When you land your first role at age three and garner more than 70 credits before the age of 35, you can afford to be a little picky.
“I don’t want to play a thug for the 50,000th time, not necessarily because those roles are not great roles. They can be. But I got to a point in my career where I was playing a stereotype,” says the Black American actor Aldis Hodge, 34, from New York, where he is currently filming City on a Hill for Showtime. “I wasn’t playing a person or a human being; I was playing somebody’s idea that the only thing Black people can do is you play a thug.”
Success for the actor came early and fast—he landed a part on Sesame Street soon after learning how to talk and, later, in films such as 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance, which Hodge starred in when he was just nine. Today, the actor continues to be known for his consistent hard work. “If you look at your path in comparison to anyone else’s, it can distract you from what your real job is,” he says.
“I was playing somebody’s idea that the only thing Black people can do is you play a thug.”
Recently, the roles Hodge has landed have gotten more complex, and earned him substantial praise. The drama Clemency, in which he plays a death-row inmate, brought Hodge significant Oscar buzz, and the film’s director, Chinonye Chukwu, made history by becoming the first Black female director to win the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, in 2019. Hodge also played Janelle Monáe’s husband in Hidden Figures (2016), gave a forceful performance as a young N.F.L. linebacker wrongfully imprisoned for a sex crime in the true-life drama Brian Banks (2018), and acted alongside Elisabeth Moss in last year’s heady horror The Invisible Man. Next, Hodge will play Hawkman, joining the Rock in the new Black Adam movie, based on DC Comics characters.
Hodge is currently promoting One Night in Miami, in which he stars as football hero Jim Brown. The film, marking Regina King’s directorial debut and available to watch on Amazon Prime, is adapted from the 2013 play by Kemp Powers, who also wrote the screenplay. Based on a true story, it recounts one extraordinary night in February 1964 when Cassius Clay (soon to become Muhammad Ali), Malcolm X, soul hero Sam Cooke, and Brown all gathered in a Miami motel room.
“I watched interviews of [Brown] tackling the subject matter, having discussions and conversations about economics and racial injustice,” says Hodge. “I also studied his relationship with the other men and … their relationships with one another.”
Ultimately, there’s a method to the madness of the varied roles Hodge has taken on over the years. “I remember growing up and people kept saying, ‘You know, you’re going to be the next this person. The next that person.’ And all I wanted to be was Aldis. I just want to be seen as me.”
Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for AIR MAIL