Aldis Hodge was in New York, killing two weeks in quarantine when he received a phone call from an unknown number.
“Is that Aldis there?”
“Hello, who’s calling?”
“This is Dwayne Johnson.”
“Come on, bro, stop playing on my phone!”
“No, no. This is DJ.”
“Bro, I’m serious! Stop playing on my fucking phone, I ain’t got time for this!”
Hodge chuckles at the memory. “I almost cussed him out,” he admits to our interviewer. “In fact, I kinda did.”
Fortunately, Johnson saw the funny side – and Hodge duly landed a major role in one of the year’s biggest films, the DC blockbuster Black Adam. Hodge had wanted a superhero film for years. He’d begged for bit parts in Marvel flicks to no avail.
When Black Adam came up, though – and his role as Hawkman, the leader of the Justice Society of America, is no bit part but a major player – Hodge recorded more than 300 versions of his self-tape to send to the producers. Excessive? Perhaps. But when your moment arrives, you best seize it.
Hodge has been seizing his moments since early childhood, when his mother would take Aldis and his brother around New York to audition for commercials.
“We pounded the pavement with a lot of extra work, hustling up auditions that weren’t even meant for us,” recalls Hodge. “They would call for caucasian kids. They weren’t really plentiful opportunities for us. But it didn’t really matter what the ethnicity was, we would just go and crash the audition! And most of the time we’d get the job.”
Years later, Hodge would land another major role: as assistant DA DeCourcy Ward in Showtime’s City On a Hill, starring opposite the great Kevin Bacon. Bacon is a former Square Mile cover and renowned as one of the coolest dudes in the industry.
It’s for that reason, therefore, that we thought it only right to see if Bacon would like to be a Square Mile interviewer as well and speak to his friend and co-star for this profile. To our delight, he accepted. The resulting conversation unites one of Hollywood’s true legends with one of its brightest rising stars. We’re thrilled to share it with you.
Kevin Bacon: Aldis, I just wanted to say, congratulations on this weekend. It’s a stunning number of people when you get your head around it, all over the world, going to see this movie. That must feel amazing.
Aldis Hodge: It does, man. I’m really happy that we had the weekend that we had. Leading up to it, the anticipation is phenomenal because that’s something that you won’t live out for long. Once the movie is out, it’s out. But leading up to it, everybody’s excitement, everybody’s level of support for it – that’s really a great feeling, and one that I’ve tried to hold onto.
And now, with this being the result of all of that excitement and support? Sometimes I don’t take a minute to sit in it and really realise or understand the full weight of what’s going on. But I’m trying to do that now, just to take it in. Because we did have an amazing weekend. It could have been something else but it was not. It was this.
KB: It’s true but I know that you are someone who does look to the future, someone who has a lot of plans, and someone who is entrepreneurial in the way you approach your life. But I also know that even when you have something as monumental career-wise as Black Adam is for you, there’s probably also that feeling of, ‘yeah, and?’ On top of that, I’ve got my little girl in the back of this car and that’s where the rubber hits the road. Am I wrong about that?
AH: No you’re absolutely right. That’s really what goes into my mind, 24-7, when it comes to anything that I’m doing, anything of merit or substance. It’s all about a plan, right? It took me many years to get to this stage with a film like this in this genre but it was all very much planned steps trying to do something like this. Now we’re here and thank God we had an amazing weekend.
My mind immediately goes to, alright, what do we do with this? How do we use all of this momentum, this good favour, to build out the rest of the big picture? Because this is a puzzle piece that fits into the grand scheme of things. This is not where we stop. We can rest and relax and take it in for a minute but my mind is like, alright, don’t get comfortable like this. Don’t sit too long. Get active.
The part of me that comes from not having opportunities and that’s why I’m kind of built like this. It’s experiential. Every opportunity that I never had, that I had to create. And timing is a monster. If you have beautiful timing that creates everything, a whole different world of opportunities. For me, I don’t want to miss the moment but I also don’t want to miss the opportunity. And that’s where I have to find my centre.
KB: Now speaking of creating for yourself and speaking of opportunities, a lot of people might not know the origin story – and I’m not talking about the Black Adam origin story, I’m talking about the Aldis Hodge origin story! So talk a little a bit about you, your brother, your mum and the way the whole thing sort of started because I think it’s really fascinating.
