Family is Everything

Edwin Hodge, who currently stars in the sci-fi blockbuster The Tomorrow War, on the importance of family to his life and career.

Family is everything. Without a strong foundation, a house cannot stand. It’s something my mother, Yolette Hodge, would reiterate to my brother, Aldis Hodge, and I since we started our careers in New York City. The children of two Marines, we came from a broken home and it was only the will of my mother which led our family to the success we enjoy now. My father, Aldis Sr., wasn’t around much in the beginning. He got caught up in the drug game for a moment and my mom wasn’t having it. He and my mother divorced when I was eight. Our communication wasn’t really there for many years, but I loved him just the same. I learned about the true idea of forgiving at a young age. Our relationship is stronger than ever now.

An early photo of Edwin and Aldis Hodge with their father.

I’m living in a moment where I can look back to the days of being homeless and not knowing where my next meal would come from. The crazy thing about it all is that my brother and I never knew we were homeless. I remember being on a two-week car trip, which was fun in my eyes, but we never knew our mom was really trying to figure out how to get us into a home. She slept with us in the back seat of a 1980s white Oldsmobile to keep us warm at night. My mother and father fell on hard times after they left the Marines. My father ended up driving semi-trucks across the country, while my mother got a job in accounting and moved us to our grandmother’s house. It wasn’t the most ideal situation, but we’d later find ourselves homeless again when the house burned down less than a year later. We looked for shelters in New York, but ended up staying at an old neighbor’s vacant home in New Jersey until we could get back on our feet.

In the midst of the uncertainty of life, I told my mother I wanted to be inside the box (otherwise known as the television) when I was watching kids acting on The Cosby Show. My mother had no clue how to get me started, but I would quickly come to learn that she would always find a way to make things happen for her children. We went to the Barbizon School of Modeling and Acting for a short time. It wasn’t really my thing, so my mother took my brother and me to New York City and we stumped the pavement. We found a talent manager, Marianne Leone. The most important thing was that we were kids first and the industry was just something fun we could do as long as our grades were As and Bs. It was like that with the majority of our activities as children. Education was always the priority.

Budding young actors Edwin and Aldis Hodge.

I got my first main role in a commercial by sheer fluke. I was doing background work on an Oreos commercial with the iconic musician Chubby Checker. A kid was dancing in the spot, but I thought I was better and voiced it. My mother told me, “Show them what you got,” and I did. I was switched for the lead dancer. Soon after, I found myself on the sets of The Cosby Show, Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live. When I auditioned for Die Hard with a Vengeance, starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, my mother asked if my brother could audition too; he did it on one condition. He wanted a Batman toy. He ended up getting the role of Raymond (a nephew of Samuel L. Jackson’s character) and the Batman toy; I was fortunate to be cast in the movie as well. You might think this is where a competition between us began, but you’d be wrong. Family is everything. His victories were mine, and vice versa. That’s what we learned at an early age, and we still maintain the same mindset.

Edwin Hodge with Samuel L. Jackson in The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Shortly after, I got my second chance to work with Samuel L. Jackson on the film The Long Kiss Goodnight, playing his son. One of the many nuggets of wisdom he shared with my mother was that Aldis and I should start doing theatre. We had no idea what Broadway was. The idea of live performances in front of thousands of people was very alien to us, until one fateful day when we went on what we thought was a Pepsi commercial audition. Don’t ask me how. I can’t remember. What I do know is that we were at the Gershwin Theatre auditioning for Show Boat, over and over, as what seemed to be hundreds of kids dwindled down to five. I believe the only reason I got the job was because I wasn’t afraid to swing on the rope in the opening of the show.

My introduction to the stage was very eye-opening. Hours of rehearsals. No “Action!” and “Cut!” You had one chance to get everything right, eight shows a week. I was thrown into the lion’s den. I was privileged to work with my brother again when he later joined the cast of the show. This was another experience we could share, another opportunity to help each other grow. The education and experience gained from working on Broadway gave us a whole new respect and love for the arts. Two and a half years later, it was time to make a move.

