Celebrity Interview: Aldis Hodge, star of Brian Banks, Talks on Casting, Training and Bringing the Emotion

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Aldis Hodge, the star of the just released true story of vindicated USC bound footballer Brian Banks, took time out of his packed schedule during the recent media day to sit down with Haute-Lifestyle.com Publisher Janet Walker.

Having already seen his powerhouse performance, that has a special meaning to so many, as the falsely accused Brian Banks tirelessly working to clear his name after having spent eleven years in the California penal system, he demonstrated a depth, range and ability to bring the heavy emotions and carry the film.

While all this performance seemed effortless, we find out that wasn't the case. Hodge spoke freely on being prepared as an actor, working to bring an honest performance and always looking for the right "choices" to execute as an actor.


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Below is an excerpt of our interview.

Janet Walker: Congratulations on the film. It's phenomenal, a phenomenal story, so well done. Well written well told, well-acted, so congratulations on that.

Aldis Hodge: Thank you so much.

JW: You're welcome. There are so many elements to Brian Banks story. Let me just ask you how did the role of Brian Banks come to you?

AH: Basic audition. I went in had one audition and that turned into a second audition. This time I met the director, Tom Shadyac, and it went from that point. In between the first audition and the second audition, I had treated the job, like I had gotten it already because I believed in it so much and wanted it so badly. So, I started automatically working out, just trying to put on size to get to Brian's size and also to show Tom this was something I was dedicated to getting ready for and eventually it just worked out in my favor. So, I felt lucky.

JW: Of course. So, describing the casting process. Did your agent send you the audition?

AH: They just sent me the audition. And the audition was just the standard audition, with everyone else, sitting around and everyone thinking this is your shot.

I knew about the story. I was sort of invested from the beginning. I did my research, I watched videos, I made sure I knew who he was, getting his mannerism down, getting down who he was in a spiritual way, who this man was, what was his essence. You know try to get a few different things like diction, and that kind of stuff. I was trying to figure out, 'What am I going to present to the role If I have it?"

Then I had the first audition, and like I said, I went back, got a call back, and this was like a week later, and in between that time, I just went to the gym and put on about five to seven pounds, because I knew I would have to gain weight for this role, and to simply let them know that I was doing the work. And then we met again, and we sat there and talked and there was an energy between myself and the real Brian and I think they had to see if there was something familiar and I think he found it. So, he just wanted to learn who I was, and it went from that straight into the finished product.


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JW: So how long from concept to completion – How long between the time you first found out about the audition until now?

AH: We started shooting, about a month or a month and a half after the first audition. We had a little bit of lead up time and that was in 2017. I want to say we finished in around October 2017 but then in 2018 we premiered the movie at the LA Film festival, which won the Audience Award, which was fantastic, and then we got distribution, and eventually we were on our way to theaters nationwide.

JW: The role is highly emotional with emotional arch's and the prison sequences, so did you prepare emotionally to play this real person with his many injustices?

AH: So, emotionally it was simple when it came to just who he was. We just talked about everything. He really was available to me in terms of me asking questions, taking him back to dark places, memory lane on certain things, and he would just answer and be available for whatever I needed to know. And I am truly grateful because if he wasn't, I wouldn't have been able to accomplish the performance that I was actually able to achieve.

So, I owe that all to Brian. You know we started forming our initial relationship at the gym. When we first knew I had booked the job, this was back in L.A., it was time to meet Brian, so I met him, we talked for a couple of hours, kicked it, we had a good fellowship, and then I was trying to figure out how he trained and what he did, and eventually I was like, "Man, why don't you just train me? Because since I have to be you, why don't you show me what you do, tell me how you ate?" We spent a whole month training at the gym nearly every day and we spoke every day, and then when we got down to Memphis, we still trained every day, because I had to keep my weight up and we spoke every single day.

We spent a lot of time together. Every single day. And I was really invested in understanding who he was, on a daily basis, and it was something that wasn't forced it came naturally out of our friendship, out of respect for one another and in the gym is where we saw each other's dedication to this project, to making it work. So it was about learning who one another was in those times. And without that I'm not sure we would have the energy to were able to achieve on screen, so I'm really glad that he was available and open to share all that with me.

JW: Did he ever critique your performance in the moment in the dark places, did he ever say it wasn't quite like that and this is how it was?

AH: Yes. Often. We would talk about it and I'd be like, "How was this?" and we would go through it because as an actor you're always figuring out the best choice to make and when you have the source material sitting right there, its best to take advantage of it when you can. So, I would ask him. And Tom [Shadyac} the director was already doing a brilliant job.

But with Brian and me, personally whenever I would get into it a moment and felt like I needed to have a little bit of help here, I would really want to talk with him just to make sure I was getting it right, because the only person that would know that is him. We can interpret it as much as we want but Brian is the source. So, we would talk about every little detail and then I would go and execute and then I'd ask him, "Did I hit it?" and he would give a thumb's up.


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JW: Okay, so let's talk a little bit about working with the cast and with Tom Shadyac, so tell me a little bit describe your working with Melanie Liburd and Sherri Shepherd and with Greg Kinnear.

AH: Everybody came to the set with full dedication and was ready to play and get the story out. Everybody was my partner in a different way. Melanie's character was great because of her vulnerability and her truth allows people to see and understand the idea of not judging and the idea of real forgiveness because of what she went through juxtapose to what Brian was accused of it takes a lot to get to a place of acceptance so that was fantastic and she was a great choice for the role, a great person.

So when it came to Sherri playing "Mom" you know she is one of the pillars of strength for Brian, so all the courtroom scenes and the connected tissue between the two of them through the duration of the story so as honest and he was in jail and she did go visit him and all these things were not shown on screen and we had to show them in these little moments, I'm really glad we wanted people to know this is what they went through.


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As far as Greg, he is a master of what he does, and his relationship with me had to mirror what was going on between Justin Brooks and Brian. Because Justin and Brian have this unique and unspoken beautiful relationship they developed over the years and it is beyond friendship, it is like family, true family.

They have been through this journey together and are still walking this path together. Between Greg and I we had come into the expectation of what their relationship needs to be, the building blocks for that, so that people understood, these guys are really building a foundation for longevity that eventually becomes in reality, of what we know now. So, Greg and I really dove into who our architects were. Greg spent a lot of time working with Justin. We were lucky enough that we had real people to bounce our ideas of who we were off of and we could balance our execution of these characters. We were just lucky to have the source material right there. We just wanted to make sure it was as honest for the audiences as it was for us.

And it was.

Brain Banks is in theaters nationwide.

 

Image of Aldis Hodge used by permission

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