AH: Indeed, indeed. Well, my brother and I were living on a base: both my parents were marines, we were living in a base in Hawaii. And my brother kept telling mum he wanted to be in the box – which was the television! The Cosby Show would come on all the time, he was all of three years old.
So my folks got out of the Marine Corps, I was raised primarily in a single-parent home with my mum. We moved from Hawaii to New Jersey and we started going to New York for extra work, doing print ads, all that kind of stuff. My brother started first. There was a job that he was on and they needed an extra kid for photos. I was there, I was all of three years old. I did the job and then afterwards I got a Batman toy because mum knows I love Batman! I was on my best behaviour so she gave me a toy as a reward for my good behaviour. And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m about to get my Batman hustle up!’
But that’s how we started, New York and Jersey, pounding the pavement with a lot of extra work, hustling up auditions that weren’t even meant for us. My mum would look at the breakdowns. There were not great opportunities for us but there would be a lot of great opportunities for kids – they would call for caucasian kids. They weren’t really plentiful opportunities for us. But it didn’t really matter what the ethnicity was, we would just go and crash the audition! And most of the time we’d get the job.
We did all this in the midst of a great many things. I don’t know how my mum survived. We dealt with homelessness several times in this space. Never lacked for food, never lacked for clothes. My brother and I never did but my mum did, for sure. She always made sure that we felt we had, even if she didn’t. But we were observant. We saw some of the hustle and the struggle and all the things that she was going through. For us, it puts in this survivor mentality where you’ve just got to keep hustling regardless of what goes on.
Even to this day, as I’ve grown in my career with opportunities that were never there, that I had to create, that I continue creating – that’s my mindset. It’s also the nature of an artist, right? Our job is to create. We share stories and communicate. We communicate with people through our creations. So it’s a part of my DNA to be honest. Now we have a family production company: we just produced a film, we’re developing some television shows that we’re going to start pitching. It’s been 33 years in the game now, almost 34. It’s what we do.
KB: It’s interesting that you point that out because as you know, there’s been a lot of people that start out as young as you guys did. It’s sometimes hard to translate any kind of success as a kid actor into success as a bona fide superstar. Of course there’s the pitfalls of the business and all the things that can go wrong – you have to credit your mom, whatever she did to keep you as cool and together as you and your brother are.
But also, I think that a lot of little kids do commercials and stuff. They can lose that naturalistic thing. And you are one of the most real and naturalistic actors around. Is there anything you can attribute to that? Not only making it in the business but being as good as you are?
AH: Thank you! I appreciate that. I think my mindset – I don’t know if it’s ancillary or contradictory but I don’t actually feel like I’m good at what I do. So I’m always looking to surprise myself. I wanna look at my work and I don’t recognise or see myself in it, which of course is hard to do because you live in your space with it for much longer than anyone else does.
KB: But you don’t have wings yourself, as far as I know?
AH: I got some feathers, I ain’t got full wings! I’ve got some feathers! As far as my approach to any particular character, it’s just honesty. I’m trying to figure out where they are honestly as a human being and start from there. As opposed to trying to put on. You can see people acting or you can see people responding. And in performance, you really don’t want to be caught acting.
Responding’s different – we all respond in life, right? We try to figure out how we respond and how that affects us. I think that’s the conversation we’re sort of having with the work we do – how do people manage these situations? Whether they are wholly commercial entertainment or whether they are rooted in some real honesty or real depth.
But it’s just trying to figure out how not to look like I’m up there being fake. Because I know I’m gonna recognise that and that’s gonna frustrate me because I’m fiendishly driven when it comes to trying to make sure that I supersede whatever I did the last time and the last time and the last time. Every time I’m up to bat with my craft, it has to be something that teaches me to evolve. I’m looking for that.
And also as a man, I’m also searching through my own personal journey and discovering a lot about myself. Sometimes that discovery is met on screen with different situations that I can live out through the characters. You’re watching the journey of one’s self-discovery. At least, that’s what it feels for me when I’m on screen. As an actor, if you go in there saying you know everything, that’s when your craft starts to die. But if you go in there saying, ‘This is what I hope to learn,’ I think you’ll become far more formidable than you ever would know.
