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INTERVIEW: "Clemency" Star Aldis Hodge On Being Named A Breakthrough Artist, His 31-Year Acting Career, A Magnificent Morgan Freeman Moment, And More

Nicole Barylski

Aldis Hodge was named a 2019 Breakthrough Artist by Hamptons International Film Festival. (Photo: Hunter Arthur)

Over the past year, actor Aldis Hodge has starred in Brian Banks, What Men Want, and Clemency, - which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival - as well as Showtime's City on a Hill, just to name a few. So, it's no surprise that the Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) named the 33-year-old one of this year's Breakthrough Artists.

We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Hodge about his 31-year career, the HIFF honor, what he looks for in a role, and much more.

You've been in front of the camera since you were a toddler. How did you initially get into acting?

AH: My brother is to blame, my brother and Batman toys. When my brother, Edwin Hodge, was a baby, about 3-years-old, he told my mom, I want to be in the box, which meant the TV. So, she went to go support his dream and I was just trying to follow suit and be like my big brother. One day, on one of his print jobs, I think it was a photo shoot for Essence, they were asking if there are any more kids. My mom let me take the pictures, and she got me a Batman for it. So, I kept doing it for my Batman toys.

With over 70 credits to your name, what has been the most rewarding role and why?

AH: I can't really say which one has been most rewarding. I will say it has been a rewarding journey. But, every role gives me something different. With my last two projects, Brian Banks and Clemency, I've been able to push my skills as an artist to a completely different level, which I really appreciate, because it's hard to try to push yourself when the content or the subject is not really up to par, the role that you're playing.

But, when you have a script that's beautifully written like Clemency, you have complex characters with duality, it allows you to stretch in a different way and get to learn. For me, every job is an opportunity to grow, because I want to become the kind of artist who I'm looking at myself in a role and I don't recognize who I am. I want to be that different. So, every job has had their benefits and I'll say that the complete journey, as a whole, has been really rewarding.

This is your 31st year in the industry. So, what do you look for in a role nowadays?

AH: I look for too many things to count, but my top, top priority list, I'm looking for a depth of humanity. Something that's honest and earnest, but something also that is educational about ways that we can experience or facilitate emotions. I'm looking for really fantastic stories that introduce a new perspective. Something that's visceral, something that kind of smashes into something that's real, whether it's a drama, comedy or action, adventure, or whatever. I want to give people a new cinematic experience.

So, great depth of character, something that introduces a new experience emotionally, and then just things where we can take chances as artists to visually show something stunning or to make people ask questions about different cultures and different ways to say, oh, wait, maybe I haven't thought about this or the next time I engage somebody in this way, maybe I might be a little bit more open to thinking about them in different ways or communicate with them in different ways. I want to pose questions, because I believe that the work we do is basically one big conversation that we're having with our audience. As an actor, you can't always control what the conversation is, but you can at least choose to be a part of that conversation. So, I just want it to be interesting.

Throughout your career you've worked alongside some very impressive co-stars. Which left the biggest impression and what was your biggest takeaway from the time that you spent with them?

AH: Oddly enough, the people that have really left the biggest impression have been behind the scenes. Namely John Rogers, who was the showrunner and co-creator of Leverage. I remember when Leverage was coming about and the network, they had wanted to make a different choice. They wanted somebody different, and John said, "No, I think this kid's got it. He's got what it takes and I think we should go with Aldis Hodge." So, he stuck his neck out on the line for me, put his faith in me, and that show ended up running five seasons and we're currently still in syndication. We've been in syndication for seven years. Now, had he made the wrong choice, that may not have happened... He really put his faith in me and that was really great to see somebody in his position take that chance.

As far as moments that I have had on set, there was a moment when I was filming Brian Banks, and I think it was the first day that I met and stepped on set with Mr. Morgan Freeman. Now, Mr. Freeman and our director Tom Shadyac have a history. They did Bruce Almighty together, they know each other, they're well acquainted. But, Mr. Freeman did not know me and we hadn't really spoken much at this point, because we really just got to the set and immediately started working. But, within our first couple of takes that we did together, he goes over to Tom Shadyac, the director, and he whispers something in his ear. So, after a couple more takes, we have a break. Tom calls me over and says, "Hey, man. Come here. I want to tell you something." I said, "What's up?" He said, "Morgan came over to me and he said, 'That kid over there, he's got it.'"

