(Opening photo taken by @Briana Hodge Photography)
Pushing the needle forward
As a parent, you often hear stories of those overachieving kids who play several instruments, do well in school and are captain of their sports team, putting your progeny and your skills as a parent to shame. Well, Aldis Hodge is one of those. The son of US Marine Corps parents, as a kid he played the clarinet, wrote poetry, painted and acted (first part at the age of two), all of which he still does today besides film producing and learning French. He is one of the new generation of gifted artistic polymaths that make us all reconsider the definition of free time.
To a large degree, a successful career in acting is all about being in the right place at the right time. Young Aldis used to hang around film sets with his mum and his older brother Edwin. Their dedicated mother was helping Edwin with his wish to be “in the box” taking them from one casting to the next hoping he’d be selected for any role, however miniscule. Their persistence paid off and Edwin would act a bit here and there.
At one of these productions, the younger brother Aldis was offered a part as well; they just happened to want another kid. The reward from the boy’s mother: a Batman toy and so, Aldis’s two-year old entrepreneurial brain thought “Hmm, let’s get my Batman hustle going.” As an extra bonus, he happened to be naturally gifted at acting.
Starting his career as a toddler meant he didn’t really have the chance to go to drama school. As he puts it, “I was afforded the life experience to learn on the job. I think drama school can help you practice your basics but you will still have to find yourself and figure out on the job what kind of artist you really are. That’s no disrespect to any drama school, I just believe that you’re going to be put in many more tough scenarios than you can anticipate.”
He played a small role in Bed of Roses (1996), a romantic comedy with Christian Slater and Mary Stuart Masterson before landing a job – aged eight – in Die Hard with a Vengeance opposite Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis. Because of his age, he was not allowed to see this kind of movies so he had no idea who those two guys were. Jackson shared with his mum a few gems of knowledge. One of the things he told her was, “If your boys want to learn the true foundation for acting, get them on stage.” Aldis recalls that “oddly enough, as we were wrapping Die Hard, my brother and I had an audition for a play called Showboat on Broadway. It was a two and a half year tour. My brother joined first and I came in the last year and a half, when I got a little older (nine). Stage definitely gave us a better foundation, helped us figure out the fundamentals of performance. Sam was right, that’s for sure.”
Precociously smart, by the age of 12, Aldis had already realised that as an actor, you have to create the environment that you want to participate in. So he decided that he was going to stay in the business to fight for his own values. Like many other industries, Tinsel town is not exactly known for its love of rebels. They abide by a certain image and based on that, tend to put people in boxes and tell them exactly what they are not and how much they are not worth as soon as they set foot in town. Aldis shared with us a story that unfortunately is likely to happen more than we realise as an audience: “When I was a child, I got fired from a job for being too good. I did the job, a pilot for a children’s series. They tested it nationally and myself along with two other actors on the show tested higher in popularity than the actual lead. So they fired us instead of training the lead or getting a better actor for that role. It didn’t make any sense to me. Then I realized that it is a machine in the middle, a plug-in-place system where they take you off the shelf, there is the role and you have to fit.”
Less funny is another audition he remembers from when he was 11 or 12, in which “a forty year old white man looked me in my face and said I was not black enough for the role. He said that because my brother and I were educated, eloquent and articulate. This is how we would present ourselves; my mother raised us right.”
All these experiences made young Aldis think about how the world looked at black people and the outlook seemed abysmal. “I hated not having control over my own autonomy. Having to be a gun for hire, only to be put back on the shelf when somebody else was done with me, made me feel worthless. I never wanted to be in that position again so I started writing scripts when I was 13 -my brother was writing too, and that gave me a different mindset for how I approached myself and the business and what I would and would not accept.”