KB: That’s beautiful, I love that. It’s funny, I think it’s pretty serendipitous that your mom got you a DC character, right? She didn’t hand you a little Spider-Man. So tell us a little bit about Black Adam. You’ve told me the story about getting the call, you’ve told me the story about the auditions. It’s such a great story. Could you lay that out for people because I think people will get a kick out of it?
AH: Absolutely. I’d gotten the call from one of the producers, Beau Flynn – thank God for that guy because he called my team: ‘What’s going on with Al? We’ve got this thing we’d like to talk to him about…’
So I read the script, I meet with the director Jaume Collet-Serra via the phone. Awesome. Automatically I could tell that he was a visionary. But he was like,’ OK, we just want to put it on its legs here, how it sounds on tape.’ In my mind, there is no slam-dunk. This is still my job to lose. I take it very seriously. I’m also a bit nervous because this is the biggest job in my career up to this point. This is the dream, right? So when they’re like, ‘Oh, don’t sweat it, here’s a couple of pages,’ in my mind I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m absolutely sweating it.’
So I do the tape, I send it to my team. My team hasn’t read the script, they didn’t know what was happening in the scene. After I was able to tell them it made sense but during the process they were like, we don’t know what’s happening. So I got a little nervous: I redid the self-tape more than 300 times before I felt comfortable.
KB: No actor would believe that! More than 300 times doing one self-tape! When you told me that, I just fell out!
AH: Yeah, the only reason I knew that was because when I deleted all of the old scenes, I would delete them in chunks several times.
It would be 90 takes, 60 takes, 100 takes! I’m starting to do the maths: ‘Goddamn, how many times did I do this?’ But I was that passionate about trying to make sure to get it right. So we submitted the tapes, a couple of weeks go by and I hear nothing. I’m in-between jobs, I go to New York, I’m in quarantine for two weeks, it’s the day after my birthday. I hear nothing, I’m assuming the job has gone.
Then I get a random phone call – ‘Is that Aldis?’
– ‘Hello, who’s calling?’
– ‘This is Dwayne Johnson.’
– Come on, bro, stop playing on my phone!
– ‘No, no. This is DJ.’
– ‘Bro, I’m serious! Stop playing on my fucking phone, I ain’t got time for this!’
I almost cussed him out. In fact, I kinda did. Because somebody was prank calling me on my phone prior and I thought they were continuing to mess with me. But then again, I’d been waiting on a call about Black Adam. DJ? Could it be? Who knows? You do not expect to get a random call from The Rock.
But then we go through and he says ‘Welcome to Black Adam.’ It was the first time I was really speechless in my career because it was the first time that I felt like, ‘Wow, I actually won on a grand scale something that I really believed in and I’d been chasing for 15 years.’ It finally happened. And thank God that DJ has a great sense of humour and patience. But we had a good laugh about it. He’d been working on this project, ten, 12 years at that point – now 15. So for me, it was validation of all the hardships that had come beforehand. Saying to me that those meant something.
The reason why I didn’t get all those jobs before, or why I couldn’t get those auditions before, became obvious. Auditions I begged for, a little bit part in a Marvel film or something like that and I couldn’t get it. It all made sense. Those noes were yeses. It reinstilled my belief and faith in what could be, and my faith in myself as an actor.
KB: I know that you’ve trained for a lot of things, you take your it really seriously. What was different about training for Black Adam?
AH: Well, the difference here was I was finally joining an action film and one of this calibre. I finally get to go all out! I was raised as a martial artist and I’d been wanting to do something like this for a minute.
So the moment I get off the phone with DJ, I order up blades to my room because I couldn’t leave, I was still in quarantine. Granted, I had already been training, just in case. I prepare and I stay prepared, just in case. So let’s set out a schedule, put on some weight, let’s hit a couple of targets with physique, endurance, getting my fighting back.
So I started going to the gym and the whole time we were shooting City On A Hill I was on a strict programme, diet and going to the gym. I don’t know if you saw me carrying around that gallon of water on set every now and then?
KB: What was amazing to me was that you were going through that and yet you weren’t cranky. I could have been so cranky at work if I was having to do that!
