Actor Aldis Hodge, at left, and the real life Brian Banks on the set of Tom Shadyac’s Brian Banks. Photo by Katherine Bomboy / Bleecker Street
By Camille Williams
The Cincinnati Herald
Brian Banks, in theaters August 9, tells the inspirational true story of an All-American high school football star with a full scholarship to University of Southern California, whose life is upended when he is wrongly convicted of rape.
After years in prison, Banks (played by actor Aldis Hodge) fought for exoneration with the support of the California Innocence Project. Banks had his conviction overturned in 2012 after his accuser confessed that she had fabricated the entire story. Following his exoneration, Banks sought to resume his football career, playing for the now defunct United Football League, attending mini-camps for several NFL teams and later signing with the Atlanta Falcons.
Aldis Hodge, (known for television roles on WGN’s Underground, Showtime’s City on a Hill and TNT’s Leverage, and movies such as Hidden Figures and Straight Outta Compton), formed an emotional bond with Banks as he portrayed him on screen. The Herald had the opportunity to speak with Hodge about his experiences.
CW: Why were you so excited to play this role?
AH: I was excited because I knew the story, and I knew what it meant to me, what it stirred up and inspired in me, and I was hoping that I would be able to be a part of hopefully inspiring the audience in the same way. It’s a brave story of a true super hero, somebody who never gave up on himself and really fought for his value in impossible odds. I think he’s really exemplifying the idea of what it means to be a walking inspiration, so I just wanted to be an asset to his purpose.
CW: How has this role been different from others you’ve played?
AH: “It’s been completely different just because of the magnitude of the potential impact of the story and who he is and what he went through. Especially given the time right now, when we’re having conversations about judicial reform. Plus, for me it’s a career milestone, the first time I’ve ever played a title character. With that on my shoulders, that sort of a responsibility gave me an opportunity to see who I was as an artist in this space, and I’ve been hungry for that opportunity for such a long time. So for me, it checked off a lot of boxes.
CW: You said you related to Brian Banks when it came to understanding the wrongs of the criminal justice system. Still, how did you try to get in his shoes for this role?
AH: You don’t really try. You just let it happen naturally. I’ve never been in prison, but I have been accosted with lack of the benefit of the doubt. We just talked about it on a humane level. Something that Brian said is, “What somebody goes through, you can’t compare to somebody else’s hardships.” It’s about honesty and being honest to the fear, the hope and the lack of hope, or the anxiety that one’s dealing with in those situations. And really, that’s how we found our friendship, because we were talking about finding ourselves as men, finding out what our values are in this world.
CW: A lot of times when we see a movie about a topic, we know it will be specifically sad. So, despite the sadness, what do you hope people take away?
AH: There’s an element of sadness, but we end on such a high note, because it’s all about a hope and faith. This is actually a very uplifting film, which is sort of a surprise, which kind of hits you at the end. Like, wow, how do you fight through all that and still maintain a sense of sanity? And he does.
So, I would like people to take away a deeper sense of empathy and mercy when it comes to looking at people’s situations that you might not find yourself in. And try not to judge so harshly; try to learn who this person is And if people can get inspired to be a little more effective in the conversation about judicial reform, that would be amazing.
We’ve had people come out of screenings saying, “I need to get on the ball, I need to get active. How can I help?” And that’s the highest compliment we’ve received with this project, that people actually want to do more work. And that’s part of doing effective art. If we can inspire people to make change, then I feel like we have done our jobs.
CW: I don’t want give away spoilers, but I do want to know a specific scene or moment where the experience of doing the scene or the discussion around the scene was something you learned from.
AH: So, Brian comes across this evidence that could clear his name. He takes it to the California Innocence Project people, and they tell them that it’s inadmissible in court, and he can’t use it. He’s trying to plead his case to them, and I remember doing the scene. It was difficult trying to find the right notes, so I took Brian to the side. I was like, “Bro, take me through this day for you, take me through what it’s all about…”
We both start talking about life. We got to a point to where both of us are sitting there, just kind of crying over these moments that we’ve been through in life, and then we ready to do the scene. But it was nice for me because we two men had a bonding moment, a healing moment; but it was a brotherhood moment, being just open and vulnerable, exposed about the crap that we’ve been through and how we had to get through it.
Brotherhood is very common within our circles in terms of dealing with men and primarily Black men, but it’s not something that is exposed in media or commercially popular within projects. It’s something a lot of people look down upon. We got a lot of young dudes who are looking for that ideal of fellowship, and when they don’t find it in the right places, they go find it in the wrong places…I’m glad that we had that moment, because it’s reaffirmation that that’s still out there.