When N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton took critics and audiences by storm, the cast were in for some major accolades, among them SAG and Critics’ Choice noms for the ensemble cast. Aldis Hodge–MC Ren in Compton–is also the lead in the new John Legend-produced series Underground and is currently filming the next Jack Reacher film with Tom Cruise, an experience he’s very much enjoying. “Tom has been remarkably awesome,” Hodge says. “He is really accessible when it comes to trying to learn something. He’s really forthcoming with information with his experience, how he sees filmmaking. His main priority is making sure that every actor on the film looks great, feels great, does great. He’s one of those actors who is trying to promote his team to be the best that they can be, and you can feel it. He speaks to everybody on set, he’s nice to everybody, because he understands. He’s not just an actor, he’s not just a marquee name on the ticket, he is also a producer. So he’s going to produce the best product.”
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Hodge is no newcomer, having various TV projects on his resume (The Walking Dead, Leverage, Rectify, Private Practice, Castle), and film work (The East, A Good Day To Die Hard), but surely the response to Compton has been something of a head-turner for the cast? “At the end of the day we haven’t won anything yet,” Hodge says. “We can’t get too crazy, but what we have been doing is celebrating the success of it all. This was a big legacy that was on our backs, and we did not want to be the ones that messed it up. We wanted to get it right, we wanted to make sure that we represented these people well, we wanted to represent the fans well.”
Before filming, did Hodge know N.W.A’s history? “I knew that they were heavy,” he says. “I knew that they were influential, but I didn’t know how key and pivotal they were to their generation. None of us really understood that except for O’Shea (O’Shea Jackson Jr., son of N.W.A member Ice Cube) because he lived it.”
In fact, the pressure on the cast was potentially immense, seeing as the film was exec-produced by original N.W.A band members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Not only that, but MC Ren was on set at times watching Hodge perform as him. “There was one day that we had Dre back there,” Hodge says, “Ren, Yella, Cube, everybody was there, and we had to do this performance scene, and we’re doing it live because during rehearsal running up to the film we recorded the entire Straight Outta Compton album, us as a group. So just as a character study they had us go in there and rehearse and record the entire album. So we get onstage, it’s time to perform, and they’re like, ‘okay, everybody, we’re going to do this live.’ But the experience was not as intimidating as it sounds, Hodge says. “We kept a good relationship throughout. We actually still have a good relationship now, I still talk to all those guys. They were great throughout filming. They were very open, they were very accessible.”
As for MC Ren, Hodge got a great review from the man himself. “I asked him, ‘did I do my job?’ He said, ‘man, stoked. You did great.’ And I was like, “cool. I appreciate it.” The biggest test prior to him actually seeing the finished project were the performances.”
Of course, it’s not just the original artists the cast had to impress. As Hodge says, N.W.A are part of music history and have the following to match. “People are going to know if this is authentic,” he says. “They want to see something authentic. They want to come and see what they heard growing up. They want to come and feel that again, the first time at a concert, these are important things. So SAG recognition means a lot because it’s kind of been a testament to us doing our jobs well, and an award, the nomination like SAG, it’s an honor because it’s coming from our peers, you know? These are people that we have learned from, and for them to be able to acknowledge us in that way feels good.”
Hodge’s star is certainly on the rise, with WGA America’s show Underground set to premiere March 9th with Hodge in the lead role. Costarring Jurnee Smollett-Bell (True Blood) and Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU), Hodge describes the show as “about enslaved Americans trying to fight for their freedom and their equality. Baseline, that’s what it is. Unfortunately it resonates so well today because there are still so many Americans trying to fight for equality. But there’s also beauty in it because we find the moments to laugh, we find the moments to love, we find the moments to actually enjoy ourselves and just relax for a minute, really find the beauty of life. It shows how people, given the circumstances, can still have the strength to fight for the best in just the small things.”
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