AH: The body part is tough. I had injured my knees, I had a torn MCL and I had fluid behind my knees from aerial training and acrobatics and all that. I was hurting. But we finished our job, I had a job in-between, and then I went straight down to Atlanta to months early to work with the stunt team. My regimen there was waking up at four, go hit the gym at five, and up until eight o’clock in the morning we would bodybuild. That was specifically to put on size.
KB: Did you hire a trainer?
AH: I didn’t hire a trainer but one of the stunt guys who’s part of DJ’s team, his name is Myles Humphus, he’s super swole and muscled up and the brother knows the body down to a science. He understands. He really got me in there and taught me a great deal.
We would go from five to eight in the morning bodybuilding, and then from eight to four in the afternoon we would do fight training, fight rehearsals, choreography, mobility work. Even though I’m in the air and all that, a lot of that stuff we shot practically – we either shot on the ground doing those fight scenes or I’d be shooting in a mo-cap suit but we’re still fight and doing all the movements. And they would just build the world around me.
Man, I got my butt whooped when it came to the wire work and all of that stuff. It was a lot. But you train mainly for endurance. Physique is one thing but you’re really training for endurance.
KB: How was the experience working with Dwayne? Kyra [Sedgwick, Bacon’s wife] did a movie with him some years ago and found him really lovely…
AH: The Tooth Fairy?
KB: No, it was called The Game Plan. It was like a football thing. She played his agent or something like that…
AH: He was like a single dad, trying to get his life together? Yeah, man. DJ was great to work with. I saw him as very much an engaged creative producer on set. It wasn’t just a vanity credit to him, producing this thing.
I remember, there was a time that my character had a line that was a little harsh. He didn’t like how it made Hawkman look – we want the audience to support him and ride for him in this moment. So let’s change the line and make him more likeable. He knew to give all the other actors the space and the stakes to shine and be celebrated at the same time. He gave us story. It wasn’t just all about him. He definitely was a team leader. Aside from that, he’s a fun guy, wicked sense of humour, really cool and just relax and chill to be around.
It was a great experience working with DJ. I hope we get to do this round and round and round again. DJ’s a good brother. The thing I learnt most from him was strategising. I think I strategise anyway but there’s a whole different level in terms of execution. When I see how he and his team move, it makes sense why he is where he is today.
KB: And you also had Pierce Brosnan and Sarah Shahi?
AH: Yeah, we worked with Sarah on our first season of City. It was great to back with Sarah again. She’s brilliant in the film, really, really powerful and I think she did an amazing job. It was awesome just to work with someone who you’ve already got familiarity with, you’re already friends.
And Pierce? Man, Pierce is awesome. He was the last cast member we found out about. I don’t think anyone else could have been more perfect. He really is just a sweet gentleman of a brother, he is super kind, really elegant, gracious and surprisingly humble. And I say ‘surprisingly’ because you’d think that somebody with the magnitude or career like his would walk around maybe with a different air about him. But he just had so much humility and gratefulness. He is a special human being.
View on Instagram
KB: I’m going to let you go but just tell me what’s next. Are you just going to bask in the glory or have you got something happening right away?
AH: You know I’m already hitting the ground running. I’m actually producing a new show and we start casting tomorrow. So I’m in the office doing that.
KB: I’m going to send you my picture and résumé, OK?
AH: Send it! Because we don’t really know, we haven’t really seen your work!
KB: There’s gotta be an old white guy somewhere…
AH: We gonna find him up in there! Do you want to play the evil character? Because there’s an evil character that might fit the bill. Nah, I would love the chance to work with you again. We’ve got to find something, man, ’cos the run on City was awesome. It was great working with you, brother. You’re a class act.
KB: Likewise. As I’ve said many times, that was one of the joys making that show – when we got to knock the ball back and forth. I’m so happy for you, as an actor and also as a person, that you’re having this fantastic success. I wish you more and more in the future.
AH: Thank you, brother! Likewise. I know you gonna do well! You’ve already been doing well. Keep doing well.
KB: I’m just throwing the shit against the wall to see what sticks...
AH: I’m doing the same thing. ■
Black Adam is in cinemas now