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

In <em>City on a Hill, </em>Aldis Hodge plays Assistant District Attorney Decourcy Ward, who is new to the corrupt criminal justice system of 1990s Boston.
In <em>City on a Hill, </em>Aldis Hodge plays Assistant District Attorney Decourcy Ward, who is new to the corrupt criminal justice system of 1990s Boston.

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

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 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.