Edwin Hodge had the rare opportunity to learn about the entertainment industry—and its responsibilities—as a child on Broadway with a role in “Showboat” in the 1990s. As an adult, Hodge was the only actor to appear in the first three films in the “Purge” series and he portrayed a Navy SEAL in the History Channel series “Six.” In another high-octane story, Hodge stars alongside Chris Pratt in the futuristic alien battle film “The Tomorrow War,” now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
What was the moment you decided you wanted to be an actor? How did you get your start in this industry?
The moment I was curious about acting was when I was 3 years old and I was watching “The Cosby Show.” I was watching kids inside a box, basically. I told my mom that’s what I wanted to do. She and my father were Marines, so this was completely outside their realm. She figured it out. We were living in New Jersey at the time, and she got us to New York and I started at the Barbizon School of Acting and Modeling. We got a manager and it took off after that. My first commercial was an Oreo commercial with Chubby Checker. It was a fluke, in a way, because I was just doing background and the kid that they had dancing, I voiced my opinion to my mom and said I could dance better. She told me to go show them what I can do, and I did. I took his spot. That was my introduction to the industry—and shortly after that, I found myself on the set of “The Cosby Show.”
Was that commercial your first time on a professional set?
Yeah, it was my first time seeing what it takes to put a project like this together. Of course, it was eye-opening. I didn’t really understand it at all. I was just a kid having fun. It was pretty much that way until I was about 8 years old. I hit Broadway and I was like, Oh, wait, this is work. Up until that point, it was all fun for me, being able to just play make-believe. I was on “Sesame Street” and was able to dive into that world and almost become an idol to these kids who watch these shows.
“Being a Black kid in this business, it wasn’t easy all the time. There were certain roles I wanted that weren’t afforded to me... I didn’t want to be the bad guy or the drug dealer. I wanted to be your friend next door.”
How did it feel for your “Cosby Show” aspirations to come full circle?
Being on set, Raven-Symoné—I had a little crush on her. I guess it was everything a 4-year-old kid could imagine at that point in time. My biggest awe came when I was on “Sesame Street” and [was] learning how puppets worked and meeting Elmo and Big Bird.
Do you remember what job got you in the union?
I don’t remember! I think it was a Quaker Oatmeal commercial that I did. I think that was the first time I remember hearing about SAG.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t listen to everybody. I had an interesting upbringing in this industry. My brother and I, we started in New York, and the vibe is different: Modeling, music videos were prominent out there. But our biggest education came from the stage. I did “Showboat” for two and a half years at the Gershwin Theatre, and my brother joined a year later. That’s what really educated us on the idea of the arts and what it took to actually be a performer. The schedule was grueling, and as kids, it became a heavy responsibility. It was definitely fun, but we grew as artists and as kids.
We moved to L.A. in ’96 and it was very different coming off the stage and jumping into film and TV. Just the constructs of it all were different. I didn’t work for about nine or 10 months. It was the first time I experienced depression, because I was so used to working. I thought that was how it was going to be for me. That’s when we started realizing the politics of the game and the idea of stereotypes. Being a Black kid in this business, it wasn’t easy all the time. There were certain roles I wanted that weren’t afforded to me. The roles that were handed to me were things I did not want to do, or images I did not want to portray. I didn’t want to be the tough guy all the time; I didn’t want to be the bad guy or the drug dealer. I wanted to be your friend next door. We ran into that from Black casting directors, white casting directors. We heard it all: You’re not Black enough for this role—not understanding what that actually meant. I left the industry twice because of what I deemed was almost a lack of respect to the time I had put into the industry. It was rough for me.
But I was lucky to have an amazing family structure to pick me up when I was down. This industry can pull you five different ways and tell you that you’re better at doing this or tell you that you’re not so good, and people fall prey [to that]. A lot of times, they end up doing things they don’t want to do or they’re representing certain projects or products they don’t represent. I never wanted to be that guy. We had to be patient. We had to grow. I’m 36 now, [and] I feel like I’ve had the most growth in the last three years of my career.
To what do you credit that growth?
