Press: 2019 SCAD Savannah Film Festival: ‘Clemency’ star Aldis Hodge talks return to Savannah, finding empathy in his character

Tuesday, Oct 29, 2019

DO SAVANNAH: Aldis Hodge is all about the craft and he wants to impart that on the SCAD students at this year’s festival.

One of the 13 honorees at this year’s festival, Hodge is ready to speak with the next generation and start a dialogue that could lead them to great things. He has found great things on his own. He is currently starring alongside Alfre Woodard in the critically-acclaimed “Clemency,” which follows a prison warden who must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill.

Do Savannah spoke with Hodge about his new role and what research went into crafting it, but also about what he hopes to impart on the students as he plans a masterclass during the festival.

 

Q: Aldis, first congratulations on the recognition for the festival. What did you make of the honor?

Hodge: I was surprised. I remember my first time getting introduced to SCAD. I think was like 2016 when I was there (in Savannah filming) ‘Underground.’ We had a panel there (at SCAD). But getting to experience the full magnitude of what SCAD is and what they’ve done and accomplished over the years. So for me to be a part of that, I very humbled. And, you know, this is new for me to be, you know, acknowledged so I’m like, all right. Absolutely.

I’m really excited to see what some of the programs (at the festival are). I’m hopefully (going to) get to see some of the other folks down there. I just worked with Elisabeth Moss so hopefully we get to cross paths down there and then Camila Morrone, we were just having some fun together. I know she’s going to be down there so it’d be cool to just, you know, cross that and be able to catch up. Also, I’ve been given the opportunity to give a masterclass while I’m down there, so I’m pretty excited about that. I’ve never taught a class. I’ve worked individually when it comes to acting as well, I’m excited to see what that turns out to be.

Q: That’s great, What kind of knowledge are you looking to impart on the students?

Hodge: I think the best way to be a teacher is to understand you’re still a student. I’m still learning a lot. You can learn a lot from the people that you’re trying to teach, but the best way to work with people is to figure out who they are. I can’t go at them with the assumption I know so much more than them regardless of the experience, but it does matter. I know that every person there has something that makes them great. So what I’m searching for is that thing that makes them great and seeing if I can help them identify more and define it more so that they can always call on it and know exactly how to how to pull it out when they need to execute it because the beautiful thing about our craft is that we’re all individuals and that’s what makes it interesting. So I just want to see I want to experience you know what these students actually have to teach me honestly.

Q: Real quickly on Savannah, you were here extensively for ‘Underground,’ is there anything about re-visiting the city that you’re looking forward to most?

Hodge: Definitely want to go check out some of the food. I do remember Savannah was a very beautiful place — really relaxing. Nice little place to walk around and just chill for a minute. So I enjoy the flow down there and I’m definitely trying to get some good food, man.

Q: So your role in ‘Clemency’ is pretty heavy, what about the story interested you?

Hodge: My character’s on the journey that he is staring down the barrel of something very detrimental, and for me, I’ve never been through this before and I wanted to discovery with him. I know some story, but I didn’t really define it or pepper too much, because when I talked to our director to know, she didn’t tell me certain things, specific things. Specifically whether or not this character committed the crime that he’s accused of. And from that, I realized it’s not about whether he committed the crime, it’s (about) the conversation and how do we feel about death row as a society. How complicit are we in this? So I wanted to try my best to make sure the audience saw this character, as a human being beyond the situation, you know, instead of saying, oh, he’s a convict, or he’s married. I wanted them to see him being in a man who is trying his best to fight for hope and in a situation that is stripping it away at every chance possible and see if he can maintain his dignity throughout the course of this however it turns out. Whether he lives or dies does matter and can hold on to who he is through the process.

Q: What was your background research like for the role?

Hodge: Our producer, Bronwyn Cornelius, and I went to San Quentin and we wanted to visit the inmates, most of whom had life sentences and I went with the intention of interviewing, but we were not permitted to actually speak. The warden didn’t allow us. So all of the other inmates were made to turn their backs and not actually speak to the death row inmates and they said they were getting transferred across the yard. So from that I observed how many men, their treatment was all the way down to their potential last breath, and it was polarizing. So I allow that to influence how my character must have been treated having been on death row at this point for 15 years.

Q: That probably helps in working the character to be empathetic for the audience?

Hodge: Well, yeah, that goes back to what I was saying about trying to get the audience to see him as a human being beyond the situation because we are so very quick to judge oftentimes not having all the necessary information present that is needed. But we’re quick to judge people who are in a situation t
hat we otherwise find ourselves in because it’s such a foreign reality to us, we don’t know how to look at them as human beings, we don’t know how to see ourselves in them. And in terms of identifying or being able to empathize with somebody, we need to get to a place where we can see the humanity which means we have to see ourselves in them. You know, we have to see our family members in that person, we have to see some sort of familiarity there.

So I realized after reading the script, initially, I said this has nothing to do with the crime. It’s not about that at all. It really is about the disease that we know to be death row and how it affects the people around us. Primarily, we’re seeing it told through the eyes of Bernadine was brilliantly played by Alfie Woodard and how it affects her as the warden. This is her job, she’s taking laws and this is our everyday sustenance, and how does that really affect her spirit. We get to see it through the eyes of man who may not even be guilty of this crime. But regardless of whether he committed the crime is it warranted that he dies. We have to ask as a community because we are the ones who are part of that decision.

Q: You mentioned Alfre Woodard, what was playing scenes off of her like?

Hodge: The chemistry was great man, she’s a perfect partner. She’s a legend. She’s a consummate professional and everybody on the set, we came to play. We go to each other because you know, our director…he set the tone with the script and brilliant leadership and then Alfre, she’s been on the project. She was on the project two years before we started shooting for what it was she was already dedicated. She did her rounds. She was all the way as I said, and she came prepared so it was great for the chemistry all around with everybody just kind of married perfectly which is what brought out I think the depth and gravity that you feel when it comes to emotional weight.

Q: The festival is so geared towards working with the students. As a long-time professional now, what do you make of this and do you think it would’ve been valuable when you started?

Hodge: Well, just an idea what the future looks like a raw, real idea gives you a glimpse of hope. There’s a lesson to be learned even with people who have accomplished a great deal. They’re still again consummate students, and they’re continuously learning so we as a community have responsibility to one another as artists and professionals to pass on that knowledge. You know, somebody asked, you can’t afford the knowledge and not you know, not try it out. Knowledge is free experiences earned and sometimes when it comes to sharing that knowledge, the value of it is hard to put a dollar sign on it.

We’re sharing in that room to be able to share those experiences and help each other to be better is, to a degree what it is that we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We’re here to you know, me personally, I feel like I want to contribute to my craft. I want to contribute something for the audience to see culture in a different way. And then when it comes to artists, I want to contribute really great work that they can learn from jump to elevating the craft, and continue to contribute to it and being a part of sitting in a room with these young artists trying to help them figure out what their angle is. I feel like that’s something that kind of separates this festival from a lot of the other ones I’m sure you’ve attended, where you have this kind of integration with the university and the students so it’s not just about the awards in the industry. It’s about also bettering yourself and bettering others to kind of add that element to it.

 

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