It hit me really, really hard, because I was like, wow, we haven't really spoken. I mean, it's such a subtle, simple thing, but for him to pour that kind of confidence into me, especially as a young actor, knowing the roles that he's opened up for people like me, and the fact that I was very nervous on that job. It was nice to have that vote of confidence from Mr. Freeman and for him to be able to say, "Okay, this kid's got it." That was huge for me. It was a great moment.

Clemency, your latest film, is screening at the Hamptons International Film Festival. What drew you to the project and the role of Anthony Woods?

AH: So, for me, Clemency is checking off all those boxes that I just said about things that I want in my work - the duality of characters and nuances, the subtleties that people don't expect. The really humane experience that is something completely different than what you thought. I thought that Chinonye Chukwu, our writer and director, did a fantastic job of really drawing out all these characters. For me, playing Anthony Woods was an opportunity to see this man one who, normally, we as the audience might assume if you get on death row, obviously he must have done something to be there and regardless of how you feel about death row, this particular character gives me an opportunity to ask the audience a question about how they really, truly feel. Your opinions of death row might change. Your opinion of death row inmates might change after this. That's what I love about it. The characters are so well illustrated, it's beautiful.

There's a scene I have in there with Danielle Brooks where that conversation goes completely left. The thing I love about it is that it's so raw and Danielle's character is able to say to my character the things that I think a lot of people would want to say in real life, but they don't have the courage to say. My nuanced relationship with warden Bernadine, played brilliantly by Alfre Woodard, it's one of the most unlikely bonds that one could see or experience. So, for me, it was just such a challenge emotionally and cerebrally. Anthony Woods, for me, was one of the best performances, I think, I've ever been able to execute in my career and it was just such a pleasure and privilege - just because the character's fantastic.

What was your reaction when you learned that you had been named a Breakthrough Artist?

AH: I was surprised, I was shocked. I've never won anything individually, something like this, ever in my career. This movie is, for me, the little engine that could, because it's very much an independent [film], we didn't know how we would hit the market. But, we're out there and we keep growing and going, and for my work to be recognized in this way is really humbling, but also it's refreshing and it's invigorating and motivating - because, like I said, I've never been recognized like this individually before.

It's my first time, so I don't know what I'm going to do when I get to the stage, but I'm just going to enjoy myself. It's awesome, because as an artist to be recognized, to be singled out, to have people let you know, hey, man, your work is good. I feel like I've been seen, and that's one of the most important things you can give an artist is to let them know that they have been seen.

Will this be your first time in the Hamptons?

AH: Absolutely. As a kid, I grew up in New York, between New York and New Jersey, but we did not have the Hamptons money. So, this will be my first time. I will not wear loafers or boat shoes. (He says with a joking laugh.) I'm kinda leaning towards sneakers, I might wear some Tims. But, it's my first time so I want to see what the town is about. I know I won't have too much time to explore, but I just want to find a good restaurant with some good food.

What are you working on next?

AH: Quite a few things. There is a film that I'm working on in either December or January. We're setting the schedule now. Unfortunately, I can't say the title of it, because it hasn't been officially announced. But, I will say I'm very, very excited about this because of the director. So far the cast is shaping up quite well. Then, I'm in the process of executive producing two films. I am currently producing and directing a short film. I also go back into shooting my TV series, City on the Hill, next year. So, I'm shooting my movie in December/January, go back into my TV show at the end of January, when my show is done, I go into producing/directing my first short and then I'm still, like I said, executive producing these other two films and putting the cast together and all that right now. So, I'm a little busy.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

AH: I just want to say, as far as the Hamptons International Film Festival, I'm grateful. I really am super grateful. Thank-you so much. I want to thank them for recognizing me and acknowledging me in this way. It's fantastic. It's a first time experience for me. It is very much a significant moment in my career and one that I will not forget.

The 27th annual Hamptons International Film Festival will take place Columbus Day Weekend (October 10 through October 14).

Clemency will screen as part of the 2019 Hamptons International Film Festival on Saturday, October 12 at Guild Hall at 11:30 a.m. and Sunday, October 13 at Bay Street at 10 a.m. Hodge will take part in the Winick Talks at Rowdy Hall: Breakthrough Artist on Saturday, October 12 at 10 a.m.

For more information, visit hamptonsfilmfest.org.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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