Aldis Hodge Talks City on a Hill, Black Adam Lessons From Dwayne Johnson

From executive producer/showrunner Tom Fontana, the second season of the Showtime drama series City on a Hill is focused on a housing project in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston in the 1990s, where the problems are stacking up. Overrun with gangs and drug-related violence, having to face a healthy distrust in law enforcement and dealing with a less than stellar criminal justice system pushes principled Assistant District Attorney Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge) to question just how far he’ll go, as he’s forced to co-exist alongside corrupt FBI agent Jackie Rohr (Kevin Bacon).

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Hodge talked about adjusting to filming with COVID protocols, how Jackie and Decourcy are like magnets that always find their way back to each other, being directed by Bacon and how it’s inspired him, and playing a character that calls out the justice system for its lack of justice. He also talked about returning to Leverage for the upcoming series revival, and what he hopes to learn from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson from their time working together on Black Adam.

Collider: You learn a lot during the first season of any show. How has the second season been to make, compared to the first season? Are there things you learned on the first season that you took into the new season?

ALDIS HODGE: I think the greatest difference between the seasons is COVID. We shot two episodes, and then we took a break. We hit quarantine for five or six months, and then came back to it, so we had to revisit a lot. In that time, our writers had a chance to revisit some of the stories and reshape a few subjects because of what was going on in the world. They did their due diligence in trying to make sure we had the best story to put out for this season as possible. Revisiting Decourcy and figuring out what his motives are and where he wants to go has been a fun challenge. But the greatest difference is figuring out the new standard, with testing and masks and all of that. To be honest, it hasn’t been difficult, at all. Anything we need to do to get back to set, I’m good with. It’s been really quite easy. Our crew is all very aware and accommodating and following protocols, in every way, shape and form. It’s a bit of an adjustment, but not a bad one.

Do you have any idea where the series will go, if you get future seasons? Is that a conversation you’re a part of, also being a producer on the show, or do you try not to think that far ahead?

HODGE: I always think way too far ahead. Where the show will go in future seasons is always a topic for discussion. It’s a continuation of conversations that we had early on. Where we are for this season is a conversation that was started last year, before we even finished shooting the first season. There’s a theme of us jumping from city to city in Boston, pulling from real actual events in this particular era, but we’re also paying homage to real experiences and real lives lived in this time in Boston. I can’t specifically point to where we’re going to go next, but I do have ideas and know we’re working on it.


Image via Showtime

RELATED: Kevin Bacon on ‘City on a Hill’s New Season & Whether His Character Can Be Redeemed

What can you say to tease Season 2 and what you’ve most enjoyed about the arc that your character gets to take?

HODGE: For me, the thing I can tease about this season is that this season is evolutionary. It’s a journey of evolution for many characters, their own personal lives, and how they deal with one another. We’re set in Roxbury and we’re dealing with a host of new characters and great actors that we brought on for this season. We’re dealing with our primary character, Grace Campbell, who lives in Roxbury and works with the housing projects to bring so many great things to her community. Unbeknownst to her, her two sons are actually running drugs and are part of a gang. This is pulled from a real from Boston. We deal with her and her journey, trying to figure out where the truth lies in her family and her household, and where the true lies in herself. Jackie and Decourcy are back at it. We find them in a place of contention, in the beginning. It’s like magnets, they’ll always find their way back to one another. Decourcy has a different challenge this year, dealing with his wife, as she eggs him on a little bit. Their professional lives also impact their personal lives, so they’ve gotta figure out how not to take their work home with each other. Their ambitions for wanting a family really lays a challenge on them to figure out how they can actually be the best they can be for one another. They go through a great challenge in trying to define what their relationship is and what their marriage is. Jackie has to deal with himself. Jackie comes to a place of understanding that he has issues he hasn’t dealt with and some of those issues, he begins to challenge this season. Everybody is going through an emotional evolution.

What was it like to be directed by your co-star Kevin Bacon, for the first episode back for this? Does that inspire you to want to do it?

HODGE: I’ve only recently come into wanting to direct. I was set to direct a short film last year, but it got shut down because of COVID and the schedule was pushed. I’ll have to find another time to do it. It’s planted the seed a little bit. I’ll get my confidence up, after I direct a few other things. Kevin is an experienced director, so it was fun knowing that he was gonna be doing that. We have worked out a fantastic rapport and a working relationship on set. It’s easy to read the energy and know where we wanna go. Working with him in the capacity of being a director, it’s just easy. We understand the characters, we know what the tone is and where we’re trying to get to, so it’s a relief when you know [the director] gets it and you don’t have to explain anything. There’s trust there between us, director to performer. When I’m trying to go somewhere, I know he can guide me right. It was good. It was a relief.


Image via Showtime

One of the ways that TV is different from film is that you find yourself working with a lot of different directors. With some shows, it’s a different director, every episode. What’s it like working with so many different directors, all the time? Are there advantages and disadvantages to that?

