Aldis Hodge plays computer hacker Alec Hardison on TNT's Leverage. Shot in Portland, Ore., the show follows a group of lawbreakers turned good guys, led by a former insurance investigator played by Timothy Hutton. Now four seasons into its run, Leverage also stars Gina Bellman, Christian Kane and Beth Riesgraf. Hodge talked to The Skanner News' Helen Silvis about Leverage, Portland and his ambitions. The Skanner News Video: Scenes from Leverage
HS: Your parents were in the Armed Services. How did that impact you?
AH: My parents were both marines, but I was probably just three when my mother got out. I moved around a little bit from North Carolina to Hawaii and then New Jersey, so I didn't have too much of that life. My mother didn't want my brother or I to get into the service, after her experience and understanding how she was treated. She would rather we had as normal a life as possible. I wasn't raised with my father. My childhood was primarily between New Jersey and New York. Now I live between Portland, Oregon and California.
HS: How did you start out in your career?
AH: My first job I started when I was three. Right behind my brother who started when he was three. My first job was a print ad for Essence magazine. My brother and I were in pictures. The earliest acting job I can remember is probably Sesame Street, which my brother and I did for a couple of years, back in the early 90s.
HS: Everyone knows Sesame Street. What was it like working there?
AH: Amazing! For a kid it was like going to the playground every day. You see these great buildings, colors and all these furry animals. It was a great experience for my brother and me. We didn't understand what we were doing, but we got to play all day so it was great.
HS: You have some other ventures as well as acting?
AH: I love acting. It's my passion and it is a big piece of who I am, but I enjoy other things and I do them as well. It's not like a Plan B sort of thing. I don't really believe in a Plan B, I believe in following your ambitions. I am also a designer. I design watches. I've been involved in design since I was a kid. I began designing watches when I was 19. I started my own company last year and this year I've started manufacturing my own design. So it's taken a very long while but yeah I'm getting into it all.
HS: I read that you are a musician too?
Somewhere, somebody wrote that I'd been playing since I was 10 and that's ludicrous because I bought myself a violin for the very first time when I was 18. It was the very first time I'd picked one up. So people expect me to be good, and I have to say, 'No! I'm a newbie'.
I've had a passion for music for a long time but I've never really focused on practicing it. I tried to teach myself for a couple of years but that didn't really work out. So I've had a teacher for the last year and a half and that's good. I try to keep it quiet because I'm not that good.
HS: What kinds of music do you play?
AH: I like to play all kinds of music, every genre, because musicality transfers through different genres. You can find opera in Hiphop, or you can find Hiphop in Celtic music. I've usually got a bit of country in my IPod. I'd say, I listen to absolutely everything -- except house and techno.
HS: What are you listening to on your IPod at the moment.
AH: I was listening to Florence and the Machine pretty hard. Right now I'm waiting on that Jay Z, Kanye West album 'Watch the Throne'.
HS: Are you like your geeky 'Leverage' character, Alec Hardison?
AH: Oh yeah! As far as the technical computer stuff that's not me. But when I get involved in watches and gadgets then I'm in a whole different world. So as far as the nerdy thing; I get it. The social awkwardness: I get that because I'm not very social, and I wasn't very socially comfortable as a child or a teenager. So there's a lot that's copathetic between my character and me – except for the technical ability. People think I can I fix their stuff, but I'm an actor. It's like playing a doctor on TV. 'Hey, can you save a life? No!!'
HS: Do you ever get your lines and think the writers haven't got your character exactly right?
AH: Absolutely. And that's not to discredit our writers because our writers are great. Every now and then, there is a little journey that goes into the scripting process from start to finish. There will be five different drafts or whatever... But with the writers it's always a collaboration between getting their story right and getting our voices right. Our writers are champs. They come on, they give us their stories and they listen to us, which is the best part about it, because the actors, the cast, we're not trying to change the stories, we just want to make sure our writers get our voices right and stay consistent.