The Hodge brothers with baby Briana, c. 1996.

It’s 1996, my sister, Briana Hodge, was just a few months old, and Aldis and I were just coming off the end of the Broadway tour of Show Boat. We noticed that a lot of our friends were moving to California. If we really wanted to chase the dream, we needed to be in the epicenter of the industry. The family used the money we’d saved and headed to Los Angeles. My father ended up living in the Bronx. Adapting to L.A. wasn’t easy. After working in New York for so long, I got conditioned to that and thought it would be the same here. It wasn’t. Eight months in, I was a depressed 11-year-old kid. My mother did her best to keep our spirits up, but we learned the hard way that it’s very hard to transition from the stage performance mentality. My brother and I were experiencing the same exhaustion and struggle to find our footing in the LA scene. We had to reinvent ourselves as actors again. This is also when we realized the true politics of this industry.

Stereotypes began to plague us, as we refused to conform to certain ideas the industry had about us. In many cases, we weren’t Black enough. We were told this by white and Black casting directors. I never understood what it meant then, and still don’t to this day. My demeanor was too proper, and my speech was too articulate in most people’s eyes. On the flip side, I can’t tell you how many Disney films I’d audition for and make it down to the final two, but never get picked. It got to the point where I told my reps to stop sending me out for Disney stuff. I wasn’t that kind of actor.

Aldis and Edwin Hodge playing basketball in Big Momma’s House.

Even as a kid, I always sought out the roles that I felt would present a challenge for me. I remember watching Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and saying I wanted to be that good. I wanted to take people’s image of me and show them they were wrong. I wanted to be able to manipulate my body and thought process to create visual art that would endure beyond my last breath. I heard “no” more than I wanted to, but I was still blessed to be a working actor. In 2003, I took part in a docuseries about actors in L.A. called 90 Days in Hollywood. If I recall correctly, there was a casting director who said I wasn’t leading man material. I laughed then like I’m laughing now, but that let me know that sometimes people’s perception of you could be very wrong and that not everybody necessarily wants you to succeed.

There were moments when I felt I was giving so much and getting nothing in return. I stepped away from the industry twice; both times, my family was there to help me pick myself back up. Those were not my proudest moments because I felt like I’d let the industry defeat me, but the truth is, I really needed a break. Both times, I was able to refocus, define what I wanted for myself and how I was going to get it. When I stepped back in, I didn’t have a care in the world. I stopped caring so much about what casting directors thought and learned to just be happy with my choices. I was tired of making everyone happy but me.

Needless to say, things did change. I started being more proactive about my career, something I learned from my brother. We were always very different artists taking our own paths, but it was a huge benefit to have a brother who was on the same journey as me. We were able to learn from each other and help each other perfect our craft in a way that would lead us both to success. We’ve both found our groove and we are now starting another chapter of our creative lives by taking on the task of producing projects together.

Edwin Hodge with his mother Yolette and siblings Aldis and Briana.

We got to this point because of our mother’s hard work and the foundation we continue to build as a family. It’s nice to be able to look at her now and think back on the journey she took to raise her family the best way she knew how. She made a lot up on the fly and never settled for less. As much as she is proud of our many accomplishments, we are eternally grateful for the enduring love, support, sacrifice and knowledge she has given us.

Edwin Hodge can be seen next starring opposite Chris Pratt in The Tomorrow War, set to release on Amazon on July 2nd. Edwin is best known for playing Robert Chase’ in the military drama series Six, and the Bloody Stranger in The Purge, The Purge: Anarchy, and The Purge: Election Year. His other past film credits include As Above, So Below, Red Dawn and Bumblebee, and his TV credits include For All Mankind, Sleepy Hollow, Mayans M.C., Genius and ABC’s Secrets & Lies. Edwin currently resides in Los Angeles. (Photo by Ben Cope.)