HODGE: There are great advantages. Seldom times, there are disadvantages, depending on who the director is. We have fantastic directors, all around. We’ve had Benny Boom. We had Christoph [Schrewe], who’s from our first season, and he shoots faster than anybody I’ve ever seen shoot before. In one or two takes, he’s got it and is good. When I get on set, I like to get through the day and I like efficiency. This season, because our schedule was compounded, we were shooting a lot of episodes, at the same time. Some days, we would have two or three different episodes that were shooting, which means that we’d have two or three directors we were working with, all in one day. This season, they had two episodes per director, so there was a bit more consistency of story, in terms of working with a director and figuring out where you wanna go, in tone and style, which I really enjoyed. Everybody has their own way about them and they all bring something unique that actually elevates what we’re doing, as a show, in terms of the rhythm and the flow and the look of the show. It’s nice, but you’re also in class. You get to study different people. I love working with so many different directors, just because you get to watch and learn and you get paid for going to school.

How hard is it to be someone like Decourcy Ward, who cares about justice and truth in this world?

HODGE: To play somebody that cares about justice and truth is quite easy. I find myself, in real life, being someone that cares about what justice and truth is, but the real version of that and not the version that I’ve been sold, that doesn’t merit its own potential or its own truth. There is a phrase, “The justice system is really the just us system.” I think that’s the system that Decourcy recognizes and is calling out, and is working within to change. He understands the nature of the belly of the beast that he’s now sitting in. He has a job to do. His job is to press the buttons, to make the change happen. It’s not a, hard challenge, at all. It’s a challenge of responsibility to make sure that his intentions are right. Even though he’s gonna be conflicted and his moral competence is gonna be tested, regardless of what happens at the end of the day, he’s still fighting to maintain his sense of justice, so that he can be the representation and the change that he wants to see.

Aldis Hodge in TNT's Leverage

Image via TNT

I’m very excited for the return of Leverage and the original cast. How much of the season will you actually be in?

HODGE: I can’t speak to it directly, but I will be in several episodes. I was hoping to do more, but quarantine. But I’ll be in a few episodes, but I can’t speak to specifics. It will be a splashy surprise. I dip in and I dip out.

Is that something where, if it continues, you hope to be a bigger part of it?

HODGE: Yeah, if it continues and schedule allows and permits. The first series for Leverage, I hold it near and dear to my heart. It’s something that we all built, and living in the wake of its legacy, Leverage, now entitled Leverage: Redemption, is definitely something that I plan to continue with, just for the nostalgia of it. I know the fans love it and I have fun with it. We have a great new cast. We have a new cast member, her name is Aleyse Shannon and she’s really fantastic. We also have Noah Wyle, as one of our cast members. Aleyse comes on playing my adopted little sister. She’s a really bright light with great energy, and I’d love to see where she’s at. I really wanna see where their brother-sister relationship goes.

What was it like to return to that character and world? Was it something you ever thought you’d be doing?

HODGE: No. I was shocked when Dean Devlin, our producer, called me and said, “I’m getting the gang back together.” I was like, “Really?!” I know he’d been trying to find the right home for it for awhile, and it was just time and patience. Amazon became the right home. The reason why we’re even coming back is because the fan support has been so strong, which makes me really happy. It teaches me about fan loyalty. I can only be so grateful that we’re able to get the chance to come back. It’s never happened in my career. That kind of fan loyalty means so much. It means a great deal because it allows us, as artists, to understand the actual effect we have and the connection that we make with our audience. That fan loyalty is strong with Leverage. I see the same fan loyalty strong with City on a Hill. The fan support is everything. For me, it’s a great surprise, but one that’s quite awesome to experience.

I know that you can’t reveal any story points for Black Adam, but when you know that you’re going to be working alongside someone like The Rock with his work ethic, what do you do to step up your game? Do you come up with a whole training regimen for yourself?

HODGE: I was just saying this about Kevin, but I like to surround myself with teachers. When I, as a professional, get in the same room with somebody, I like to think that I’ve earned my space there because I’m of the same caliber, but at the same time, I position myself in a room with teachers who can help me evolve and go beyond where I’m at. Working with Kevin, I get to learn how he manages himself, how he manages a set, and how he handles the consistency and nature of his character and the story. That’s really great and impressive to watch and be a part of. There’s a reason that he’s a legend in the game. And when it comes to The Rock, I have an insane work ethic myself, but I’m looking at him like, “Brother, how do you do it?” He’s just on a whole different level. I’m eating all day. As soon as I get off of here with you, I’ve gotta go eat and work out. I’m trying to figure out how to balance it all. I have so much going on and I’m managing, but it takes a fantastic team, which I already have and am continually building on.

I can’t wait to sit down and just pick his brain about time management. If you look at his Instagram, he’s always working. He’s working at a high level, but everything is successful and it’s deliberate. That’s strategy. How do you manage that? It’s an amazing feat to see people who manage their time well, manage their projects, and it all maintains at a super high level. He’s broken records with his tequila company. He’s resilient with it. It’s really impressive to watch him. I’m grateful for the opportunity to sit there and talk to an entrepreneur at his level. He’s a machine. He’s a real athlete. He’s had years of this, so it’s his lifestyle. You can’t rush to get to that level. That’s not gonna happen overnight. That’s years and years of dedication.

City on a Hill airs on Sunday nights on Showtime.

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