By David Gallaher
A "Mission Impossible"-styled TV show with the ensemble edge of a Joss Whedon series, cult-favorite "Leverage" has kicked off its fifth season with a bang. Leverage's own Alec Hardison -- in real life actor Aldis Hodge -- took the time to chat to MTVGeek about his cult television show, comics, and the stuff he is geekiest about.
MTVGeek: You play Alec Hardison, the team's hacker in the Leverage squad. What initially attracted you to both the show and playing this particular character.
Aldis Hodge: What initially attracted me to playing the character was [that] I needed a job. No, I'm sorry. That's what initially attracted me to the show. What initially attracted me to the character was that he was an intelligent African-American doing positive things which is necessary and very, very scarce on television.
It really does make a difference.
I hear all the time from our audience about how it's nice to see a positive African-American role model for the younger kids out there that are watching. They have fun with it and see that we can be intelligent, we can be assets to the world and it really does make a difference to the audience and I hear that all the time so that's something that I'm eternally grateful for from the creators and the writers and John Rogers (series creator). He always puts me in that light of being smart, a little sarcastic but that's all good, gotta be.
Geek: If I'm correct, you got the role on your birthday.
AH: Yeah, booked it the day of.
Geek: That's awesome. That's a heckuva birthday present.
AH: You're telling me.
Geek: So season four ended with the Leverage crew assembling like their own team of bad guy Avengers almost. You know, it was Richard Chamberlain and Wil Wheaton, your arch-nemesis, Chaos; are there any other previous guest stars that we might see returning for season five? Does Chaos make a reappearance?
AH: Unfortunately, Chaos didn't come back this year. We have James Sterling back though. Sterling is always back. You're going to love why he's back. But we have a lot of new, great guest stars this year. OF course, you've seen Cary Elwes and Treat Williams. We have Matthew Lillard. We've got a good lineup of guest stars this year. A lot of great people that came to our set.
Geek: The season premiere suggested that we're going to see a lot of shake-ups in the personal dynamics of the team. For example, Hardison now owns a bar and he's in a relationship with Parker. He's doing something with Nate and he has this ongoing banter back and forth with Elliot. I'm sure that with the fifth season you've been in the shoes of Hardison for a while, are there new uncharted challenges that you've found in the role this season? Any new experiences that you didn't have before?
AH: The biggest difference this year is that Hardison and Parker are now in a relationship. The challenge, if there is any is that they have to figure out how they are with one another in a relationship because they are different people.
They don't do normal things that regular people do. They don't associate with each other regularly. We had a couple of scenes where we were trying to figure out what to call each other as pet names, you know, like “Sweetie,” “sweetheart,” “baby.”
Parker and Hardison, they ain't doing that. So we had to figure out what is their personality type for that particular association.
Geek: Was this relationship organic? Was it something that John Rogers and the team of writers said, “Ya know by season five we'd like to see these characters move here” or was it something more organic that as the show went on people realized that these two characters had a really great, flirty back and forth relationship?
AH I'll tell you this much. There is very little on this show that happens as is planned. We go with the flow. Definitely organic. Which for us is a lot better because that's the reason that our characters have grown in such interesting ways. It is because the writers will say “Oh wait, here's an aspect of the actor of here's a new aspect to the character than we can add.” They go with it. These characters, in particular...this was...We think it was eventually going to happen. We just didn't know exactly when, where or how. And it just happened to fall perfectly on the fifth season.
Geek: Obviously with Hardison owning a bar now, Elliot (Christian Kane) has taken a a sort of backseat drivers role in the organization. Is that going to be an ongoing subplot we're going to see continue to blossom this season?
AH: Oh definitely. There's one episode called “The French Connection Job” where there's a culinary episode and you'l see Elliot get down and do his thing. It's another fun element to these guys' characters because they have that brother banter back and forth and Hardison has always gotten on Elliot's nerve buts now Hardison's the boss of this restaurant. And Elliot is trying his best. He takes it seriously. He cares. Cooking is Elliot's thing. We get to see him go back and forth with issues with the menu and issues with what food to serve people. It's a good time. It gives me and Christian another good note to have fun with because any time we get to go at each other, we're in heaven.
Geek: So what are some of your favorite scenes from this upcoming season? Did you do any crazy stunts or tricks?
AH: I would like to tell you but I can't say too much because it would give some things away. I can tell you that we have some complications with an elevator shaft. That was fun. We have some complications with a train. That was fun.
Geek: The show's developed quite a fan following that's typically unique to more genre type shows. Your Battlestar Galacticas, your Firefly's. You've cultivated a really passionate fan base. What's the most rewarding response you've gotten from a fan?
