Actor Aldis Hodge’s Career Changed After a Tip From Samuel L. Jackson on a ‘Die Hard’ Set

The star of ‘Black Adam’ and ‘Leverage: Redemption’ on his single mother’s manager talents and how he ended up on Broadway at age 8

Aldis Hodge in Los Angeles in July 2022. TEXAS ISAIAH

By Marc Myers – Jan. 10, 2023 11:00 am ET – for The Wall Street Journal

Aldis Hodge, 36, is an actor who appeared in the films “Hidden Figures” and “One Night in Miami” and on TV’s “City on a Hill.” He currently co-stars in the film “Black Adam” and the Amazon Freevee series “Leverage: Redemption.” He spoke with Marc Myers.

Growing up, I was always drawn to difficult and complex things. I was deeply introverted, and solving equations or figuring out how things worked was how I communicated with the world around me and connected with things.

When I was 8, I took up the clarinet. My mom had played the instrument in high school and gave me hers. I was OK at best. At 18, I put it down and picked up the violin. I always loved the violin theme at the end of the movie “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The melody and sound were haunting and stuck with me.  

Aldis Hodge, 8, with his mother, Yolette, in 1994 at an opening-night cast party for Broadway’s ‘Showboat.’PHOTO: ALDIS HODGE (FAMILY PHOTO)

I was born in Jacksonville, N.C. Both of my parents were Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune. After my first birthday, my parents were transferred to the base in Kaneohe in Oahu, Hawaii. About 1½ years later, we moved to Trenton, N.J., then to Hackensack, followed by Clifton. By then, my parents had divorced. In Clifton, my mother, Yolette, my brother, Edwin, and I lived on the first floor of a duplex in a quaint little house. 

Clifton was dangerous. We had to deal with the Ku Klux Klan in the area. They even tried to kidnap my mom at one point, forcing me to grow up with a survivor mentality. 

My cmnt: I don’t believe a word of the above paragraph. This kid grew up in the 1990s and the biggest threat to black people were other black people and continues to be to this day.

Mom taught us how to watch out for bad people, what to do if we were taken, how to escape and how to find our way home. Those skills are still with me today.  

When I was 3, my brother and I began appearing in print ads and TV commercials. My mom had learned about the business on her own and hustled. She found us an agent and a manager, and searched for job opportunities for us independently.

My brother and I went to public school until I was in the third grade and he was in fourth. Mom took us out because we’d get into fights with jealous kids who saw us in ads, or due to racism. It wasn’t safe. From then on, we were homeschooled.

Respect, manners and reputation were everything. We grew up in a disciplined household. Having been a soldier, my mother was highly organized and efficient. Education was a high priority. My brother and I worked hard. As far as us making money, my mother said, “None of that will matter if you don’t know how to read and understand your contracts.”

Aldis Hodge, right, with his brother, Edwin, in the mid-1990s, when both were actors and on tour.PHOTO: YOLETTE HODGE

Commercials led to work on TV and in film as extras. We’d shuttle between New Jersey and New York for auditions. My brother and I joined the cast of TV’s “Sesame Street” when I was 5 and we remained on the show for two years.

We got a few other shows and a couple of movie parts, and ended up in “Die Hard With a Vengeance” in 1994 when I was 8. On set, my mother spoke with Samuel L. Jackson about our careers. He advised Broadway

Sam was right. Soon after her chat with him, my brother and I joined the Broadway cast of “Showboat,” where we learned a different side of performing—dedication to the craft.

Two years later, we moved to Los Angeles to seek more acting opportunities. My sister, Briana, was a few months old by then. Her father wasn’t in her life, so I had to be there to help raise her and set an example. 

My brother and I completed our high-school curriculum early at home based on our earned credits. We took the college entrance exam when I was 14 and Edwin was 15. We attended a couple of community colleges for a few of semesters. 

To continue pursuing acting and auditions, we had to bring home A’s and B’s. Mom made it clear that acting was a privilege, never the priority. For us, education was an access point for freedom. 

At 18, I attended the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and studied architecture and product design. I loved the work and had fun. 

As auditions and TV and film work picked up, acting became the focus. I never took acting classes. Whenever I wanted to do something, I figured it out and tried my best to do it well.

Today, I live in Los Angeles. From the time I was 12, I’ve been working on blueprints for a house that I plan to build, hopefully soon. I’m drawn most to Frank Lloyd Wright and Thomas Kundig. The work of both architects is in harmony with nature, inside and out, and use warm materials that give a house life. 

I see my mom almost daily. I think she is in awe of what we’ve been able to accomplish. When I try to credit her for being part of that achievement, she is very humble about it. But for me, without her, there wouldn’t be any of this.

Aldis’s Designs

Dream-house feature? I like Thomas Kundig’s engineering spirit. He cantilevers an entire wall so you can use a wheel crank to raise it.

Architect regret? No. Horology has filled the void. Designing watches gives me a creative outlet beyond entertainment.

Violin? I haven’t practiced much in recent years, so I’m rusty. But I love the tonality and it’s  still one of my favorite instruments.

Albums? I listen to contemporary violin groups such as Nuttin’ But Stringz, Black Violin and Bond. 

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