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Serving A Purpose Other Than His Own: Aldis Hodge Discusses Playing Brian Banks

Hodges desire to play Brian Banks has deep roots.

Image Credit: Bleeker Street

Actor Aldis Hodge is a 30-year veteran of the filmmaking industry.

His role as Brian Banks has elevated his stature and demonstrates his elite talent and versatility as an actor. Hodge put on the performance of a lifetime in portraying the tragedy-to-triumph saga of Banks, an all-American high school football star whose life was temporarily destroyed when he was wrongly convicted of a rape he didn’t commit. 

The 32-year-old Onslow County, N.C. native recently appeared as ‘Noah’ in the WGN hit series “Underground”,  “City on a Hill” where he played the co-lead opposite Kevin Bacon, the critically acclaimed film “Hidden Figures” and the hit biopic “Straight Outta Compton”.

The Shadow League spoke with this summer’s superstar, transcending Black actor and SAG award winner prior to the movie’s premier on August 9th.

The Shadow League: You’ve had a long career doing TV shows, movies, sports shows, and even films with a particular perspective on race. What is it about this particular role, playing Brian Banks, that is different from the rest?

Aldis Hodge: Simply that Brian is a remarkable brother. I think that what he went through is an experience that’s meant to do more. Right now I think he’s living out his true purpose in terms of being effective, being a part of the conversation for the problem of judicial change, being a catalyst for how people understand empathy in different ways and grace and gratefulness. 

I’m happy to be an asset to that purpose. I think it’s such a great time for this work to come out right now. The universe aligned in some kind of way for it to happen at the right time. 

Despite a lack of evidence, Banks got railroaded by a criminal justice system that devalues the lives of men of color and screwed by the money-grubbing intentions of the alleged victim and her mother and his lawyer, who dropped the ball.  

Facing a potential sentence of 41 years to life, Banks was forced to take a plea deal of five years prison time, another five years of probation, and was required to register as a sex offender. At age 18, his dreams of becoming a star linebacker in the NFL were gone before they became a reality.

Adis Hodge: The movie was a new responsibility for me professionally and a new experience for me personally. There are just so many nuances that I’m grateful for with this particular piece of art that I’m able to be a part of on so many different levels

TSL: Why did you want this role besides the fact it’s another leading role to add to your extensive resume? 

Hodge: Being part of a purpose. I was familiar and frustrated by Brian’s story prior to getting this job. I figured this is one of the great opportunities to do effective work. I have always wanted to participate in effective art. Something that elevated me as a human being and this is one of those roles that actually does that. It serves my own personal desire as an artist to do something that served a purpose other than my own. Something that’s bigger than me. Way beyond the monetary aspect. It was a life experience, a teachable experience. 

TSL: Did you learn something about yourself from meeting with Banks, working out together, playing his part and going through the process of becoming his character?

Hodge: I elaborated on certain things that were already foundational within me. Being able to be grateful for the little things in life and the hardships. Brian always says: “Don’t judge me by what I went through, just me by how I dealt with it.” 

We don’t control elements around us but in terms of who we are, we have the power to be happy when we choose to be happy. And I was on a journey of learning how to reclaim and fight for my own happiness at the time this movie came around. 

Banks eventually was able to join forces with the California Innocence Project (CIP) in an effort to get exonerated against this egregiously false conviction. He eventually defeated the odds and had his unjust conviction overturned when the alleged victim admitted that she lied on him. The movie won the Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival last year and is distributed through Bleecker Street. 

TSL:  What kind of immediate feedback have you gotten on the previews and your current media circuit?

Hodge: People have told me personally that the movie has affected their lives. A lot of people come away trying to figure out how to help and motivate, learn more about the CIP and what they can do. A lot of people who didn’t know the story have a newfound respect for Brian and a newfound understanding of elements within the judicial system that plagues Black and Brown bodies all over the world. They come away from this energized to do work.

TSL: What’s the key to your longevity in the film industry as a Black actor searching for opportunities to play diverse roles?

Hodge: This will be my 31st year in the business. The key is treating people the right way and contributing to the craft rather than looking for what it can do for you. As far as being a “Black actor”, you can’t escape the confines of which Hollywood looks at Black actors, through a very very small, mitigated lens.

But I’m not a “Black actor”, I’m an actor. I’m a man and I’m a Black man for sure, but there’s normalcy applied to white people in this business when all cultures, in general, should have a normalcy applied to them. But it’s a stigma that Hollywood builds off… when they are able to put us in a box. I’m very aware of that stigma, but I’m also aware that I have to live outside of that definition in order to teach people how to treat me.

TSL: What was it like working with Morgan Freeman? To have a legend and patriarch like Freeman validate what you do without really knowing you or speaking to you was incredible. Talk about that.

Hodge: Early in the filming process, Mr. Freeman, myself and the director Tom Shadyac were shooting a scene and running lines and I hadn’t spoken to him much socially at this point. So we did a couple of takes and then he leans over to Tom and says something. After a while, Tom comes over to me and told me that Morgan came to him, pointed at me and said: “That kid over there, he’s got it.” 

It really shut me down for a minute. It brought me to tears. I look at Mr.Freeman with reverence in terms of what he was able to accomplish because he was pioneering and opening doors for guys like me and even Denzel Washington. He came from a time frame where it was far more difficult than it is for me now. Him being able to receive my artwork in that way, it was a compliment I will never forget. 

Aside from the aforementioned roles, Hodge played Alec Hardison on TNT’s “Leverage” and has appeared in “Clemency,” “What Men Want”, “Brian Banks”, “TURN: Washington’s Spies”, two “Die Hard” movies, “American Dreams”, “Friday Night Lights” and many other films and shows.

TSL: Is this a career-defining role for you? 

Hodge: As fantastic as this opportunity is, it’s a step to the bigger picture that I’m working towards. I’ll continue moving towards my truth and purpose. The opportunities that are granted is a reflection of the choices we make along the way and who we are. I do hope people are affected by this emotionally and empathetically in a way that hits their spirit. The greatest aspect of who Brian Banks is that he never gave up on himself. I hope this movie pushes me towards my true purpose in this industry. 

 

“Brian Banks” opens on Friday, August 9th.

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