s a powerhouse as an actor, but she’s also a powerhouse as a director.

The film recreates the Sonny Liston-Cassius Clay fight in February ‘64. When you’re able to time travel like this and recreate a moment in history, do you ever have brief moments of complete immersion despite a film crew nearby?

(Laughs.) When we first walked onto set, there was the instantaneous moment where you’re like, “Oh, this is it.” So it kind of hits you, and then after that, it’s back to work. We’re kind of stuck in the age consistently. We’re stuck in that time frame. We have to check our mannerisms and what we say and how we say it. Back then, they didn’t do handshakes like we do today. They didn’t say, “What’s up?” There are so many different quips that we have to maintain, so yeah, we’re immersed in it, for sure. And that’s a bit of the fun, especially with how you can walk and say things like “Hit cat daddy up.” Just little things like that. This is just the relationship I’ve built with my work through the years, but I like to keep one step inside and one foot outside, just enough to observe the work that I’m doing. I do it to figure out how I can enhance and do better, because at the end of the day, I can’t get too swayed by the environment. I have to step outside and do my work as an actor.

Kemp Powers adapted his One Night in Miami play into a screenplay, and Regina wisely maintained the vibe of the stage play. Thus, have you and your castmates talked about doing a special one-off stage performance someday?

We haven’t, but I’m sure if the opportunity presented itself, we would probably jump at it. But I know that the cast that came before us on stage did a fantastic job. I mean, it was wonderful enough to get to this point where we’ve made this crazy film. So I tip my hat off to them, and I don’t know if we can do it better than them. (Laughs.) But yeah, man, I think that would be a cool idea for us to hit the stage, just the four of us, and see how that goes.

“Y’all pulled out the knives, and if I get cut, I’m fittin’ to hurt somebody.” This is one of the best lines in the film, and Jim says it before he walks into the bathroom for a moment of reflection. What was he thinking as he stared into the mirror?

(Laughs.) Given that particular point in our conversation where everybody is reflecting on what their role is to the matter at hand — equality for Black people, how they deal with racism, how it impacts them, what they should be doing about it, what they should be doing as leaders — Jim has a moment where he’s listening to the conversation between Malcolm (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Sam (Leslie Odom Jr.). He went in there to reflect on where he stands on everything. He went in there to have a moment to understand what he’s doing wrong, what he’s doing right and what he should be doing more of. He’s contemplating the kind of leader that he needs to be in this moment and also the kind of friend that he needs to be to his three brothers who are having this very serious debate. And later on in the scene between Jim and Malcolm, we see the fruits of that thought process come to life.

While this group of luminaries really did meet up after Clay’s fight, the film is mostly a fictionalized account of their evening together. Hypothetically, if Jim Brown called you up before filming and offered to tell you everything that happened, would you agree to listen even though it might complicate your approach to the script’s version of events? Or would you take a raincheck and reconvene after filming?

I would absolutely want to know. I mean, that’s gold right there. I’m still going to do my job, but any information that you can get to enhance what you’re doing and just give you more understanding of the experience, that would only help to push me further. So I would absolutely welcome that. That would’ve been awesome, yeah.

Did you and your castmates hang out during your downtime in hopes of creating further chemistry on-screen?

Most of our time off-set was rehearsal. (Laughs.) We would gather and rehearse, so we actually didn’t have too much time off-set. Honestly, we powered through this thing. We went home, did work, did research and stayed in it. We were all very, very dedicated in our various ways, whether that was getting up, training and then studying voice work and mannerisms on tape, before going to set. So most of our hanging out was definitely getting together at the hotel to rehearse.

Malcolm X challenges the three other men regarding their celebrity and whether they’re using it for the good of their community. While there are many relevant threads in this movie, we’ve watched this play out recently in two opposing ways. For example, LeBron James and the rest of the NBA used their platform to fight for social justice, while other people relied on their platforms to further their own self-interest. With Malcolm’s words in mind, where do you weigh in on this?

