Aldis Hodge, A 30-Year Acting Veteran At Age 32, On 'City On A Hill'

Jun 14, 2019
Originally published on June 14, 2019 12:22 pm

A new TV show, set in Boston in the 1990s, centers on some action-packed armored-car robberies. A crime drama in Boston: You've heard this before.

But City on a Hill, which premieres Sunday on Showtime, is aiming for distinction. It stars actor Aldis Hodge as a straight-and-narrow assistant district attorney working within a crooked justice system. He's new in town, and determined to take on these robbery cases.

"In order to do his job right, he has to kind of play their game and play kind of by their rules a little bit," Hodge says in an interview. "So he's got to get his hands dirty."

And that means teaming up with a corrupt, racist FBI agent, played by Kevin Bacon. The two form something like a buddy-cop duo — except they certainly aren't buddies.

"I keep saying that these guys are two titans in a ring, boxing it out," Hodge says.

In an interview, he spoke about the racism in the world of the show, his "disciplinarian" mother and a career that began as a child actor on Sesame Street and in Die Hard with a Vengeance.


Interview Highlights

On the racism of Kevin Bacon's character

I remember talking to the director of the show when we did the pilot, and even the writers now, about the tone of how this character handles racism. ... I grew up around racism. I grew up between New York and [New] Jersey. And most people didn't realize that there was a KKK presence in Jersey in the part of town where I grew up. So I grew up around it. So as far as it comes to dealing with our characters together, we play the honesty of it.

And this is what we go through today. I've even been through it this year alone in New York ... I've had a Caucasian man a couple of months ago call me the n-word. ... To my face, yeah. I've had another Caucasian man in his 50s call me to my face, said, "You're intimidating because you're black." I said, "What? What did you say?" And in that, I had to invoke my own power within myself to understand my value, because: I'm a human being. I'm not intimidating. And I know what I bring to the table, and I know how I treat people. I was brought up with respect, and in that, I mean I give respect because I see the value in other people. That's what my mother taught me.

It's weird that people don't realize that we live in this reality continuously.

Aldis Hodge stars opposite Kevin Bacon as unlikely collaborators in the period cop drama City on a Hill.
Claire Folger / Showtime

On his mother

Both my parents were Marines; so they met in the Corps. My brother [Edwin Hodge, also an actor] and I were both born while they were in service. And moms — so she was a single parent; I was raised in a single-parent household — but moms was, she was no joke. She was not a game up in here! Oh man!

My mother was very much a disciplinarian. On time is late, early is on time, that kind of thing. And us, even though we were in the business, back in Jersey and New York we were still poor. We've been homeless three different times. I believe the last time I was homeless was when we moved to LA — I think I was 10. We used to live in our car at a certain point and all that. And for everything, my mom was like: Education is your way out. So she was not playing about the education. My mom reinforced the value of who we were in us continuously. And she — you know, she sacrificed a lot so that we may pursue our dreams. ...

Look, she was very conscious of the fact that she's a single mom raising two black men in a world that would not be so kind to them. What happens when the acting goes south? What will you know? So with acting, she made us earn it. She said, "Look, if you're not bringing home As and Bs, you ain't going to see no audition. I don't care what's happening." And you know, on set — my mom, she's from the South, she's from Florida – like, she'll snatch us up in front of anybody. You acting out, you gon' get your butt whooped here, now, today, in front of everybody, and you gon' go back ... you gon' do your job, because you chose this.

On having a 30-year acting career at age 32

I've had to reevaluate my relationship with this industry. Because when I was a teenager, all I was getting was, like, thug role auditions and athlete role auditions. And I remember, I was always a science nerd. I was like: Black people are more than this. Like, that's cool and all, but it has to have a purpose. It can't just be for the sake of "this is all we see you as." Now, 30 years in the game, I've spent this entire time trying to figure out ... what I'm doing here, and demanding more of this career for me. So I've made sacrifices. There are jobs I didn't take, auditions I didn't go on. It all amounts to where I am now.

And you have to actively participate in your fate, in your future. So I got a mission. And make sure that when people see me, they see a man of content and moral fiber. And somebody who didn't sell out. And that's the path I hope to walk for the rest of my career.

Jacob Conrad edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

A new TV show set in Boston in the 1990s centers on some action-packed armored-car robberies.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CITY ON A HILL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Back up. Back up.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ACCELERATING)

KING: Possibly you are skeptical about another crime drama set in Boston. But "City On A Hill," which premieres Sunday on Showtime, is shooting for distinction. It stars actor Aldis Hodge as a straight-and-narrow assistant district attorney working in the middle of a crooked justice system. He's new in town, and he's determined to take on these robbery cases.

ALDIS HODGE: In order to do his job right, he has to kind of play their game and play kind of by their rules a little bit. So he's got to get his hands dirty.

KING: Getting his hands dirty means teaming up with an FBI agent who's played by Kevin Bacon. He is as corrupt as they come. It's like a buddy-cop duo except, as Aldis Hodge says, these two guys are not buddies.

HODGE: I keep saying that these guys are two titans in a ring boxing it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CITY ON A HILL")

KEVIN BACON: (As Jackie Rohr) Is there a misunderstanding here?

HODGE: (As Decourcy Ward) No, no, no. See, I understand perfectly. You walk in, and you think, oh, the new guy's stupid enough to eat your [expletive].

BACON: (As Jackie Rohr) Don't worry. Next time, I won't ask.

HODGE: (As Decourcy Ward) Oh, is that a threat?

KING: There was something that really struck me about this show as I was watching it. When you are off-screen, Kevin Bacon's character says terrible things about yours, racist things.

HODGE: Yeah.

