Speakeasy Podcast: ‘Underground’ Star Aldis Hodge on the Season Finale

Thursday, May 19, 2016

‘What they’re fighting for is not complicated,’ the actor says of the runaway slaves on the series


WALL STREET JOURNAL – “Underground,” the WGN America drama about an antebellum plantation and a group of escaped slaves, wrapped up its first season on Wednesday night, completing the story of the “Macon 7” and setting the stage for season two.


That second season was never a guarantee for this show, and while star Aldis Hodge wasn’t necessarily worried about that, he said that there was an effort on part of the cast and crew to pour everything into season one.


“We wanted people to remember what this was,” he said on the Speakeasy podcast. “Even if it was one season, it was one hell of a season.” In the interview, he talked about last night’s finale, how the show reflects an ongoing struggle, and how he’s handled moving into a starring role.


At the end of the finale, Hodge’s Noah is back in bondage, captured after staging a diversion that allows two others to escape to freedom. Ernestine (Amirah Vann) — after murdering her master — is put on the auction block. Cato (Alano Miller) is alive and somewhere on the road. The biggest twist comes at the very end: Rosalee (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), now free in the north, determines to go back south to get more of her family, and is brought to meet the Underground Railroad’s real-life hero, Harriet Tubman, who plans to train Rosalee.


For Hodge, taking the role was a chance to bring to life the largely unsung heroes of the fight against slavery. In the finale, Noah storms a marshall’s office and frees a group of captured slaves, holding the lawmen at gunpoint. “What do you want?” the marshall asks, and Noah responds with a stirring but simple speech in which he talks about wanting simply what everybody else already has: the ability to work for a living wage, to live without shackles, to be able to go home at night and not fear for his life.


“What they’re fighting for is not complicated,” Hodge said. “Freedom from oppression, freedom from judgement, freedom from a lack of opportunity. It’s a lot of things that people still fight for today.”


For Hodge, walking on Manhattan’s streets now is different from when he was a teenager. He is recognized for his myriad roles, whether from “Leverage,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Straight Outta Compton” or “Underground.” Still, though, he is adamant about not giving into the hype that comes with being a star, and taking for granted what he’s achieved.


“I still think that there’s still a level I’m trying to achieve,” he said. “Every job is a step, it’s a small step to the bigger picture and I’m trying to figure out what that bigger picture is.”


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