At the end of the day, regardless of your job, you’re a citizen and you have, and should have, the ability and freedom to use your platform however you want. Granted, if you are popular in one essence and you are very successful in one way, people might pay attention and you might have influential sway over somebody’s thoughts. So you should be aware of that. But at the same time, you don’t know who you’re going to influence and to what degree that influence is going to impact somebody. But for the person who may appreciate these public figures, if there’s something you disagree with, that’s perfectly fine. Take away the visage of celebrity because you’ve also got to look at the fact that these business people are doing things as they see fit to their own survival. And just because they have a platform, you, as a citizen and as a person who doesn’t have the whole celebrity thing around you, also have a major platform because we’ve got to understand Malcolm and Dr. King were not famous when they first started their activism. They became famous because of their activism. So there are so many people out there that have that very same power; we all have that same power of influence. So understand that your voice is powerful and that you should use your individual voice for your individual agendas because that is what should be fair amongst us all. We should be free enough to use our voices and say and do what we want to do. I look at a guy like LeBron who is using his platform in the best way possible; I really respect the way he has done it. I look at a guy like Colin Kaepernick. and I respect the way he has done it. And this is just because they have expressed support for things that align with me, naturally. They have expressed grievance and disagreements with things that I disagree with, naturally. And again, it’s not because they’re famous. It’s just because, man-to-man, I understand what they’re talking about and they seem to understand what I’m talking about. So I can get behind them. There are other people who express starkly contrasting beliefs and that’s fine. Look, you are a citizen and you have that right. Of course, when it comes down to people who attack LeBron and say, “Shut up and dribble,” does him being a basketball megastar take away his right to have a voice as a tax paying citizen who is also going to be affected by politics? So don’t use his celebrity against him. And then, in the same vein, there are other athletes that are not reprimanded or commented on when it comes to their beliefs. So it all comes down to biased agenda and where you fall and where you align yourself with. But I think that we have a responsibility to ourselves and as individuals, to use our platforms to live out the best truth that we can. I do know there’s a degree of awareness when it comes to people paying attention to us, but we can’t control that. All I can do is speak my truth, live my truth and easily go to sleep at night because I have done so. And when people express decisions that I disagree with or choices that I disagree with, that’s the point of democracy. We are allowed to express differences and debate about it.

So this guy named Dwayne Johnson recently posted a detailed account of a certain phone call between the two of you. Would you like to share your side of the story?

(Laughs.) My side of it is that it’s true. It’s exactly how it happened — except I would say that I probably had much more bravado in my voice. You know what I’m saying? I had a little bit more bass in my voice. I also don’t know if I was jumping up and down… (Laughs.) But no, it did happen because when he called me, I’m not sure what I thought. Earlier this year, people had been playing on my phone, pretending to be folks that I knew. But I didn’t know Dwayne before this, and when he called me, he was like, “Dwayne Johnson calling Aldis Hodge.” So I kind of froze because it was one of those moments where you’re like, “Did I hear what I just heard? Did this really happen?” So as he continued to talk, I was like, “Nah man, stop playing. Who is this?” He was like, “Ah, it’s D.J., come on.” I’m like, “Nah, stop playing on my phone. I said what I said.” (Laughs.) As we kept going, there was some part of my brain that said, “He’s calling to tell me that I didn’t get the job.” So I was preparing for that while I was in a state of disbelief. And when he said, “Welcome to Black Adam,” it was literally like what I imagined winning the lottery to feel like. I had been very, very much looking forward to being a part of any kind of superhero universe. I didn’t care what it was for such a long time just because I had been such a fan. I grew up on graphic novels. I got into the business so I could earn money to buy Batman toys, you know? But as far as my pursuit of this kind of vehicle — for no particular character, but just any foot in the door — it had been many years. It was like 13 to 15 years of constantly going up to bat and getting told no. And then I realized, in that moment, it all made sense. It was a moment of clarity that said, “Okay, everything that you tried to do and didn’t get, and every time you tried to prepare and didn’t get it... All that preparation wasn’t wasted or lost. It was just preparing you for the right role that was meant for you.” So it really was a validation of those last few years of pursuit, hustle and preparation. And for me, it was a real moment of disbelief.

A couple weeks ago, you posted a photo of some Hawkman-related comic books that you’re reading in preparation for your role in Black Adam. Just in terms of the source material, what’s caught your eye so far when it comes to Carter Hall’s various traits?

(Laughs.) I will say this, and on the record, this is completely removed of anything having to do with the film. As a fan, a comic book fan and a superhero fan, I love Hawkman’s nature. He’s an absolute warrior. He is a savage, and a savage for the best reason. He’s well-intentioned. But the thing that I love about him so much and that I connect to personally is his understanding and love of trying to get history right. It comes down to the cerebral part of it. He’s a professor, and because he lives so many lives, he understands; he was there. He is history. And when it comes to certain things in textbooks, he wants to get it right. And for me growing up, as a kid, I couldn’t stand history. I hated history class because I knew it wasn’t right. What we would learn in the textbooks, what I learned or what I was taught about my culture, I knew it was not right because I was doing the extra research at home. My mom was an educator. She educated all my siblings. So the thing that I love about him most is that he’s on a mission to figure out what his purpose is, but a part of that purpose is in correcting that history, getting it right and making sure people understand and are educated in that way. And that’s sort of a personal mission of mine. So I love the fact that this is Hawkman. It is Carter Hall or Katar Hol. And his original state, the first version of him, is Prince Khufu. He’s Egyptian. He’s African. I love that I get to play somebody who has lineage to the motherland. It’s fantastic.