KING: How do you guys talk about that when you're not in character? And, like, what goes through your mind when you're watching that, and you are just the subject of such vitriol?

HODGE: So that was - I remember talking to the director of the show when we did the pilot and even, you know, the writers now about the tone of how this character handles racism. And I said in terms of reality because I grew up around racism. I grew up between New York and Jersey. And most people don't realize that there was a KKK presence in Jersey in the part of town where I grew up. So I grew up around it.

KING: Yeah.

HODGE: So as far as it comes to dealing with our characters together, we play the honesty of it. And this is what we go through today. I've even been through it this year alone in New York with...

KING: What happened?

HODGE: (Laughter) I done been through some things. I've had a Caucasian man a couple months ago call me the N-word.

KING: To your face.

HODGE: To my face, yeah.

KING: Yeah.

HODGE: I've had another Caucasian man in his 50s call me to my face that you're intimidating because you're black. (Laughter) I said, what did you say? And in that, I had to sort of invoke my own power within myself to understand my value because I'm a human being. I'm not intimidating. And I know what I bring to the table, and I know how I treat people. I was brought up with respect. And in that, I mean I give respect because I see the value in other people. That's my mother taught me. But it's weird that people don't realize that we live in this reality continuously.

KING: You mentioned your mom.

HODGE: Moms (ph), yeah.

KING: Moms. Do I have right that she was a Marine?

HODGE: Yeah. Both my parents...

KING: Both your parents.

HODGE: ...Were Marines. So they met in the Corps. My brother and I were both born while they were in service. And, yeah, Moms - so she was, you know, a single parent. I was raised in a single-parent household. But Moms was - she was no joke.

KING: (Laughter).

HODGE: She was not a game up in here (laughter).

KING: Tell me about her.

HODGE: Oh, man. My mother is - was very much a disciplinarian. On time is late. Early is on time - that kind of thing.

KING: Amen.

HODGE: You know, even though we were in the business back in Jersey and New York, we were still poor. We've been homeless three different times.

KING: Wow.

HODGE: I believe the last time I was homeless was when we moved to LA. I think I was 10. But we used to live in our car at a certain point and all that. And for everything, my mom was like, education is your way out. So she was not playing about the education. My mom reinforced the value of who we were in us continuously. And she - you know, she sacrificed a lot so that we may pursue our dreams.

KING: Well, now I am wildly curious because one of your first roles was on "Sesame Street..."

HODGE: (Laughter) Yeah.

KING: ...Meaning you were a kid when you got into the acting business.

HODGE: Yeah, I was 2. My brother was 3 years old.

KING: Two years old (laughter).

HODGE: Yeah.

KING: I mean, you don't always associate child actors with people whose parents are really, really serious about education. And in a lot of ways, it seems in our culture like you have to pick one.

HODGE: Yeah. Look, she was very conscious of the fact that she's a single mom raising two black men in a world that would not be so kind to them. What happens when the acting goes south? You know, what will you know? So with acting, she made us earn it. She said, look, if you're not bringing home As and Bs, you ain't going to see no audition.

KING: (Laughter).

HODGE: I don't care what's happening. And, you know, on set, my mom - she was from the South, from Florida - like, she'll snatch us up in front of anybody.

KING: (Laughter).

HODGE: You acting out, you going to get your butt whooped (ph) here, now, today, in front of everybody. And you going to go back...

KING: In front of all the Muppets (laughter).

HODGE: (Laughter) Exactly. You going to do your job (laughter) because you chose this.

KING: When I was researching this interview, I learned that, at about 9 years old, you were in "Die Hard: With A Vengeance."

HODGE: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

KING: Which is one of my favorite movies of all time.

HODGE: Oh, word up. Go ahead, now. Appreciate it.

KING: I've seen it 30 times. I cannot believe you were one of Samuel L. Jackson's nephews (laughter).

HODGE: I personally think it was the best "Die Hard," just saying.

KING: It was the best "Die Hard."

HODGE: Not being biased, but I'm biased.

KING: No, no, no, man, it was the best "Die Hard." And we'd have to fight that case, but I would be willing to die on that hill.

HODGE: I'll fight with you. What we need to do? Who we need to go get to fight the case?

KING: (Laughter) But...

HODGE: I'm with you.

KING: But you've been - I mean, this makes the point - on "Sesame Street" at 2...

HODGE: Yeah.

KING: ...In "Die Hard: With A Vengeance" - the best - at age 9...

HODGE: (Laughter).

KING: ...You have been in this business for a long time. Do you feel like the last three, four years have been a sort of breaking out for you? Or - what is your career like when you're 30 years in at age 32?

HODGE: (Laughter).

KING: (Laughter).

HODGE: You tired. God dang it, you tired (laughter).

KING: (Laughter).

HODGE: No, I've had to re-evaluate my relationship with this industry because...

KING: Yeah.

HODGE: ...When I was a teenager, all I was getting was, like, thug role auditions and athlete role auditions. And I remember I was always a science nerd. I was like, black people are more than this. Like, that's cool and all, but it has to have a purpose. It can't just be for the sake of this is all we see you as, right?

KING: Yeah.

HODGE: Now, 30 years in the game, I've spent this entire time trying to figure out what I'm doing here and demanding more of this career for me. So I've made sacrifices. There are jobs I didn't take, auditions I didn't go on. And it all amounts to where I am now. And you get - you have to actively participate in your fate and your future. So I got a mission (laughter), you know? And make sure that when people see me, they see a man of content and moral fiber and somebody who didn't sell out. And that's the path I hope to walk for the rest of my career.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID AXELROD'S "HOLY THURSDAY")

KING: Thirty-year veteran of acting Aldis Hodge, thank you so much for being with us.

HODGE: Thank you very much for having me. I've enjoyed this. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.