Honestly, my brother, Aldis Hodge. He’s one of my biggest motivators. He’s the type of person who, when he says something, he speaks it into existence. I understood how much power he held in knowing and identifying what he wanted. That’s what I had to start doing. I had to start saying, “I want this and I want this at this point in time. I’m going to work my ass off to get it.” That’s just what it was. I started falling into projects I love doing, projects that, when I woke up in the morning, I was happy to go to work. One of my greatest experiences was working on “Six” on the History Channel. That group of guys, they’re like brothers. They just made the job so enjoyable. From then on, I was like, That’s just what I want. And every set I’ve stepped onto, I make sure I carry a certain rapport and openness with my fellow artists and writers and producers, gaffers, everybody. That family aspect that I have naturally in my personal life is something that I feel only accentuates the working experience. But also, once again, discipline. When things were falling into my lap, usually I’d be like, “OK, yeah, I’ll take a look at it, I’ll check it out and get to it.” Now I’m like, “Let’s get to work.” It’s a whole different mentality. A whole lot of that was from my brother, I’m not going to lie.
“[My brother is] one of my biggest motivators. He’s the type of person who, when he says something, he speaks it into existence. I understood how much power he held in knowing and identifying what he wanted.”
What’s your worst audition horror story?
I was auditioning for “Stomp the Yard,” and, as much as I love dancing, I’m not a confident dancer if you just put me on the spot. I just remember leaving the audition feeling like I was just moving like a spaghetti noodle. I blacked out. I just knew I wasn’t going to get the job. Not the worst day of my life, but it was definitely up there when you’re walking out and you’re seeing some of the top dancers in the business. “I’m just an actor, guys. You go ahead, you take this.” There’s always those auditions where you feel like, “Yeah, I could’ve done better,” wishing you made a different choice, things of that nature. But sometimes those are the auditions where you got the callbacks and you ended up booking, too. I think dancing auditions all around are nightmare situations for me. You tell me to learn a script in three seconds, I got you. If you tell me to learn movement and a state of rhythm and don’t skip this beat, now I’m speaking a foreign language I know nothing about, and nothing you’re going to see is going to make sense.
What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done to get a role?
I wish I could say I’ve done something wild! I haven’t, honestly. I’ve, in my personal space, pushed myself to the limits. I’ve driven myself absolutely crazy trying to make sure that I hit every note and I hit every line, every beat, moment. I’ve done that in a personal, contained way. In a more forward situation, I was always too scared to do that. I was a little bit of a punk. I didn’t want to be the overbearing actor who they thought was just crazy and out of his mind—even though I was. I take the subtle route most of the time. If there is something that comes across my desk, I’m avidly on my reps, calling them every day: “What’s going on? How’s it going? Have they made a choice? No? Cool.” And then repeat that the next day. It’s a little neurotic.
Was “The Tomorrow War” one of those roles?
Yes, it was! I was excited to have the opportunity to work with Chris Pratt again. We did a film about 10 years ago called “Take Me Home Tonight.” He was a great guy then, and I thought it would be fun to work with him on this project. I also fell in love with the story. It was this heartwarming family man story wrapped in a bunch of chaos. My character was an enigma at first; we really didn’t know who or what this guy was. Where he came from was pretty much developed when I sat down with [director] Chris McKay after the first table read. Just trying to figure out a direction for my character, Dorian, we knew some aspects of him but we knew there was more. This was an epic story, it was going to be huge. I thought in the back of my head this could be my “Independence Day,” just because of the scale of the script and the ideas of where it could go. Chris McKay, this was his first live-action film, so it was really a risk in a sense to take on working with a director in that capacity. I’m a fan of his work and what I think he did well was marry his background in editing animation with live action in the most profound way. I definitely wasn’t going to let this one pass me by.
What has playing Dorian added to your acting skills?
I definitely walked away from the film feeling fulfilled. I felt that when I heard my final wrap call, I had done everything that I could to bring this character to life and do this character justice. This is a film that I really put my all into. I had more fun than one should have on a production. And I learned a lot. This was a large-scale film, and I was definitely doing things I’ve never done before: certain stunts, traveling to Iceland and working on a glacier. All of it just aided my growth. I came off the project and I can walk on to my next one with confidence knowing that the choices I’m making, the choices I collaboratively make with directors and writers, they’re working. And I can keep moving forward.
What performance should every actor see and why?
I’m going to go with one of my childhood favorites: “Mrs. Doutbfire.” It’s a classic comedy with so much heart. Robin Williams absolutely smashes the role.
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