Hodge, 29, says he’s gearing up for the show’s May 11 season finale on WGN America, which has renewed “Underground” for a second season.
“I was surprised by the success of the show, but I was not surprised that we got renewed,” says Hodge (“Straight Outta Compton,” TNT’s “Leverage”). “The fans spoke so loudly when it came to social media. I am surprised that we connected to our audience the way we did.”
The slaves in “Underground” are making their way to freedom up north by traveling 600 miles — with only a secretly coded song to guide them — and with Noah as their leader. The series also stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell (“Friday Night Lights,” “True Blood”) as Rosalee, Noah’s love interest.
“I feel like Noah recruited people specifically because of their strength and tools,” says Hodge. “But along the way he realized that he depended on them. Noah has that fire … to be free.
“The hardest scene for me was the first episode, when [Noah] was retuned to the Macon plantation … and had to beg for the lesser of the two evils,” Hodge says. “ ‘Don’t kill me, brand me or beat me. I am a man and I do not see myself groveling to anybody for anything.’ But the reality was that real people had to go through this scenario on a regular basis, and it was an honest moment.
“The only thing that got me through was that Noah was showing how we thrived and survived through it all,” he says. “ He showed that he was stronger than his oppressor — and the whips and chains that bound him.”
Hodge says he’s not sure what to expect regarding Noah’s romance with Rosalee. “I have no idea what is going to happen in Season 2,” he says. “I don’t even know what is going to happen to Noah. No one is safe.”
The actor, born in North Carolina, says that he he didn’t always want to be an actor. “I got into acting because my older brother, Edwin Hodge (“The Purge”), was an actor and he was doing a job for Essence magazine [in New York] so they needed an extra kid,” he says. “My mom told me, ‘If you do the job, I will give you a Batman toy,’ so I said, ‘OK, let me get my Batman hustle on.’”
He adds that filming the show in the sweltering summer heat of Baton Rouge, La. wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.
“One of the things that we said at the beginning of this series was that we would not complain about anything. Regardless of what happens we can manage it,” he says. “Period pieces are the roughest jobs ever, so I told myself, ‘We are in these swamps, but the real slaves could not ever take a break.’”
He also says he’s eager to use the new $20 bill that will feature renowned abolitionist (and escaped slave) Harriet Tubman — who helped create the underground railroad that plays such a significant role in “Underground.”
“I love the fact that Harriet Tubman will be on the $20 bill. People will now look at this bill all over the world and question, ‘Who is this woman?’,” he says. “There will now be a generation of kids growing up who will see a black woman on a bill and think that is normal.
“But, on the other hand, you’re going to have a lot of [guys] going to the strip club throwing out $20s, and then that stripper is going to pick up that bill and think, ‘I need to make different life choices,’ as Harriet is staring back at her.”