Four legendary men – Cassius Clay, soon to be renamed Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown – all came together for a celebration in Miami the night in 1964 that Clay unexpectedly defeated heavyweight champion Sonny Liston.
At least that’s what the men thought until Malcolm X explained that he had something deeper in mind for them to discuss and that party time was over.
“Malcolm X had them to that room and it was to speak about their purpose and to drop some news that he wasn’t telling the rest of the world yet,” Aldis Hodge, who plays Jim Brown in One Night in Miami…, tells Monsters & Critics in this exclusive interview.
Based on the award-winning play of the same name, and directed by Regina King, One Night In Miami… is inspired by the true events that took place that night when Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Brown came together for a conversation on racial injustice, religion, and personal responsibility.
Of course, no one but the four men know what was actually said, but, according to Hodge, “I feel like the discussion would have mirrored what we displayed in the film. It was in the vein of where they were at.”
Hodge also shared his thoughts on celebrities today who use their fame to fight for social justice, how he researched Jim Brown, what it was like on the One Night In Miami… set, and how he almost hung up on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson when he called to tell Hodges he had landed the role of Hawkman in Black Adam.
Monsters & Critics: One of the takeaways from the film is that Malcolm X challenged the celebrities to use their platform in the fight for social justice. The film is set in 1964, but does that still ring true to you in the light of current events in 2021?
Aldis Hodge: Yes. We’ve seen really great, fantastic examples of that. We have great artists like Janelle Monáe using her platform, we’ve got LeBron James using his platform. Of course, we have fantastic, super humans who are in the political field, like Stacey Abrams, but we expect that of Stacey Abrams.
But she’s gone above and beyond, but as far as entertainers and athletes, we have so many who are moved and charged and have been doing the work. So, nothing has changed really since the 60s. We had great examples then; we have great examples now.
M&C: Isn’t that a sad commentary that nothing has changed?
Aldis Hodge: It’s very bad. I think the reason that things have not changed in a primary way is because those that need to change most are the ones most reluctant to do it. They don’t want to change; they don’t want to open up the space for equity and equality for others. You see rash displays of that. We’ve had four years of that on a grand scale, so that’s what needs to really be addressed.
We’re addressing your stuff within our community. We can address it, but we can’t fix that. So, we just go, “Oh, we can do,” much like that opening scene with Jim Brown, when I was acting alongside Beau Bridges, which was awesome. But in that scene, his character, what he says, and how he is, that’s what I’m talking about.
But Jim Brown in this story was recounted from a real event that Jim told, I believe, in one of his autobiographies. He took that experience and used it to turn that negativity into something positive. He used it as motivation to put himself in a position to help educate people in economics. So, that’s what we just continued to do and have been doing for so long.
M&C: Watching Jim Brown’s films doesn’t really help you find who he is in real life and you’re playing him in real life. So how did you research it? What was your process?
Aldis Hodge: I didn’t watch any of his films. All of that, actually, would have happened after this moment, so it would not have been accurate for me. What I did was just look up a bunch of interviews in this timeframe. I studied some of his relationships with the other three gentlemen in this particular timeframe.
I studied the speeches that he gave on economics. Some of it was hard to come by, but there’s enough research on him and history on him back in the ‘60s to have filled up my tank for what I was trying to do. And it was quite impressive to see where his mind was at back then.
M&C: This was Regina King’s directorial debut for a feature film. What was it like working with her as a director, as opposed to an actress?
Aldis Hodge: It was awesome working with her as a director. She understands her space and she knows her job. I feel like she’s made some history already with this film, and I think that she will continue to make some major history with this film as a director.
But she was fantastic with the communication. She had a very clear vision. She was very patient with us all. And, she was a consummate leader when it came to whatever situation that there was, whether it was production issues, short time — because we had a very short amount of time to shoot this film — trying to figure out character or trying to figure out rehearsal. Every little detail she handled with grace.
And then, as far as the details in the film and really executing her vision, that’s a big job to do, but she was very detailed about everything specifically when it came to the colors, the tone, the music, every little bit, she was so very succinct and direct about what she needed in such a graceful way.
It was wonderful to watch her grow into this space. She has directed and she is a hell of a director, which is why I am not surprised that she could handle something of this magnitude, but to watch her handle the content and the subject matter in the way that she did was really, really enjoyable to watch.
M&C: This is an intimate film in that it’s the four of you mostly in a hotel room, but when she called cut, what was it like with the four of you?
Aldis Hodge: We just stayed in work mode. Every time she called “cut,” we’d sneak away and put our earbuds in our ear and listened to the men that we were playing over and over. I know Kingsley was doing that, so I picked that trait up from him. He started it off, and then Leslie and Eli would work with a dialect coach.
But there was never any real downtime. When it came to the breaks in between setups and all of that, we stayed in work mode. There wasn’t a lot of, “Let’s hang out now,” because we didn’t have a lot of time. We had to make sure that we were consistent with our performance and with understanding who these men were.
M&C: I hear that you got a call that you had landed the role of Hawkman/Carter Hall in Black Adam, and you didn’t think it was real. How did that go?
Aldis Hodge: I remember auditioning and I was a bit nervous about it to the point that I did a self-tape like 300 times over before I sent it in. Just to get it right. I think it was like my second submission because I had two different calls on that.
But afterward, I was waiting a week, two weeks. You call, “What did they think? Is everybody good?” and then you don’t hear anything. And then all of a sudden, I get a random call from this random number. “Hey, it’s Dwayne Johnson calling for Aldis Hodge.” I’m like, “Hey, get off my line.”
I thought somebody was playing, because like a month or two earlier, there was somebody who had been playing on my phone, texting me, saying they were random people in the industry that I know, “Hey man, this is me. It’s my new number.” And I’m like, “All right, cool.” And then you have a conversation and it ends up being a really weird person.
So, I thought this was a prank, but the thing is, I didn’t know, at least before this, I didn’t know The Rock. You know what I’m saying? I didn’t know Dwayne. And I’m like, “Why would somebody be calling me as him? That’s weird.” So, I told him to stop playing with me and get off the line. He said, “No, that’s me.” I said, “Man, for real, stop playing. I don’t have time for this.”
And, then, after talking to him for a little bit, he convinced me. And, at first, I thought he was calling to tell me that, “You did a good job, but we’re going in a different direction.” I thought I didn’t have the job. And then he was like, “Welcome to Black Adam.” Talk about an experience that changed a lot in that moment. So, it was cool. I almost hung up on The Rock.
One Night in Miami premieres on Amazon on Jan. 15.