AH: The most rewarding response has been, aside from people complimenting the fact that he is an intelligent role model on television, is that a lot of families say “oh usually me and my kids are in opposite rooms at eight or nine at night but when Leverage comes on it brings the family together.” That surprised me a lot because you've got grandmas sitting with their grandkids and the moms and dads and kids from yen years old, seven years old, teenagers and young 20s kicking it with people n their forties, all sitting there watching that show...People call it their family time.
Geek: You mentioned earlier that a lot of things are planned by the writers. Is any of it ad-libbed like the dialogue between you and Christian or the dialogue between you and Parker?
AH: When Christian and I get on the set, what usually happens is that the writers sit back and say “Go, say whatever you feel.” And the stuff happens. Christian and I have been going back and forth for years. We have a rhythm on set, a rapport that just can't be broken. I've been ad-libbing since day one and I think that's why the character has evolved the way he has. I think they initially intended to have the typical geek guy behind the computer, a little sarcastic here and there but I started taking my shots and John was like we need to do a little more with this character.
"I come from a background of standup and so does John Rogers. And Chris Downey (the other co-creator) comes from a history of comedy as well. I think they just respected my insight and the direction I wanted to take the character. They gave me my freedom to do what I can do. I respect the writers and the writers give me my respect and let me do my job. It's amazing. There's so much more that you are able to add as an actor to a scene if you have the right perspective. If you have the right team around you who's promoting that and encouraging you, you're good to go. Sometimes there's something that a writer doesn't see or a producer doesn't see when he's looking at a shot. The actor might find something that the writer may not... not miss but did not anticipate during the scene. But they wrote it so we all allow each other to elaborate on our positions and that's the family we go there and that's why it's a good house.
Geek: Are you as tech-savvy as Hardison is in real life?
AH: Uh..hell and no.
Geek: So clearly your main character is a brilliant, computer, witty, sarcastic super hacker but he's also got some really weird affectations like he loves comic books and geek culture. I think he mentioned the Super Skrull in one episode. Growing up, did you read comics? Are you a big fan of that kind of stuff?
AH: I was a huge comic fan, huge. I was more in tune with the Marvel world. Growing up, I was a big X-Men fan... and a big Black Panther fan. Then I spun off into the graphic novels a little bit. There's a great graphic novel series called Rising Stars. I always liked comics growing up and I always had the toys. That's kind of why I got into the business. When I was a kid, my older brother Edwin, was doing a job and they needed an extra kid on the set. My mom asked me if I would like to do it and I was like "I'm not with it." I knew that much about myself at three and then she said "if you do the job, I'll get you a Batman toy" So I did the job and I got my Batman toy and then I was like "I want to keep getting some toys." Afterwards, I kept doing it for the toys.
Geek: I heard your name connected very recently with the Black Panther. Is that one of your ideal roles? Is that something you'd like to take if they were like “we're going to do this movie?” Is that something you'd be interested in?
AH: For me, that would be amazing to be a part of that. The reason I found out about the interest in the role or Marvel's interest in trying to make a movie was because I saw a fan website that was like “Who would be a good Black Panther?” Somebody posted my picture. I was flabbergasted. I was honored for something to believe in me like that.
And the fans continue to voice their opinions about the films and there are some people out there that really support me and I'm grateful for it. So if the role came up, I'm all ready. For me, that would be awesome not just because it's Black Panther but because I grew up a martial artist. I still practice. It would be awesome to get a role where you get to integrate those kind of skills. Because I grew up watching and loving martial arts films and I always wanted to do something where I could be like guys that I admire and idolized growing up. The Jet Li's, the Bruce Lee's, those guys, Jean Claude Van Damme. I used to love those guys and to be in their shoes for two seconds would be ridiculous.
Geek: This is the last question. Is there anything beyond what you've mentioned before that you're really geeky about? Do you have any things that you're so passionate about that other people think are kind of weird? Like you used to play violin, not that that's geeky but...
AH: The violin is kinda in and out. I don't practice as much as I would like to so my skills are kind of paltry at best. But many people are convinced that I can actually play well. I'm like “No, I don't know...” I was always really geeky about design and buildings. Always into architecture as a kid. Now I'm an horologist [editorial note: somebody who studies watches]. I design my own movements and watches and work with a factory in Switzerland to help build my pieces. So I am super geeky about the gears. I stay up on all the new watch innovations going on. That's my thing. Watches.
Geek: Awesome. Our time has just run out, but thanks for speaking with us!
AH: No problem. It was fun.
Catch Leverage Season 5 on Sundays at 8 PM only on TNT!