Are you ready for all the early morning workouts that Dwayne is going to put you through on that set?

Brother, I’m already doing that. (Laughs.) I’m already there. I can’t wait to get to it because right now, I’m in New York shooting my show City on a Hill. We’re doing our second season. And sometimes, I’ll get to work at 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning, which is a late, late call for me. So I take advantage of that because I’m at my gym at 7 o’clock in the morning, getting at it. I’m actually going to the gym as soon as we get off the phone. Yeah, it’s not a game, brother. (Laughs.)

The Invisible Man is one of the best films of the year, and you were excellent in it. The ending of the movie raises the age-old question of whether the end justifies the means. Do you think James can live with the knowledge of what Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) did — and who she had to become — in order to get rid of her tormentor?

Can he live with it? I think he can understand it. I think he can definitely understand. She was put in a position where she was given no choice. And at some point, what does justice mean if you can’t enact justice yourself and you’re given no other option? So I’m not saying he agrees with it 100 percent in terms of the taking of a life, but I am most certainly sure he understands. And I liken that to cases like Cyntoia Brown, a woman who was convicted of murder when she was 16 years old. She was a sex trafficking victim and she killed her abuser. And then, she was convicted of murder. So she spent 15 years in jail. Do I personally think she should’ve gone to jail? No. What other choice did she have if she has been trafficked, if she has been trying to get away and get help, and nobody’s helping her? Are you going to allow somebody to continue to abuse you? Or are you going to get pushed into your most feral nature? Of course, the taking of a life is nothing that anyone would agree with. That’s not the best result and that’s not the result we hope for. But at the end of the day, do I think that she was a bad human being or deserved to be put in prison because she did the only thing that was necessary to save her life? It’s her life or his, right? And I think there should’ve been much more empathy, much more understanding and much more help provided to this woman given the nature of what she had to do because she was pushed to that point. That’s not who she is, 100 percent. She was pushed to that point out of survival. And I feel like that’s where we meet these two characters in The Invisible Man at the end. It’s, like, “You’re my friend and I know you. I don’t agree, but I understand and we’re just going to leave it at that.”

Jason Blum already has Leigh Whannell working on a few other things, but I really hope you get to continue that story, specifically because of James noticing the invisible suit in Cecilia’s bag and how conflicted he looked at the end.

Yeah, if there was another one, that would be fantastic. I haven’t heard any rumblings, so I will not speak to that. Don’t put that rumor out there. (Laughs.) But if they did do a sequel, that would be awesome and I would definitely be down for the ride, man. It was a super fun movie to shoot and I’m really impressed with how it came out. I just love the quality of the film, and working with Leigh was awesome. Everybody was awesome, honestly. The entire cast. And Elisabeth, I mean, she’s a star and a star not just because of her talent, but because of her candor on set. She’s fantastic to work with, so I had a great time.

I was reintroduced to you via Friday Night Lights, which is one of the all-time great shows. While your character, Voodoo, seemed pretty unfazed, did you feel pretty intimidated during those scenes where he went toe to toe with Kyle Chandler’s Coach Taylor?

Absolutely not. (Laughs.) As an actor, that’s what I hunger for, man. I’m not trying to be in situations where I’m comfortable. I want to be in situations where there’s another gladiator in the room, another actor who’s killing it, so that we can push it together. The most fun that I have as a performer is to be in a room with a beast who I know is going to bring their A-game because I’m going to bring my A-game. And then, I am also in a position to learn and figure out how to do things differently to produce better results. So put me in the cage with a beast because I, myself, am a beast. And Kyle Chandler is definitely a fantastic talent. He was great to work with and I’ll work with him any day.

So how many times did Sam Jackson smack you in the head with that newspaper in Die Hard with a Vengeance?

(Laughs.) I forget how many times we shot that scene, but I remember the smacks. That was a really great experience. At the time, I didn’t know who Sam Jackson or Bruce Willis were because I was too young and wasn’t allowed to watch their movies. But my mom saw fit to put my brother, Edwin, and I in the right position at the right time when it came to audition. Edwin actually ended up being in the film with me. He plays one of my friends when we’re locked up in the classroom, which I love. We’re both still at it, still killing it and still trying to make things happen in this Hollywood world. But Sam, he was great back then. He gave my mom some great advice and told her, “If your boys want to learn the essence of acting, the foundation, then they should get on stage.” And oddly enough, right after that, we had an audition for Show Boat, which was on Broadway. That resulted in a two-and-a-half year tour on Broadway with that show. My brother did the full two-and-a-half year tour and I did a year and a half because I was a little young when it first started. We didn’t know what it was, but it was all just coincidental. But Sam gave us that advice and look how the universe just opened up the doors.

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One Night in Miami is available in select theaters on Dec. 25 and Jan. 15 on Amazon Prime

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