So every now and then we have to say, 'Hey man this is not me'. People often forget the job of an actor. We are not there to say lines we're there to be this character that we have created. That's our job, to fill this character out in 3D and transfer it to the screen. So it's quite an easy and smooth collaboration that we've got. And we've had that with all the writers we've had throughout the year; they've all been great.
HS: What's it like working with Timothy Hutton, Gina Bellman, Christian Kane and Beth Riesgraf ?
AH: We're in the fourth season, but we've been working together for about five years. So we're buddies; we're just like family now. Everything is good. We have a really smooth working engine. We complement one another on screen. We know how each other performs. We have a really great set. We're fortunate for that. Plus we respect each other off screen as well. That's what really makes our show work, because that transfers on screen. The relationships between us, that's what engages the audience and that's really our advantage. We are really friends and that comes over on screen.
HS: What are your acting ambitions?
AH: There's talk about doing a Black Panther movie for Marvel. And I would love that. I grew up a comic-book head and if there was an opportunity as an actor to do the Black Panther super hero, that would be amazing.
There's also talk about doing Jackie Robinson's life story and I'd love to do that. He was a pioneer for African American culture in his day, as far as breaking into sports and standing his ground as a true American. He said, 'This is a game; we are equal, and this is what I'm going to do'.
HS: How about other ambitions?
AH: As far as ambitions in general, I want to write more and sell a couple of scripts. I'm working on a film and a pilot right now. My main goal within the next couple of years is to get into a position where I can start creating careers for other people. I want to start dishing out jobs and producing my own work.
HS: Would you create roles for people of color, who still have a harder time landing parts in films?
AH: Yes. I see a lot of very talented people from all kinds of diverse backgrounds, and there aren't the jobs for them. It's really kind of sad. I would like to change the tone in the industry, to where we start seeing other cultures as normal assets to society. Let's see a room full of different things, different colors, different languages. Because when I walk outside – well granted I don't see it very often in Portland because Portland .. you gotta search for ethnic diversity. But in other parts of the world, in other parts of America, you go to New York or LA or Chicago, you see all types of people. And I think that's something that should become more normalized on screen.
HS: You worked on 'Happy Feet'. Was that the most fun you've had on set?
AH: Well, voice-overs are an amazing kind of job to have. You can go to work in your pajamas. You're there for half an hour and then you're out. I've done a couple of TV animated shows, and they were fun. But I think the most fun I've ever had on set is right now with my current job at Leverage. I really own my space here and I can get comfortable. Doing guest spots you say, 'Well I'm only here for one day, I'd better make it count'. But on Leverage I can really sink my teeth into it and fell like I have a place. I can worry about doing my job and nothing else. I know I'm going to be here next week so I can feel comfortable and just have fun.
HS: Is there someone who has inspired you?
AH: My mother! She's the smartest, strongest person I know. She's conquered so much and always kicks it in the butt. She's beaten cancer, she's beaten strokes, heart attacks. She's beaten it all and she still keeps a smile on her face. She keeps looking to succeed. She doesn't complain. She's truly my inspiration for my life. I'd like to emulate her and be as good a parent as she was.
My brother, Edwin Hodge, is also an actor and he was my inspiration for getting into acting and getting my start in life. He started when he was 13. I started when I was 13 or 12. He's also an actor and a writer and he pioneered the path. Right now the same video game company that released a game called Heavy Rain last year,( Quantic Dream) right now they are working on a new video game project – they haven't released the name –my brother's working on that. It should be coming out sometime soon. He also did the remake of the classic film, Red Dawn.
HS: How do you like Portland? Do you miss living in a more diverse city?
AH: It's not a bad city. It has a slow pace but it's a comfortable and relaxed pace. And there's a lot to enjoy out here once you find a spot you can really have a good time. But yes, it does seem that Portland has black folks on one side and everyone else on the other. Where I live downtown, I could walk around for a week and not see another Black face, which is ridiculous to me. But not even just that, but other cultures like Japanese culture and Latino culture. When I first came to Portland I felt alone in this city for a long time – a very long time. It's here – it's just not mixed up is the problem. It's not as mixed culturally as it could be. That's weird to me. I don't think it's necessarily a racism issue. I just think there's cultural dissociation.