Aldis Hodge had been preparing to become Carter Hall, aka Hawkman, for years before Black Adam was even announced, he just didn't know it yet. As a young man, he read graphic novels with DC Comics' Justice Society of America, of which Hawkman was a member. And during his rise as a career actor, Hodge had put on a series of mind-blowing physical feats while building an impressive physique. But he always hoped that a superhero role would come through and give him a chance to really spread his wings.
Hodge got this chance when Black Adam star and executive producer Dwayne Johnson called him personally to offer him the Hawkman role. Men's Journal spoke to Hodge about the fitness journey that began when that call came in, the workouts on set in Atlanta and what it was like to face Dwayne Johnson as the legendary anti-hero Black Adam on screen.
Men's Journal: Can you describe what it was like to get the call that you were going to play Hawkman?
Aldis Hodge: The first time I heard I was going to play the superhero was in September 2020, the day after my birthday. I got a call from a random number which ended up being DJ aka Dwayne Johnson. I thought at first someone was pranking me, but eventually I realized it was definitely him. That's when he said to me, "Welcome to Black Adam." In that moment I was blown away and I knew it was time to start.
How much did you know about the Hawkman character?
I've always been a big comic guy. I grew up reading graphic novels and was already a fan of the JSA, so I already had ideas. But once I got it, I put more time into learning about the character of Carter Hall, who is Hawkman's actual identity. I didn't want to get bogged down by all the different versions of the character that were out there. But one of the undisputed facts is that the man, armored or not, is a superhero. The armor he dons is just an extension and amplification of the power he already has.
Did you have an idea of how you wanted to look physically?
I wanted to improve the physique as much as possible because this is Hawkman's first time in a movie. There are many fans of this character who wanted to see justice. This dates back to 1940. His powers and abilities are incredible. I wanted to push everything to the extreme. The fight scenes we did in this film are second to none. I wanted to make sure what I was doing was in line with what everyone is bringing in here, led by DJ.
So when it comes to getting started, what did you do first?
You could probably say that I prepared myself for a long time before I actually got the part. I'm not sure I knew this was going to be the opportunity but it's about staying ready because you never know. I was in quarantine at the time, coming from another job, and as soon as I got the call from DJ, the first thing I wanted to do was go to the gym. I tried to sneak into the hotel but they wouldn't let me. So instead, I had some large dumbbells shipped up to my room and the process of getting in shape for Hawkman began right there. I have the Bowflex joints where you can adjust the weight on the bar. They were great because I was stuck in a small room in the hotel and I could handle a lot with that. I was in there doing breaststrokes, rowing and everything else.
What if you could finally go to a real gym?
Everything went to the next level when I was able to go to a real gym. I felt like a kid who goes to the candy store every day because I've always wanted to have one of those gigs that forced me to take my training to the next level - an excuse to push it to that physical limit. Before I got this film, I had taken a biographical photo of football player Brian Banks and spent a lot of time actually training Brian Banks. I took a lot of what I learned from him with me. That was a few years ago though, so my body was in a different place when I started this journey. I was already good at muscle building but wasn't cutting the fat the way I needed to, so I met DJ for a little guidance. He included me in his team that helped me get into the metabolic science of exercise.
Who were some of these key players?
As for the gym, I worked with my guy Myles Humphus, who's on the DJ team, in bodybuilding. He's a stunt guy who's great at his job, but he also knows how to build a body that's nobody's business. He had so much faith in me, he took me to the gym and put me on a weight I had never tried before. One day we were doing leg presses and I expected to do an easy 400 pounds, which I knew was easily within my reach. Myles gets that crazy look in his eyes and gains 1,000 pounds. I thought he would only do that for his representatives and I was proud of him for it. When he was done, he waved over and wanted me to do a few reps of this myself. I didn't think I had it in me, but he had complete confidence that I had it. I was surprised when I was able to knock them out. I needed someone like him to push me beyond these previous limits and set new standards.
What was a typical training day like?
We would get up at 4 a.m. and go to the gym at 5 a.m. It would all start with warm ups, stretches and mobility exercises. During these movements we didn't even use weights, just body weight as resistance. This time is even more important when you're bulking because you want to avoid getting fat and blocking while you're bulking. We trained for three hours until 8am and then headed to the stunt gym where we worked on the fight choreography and wire work. In addition, we did endurance runs and ended around 4 p.m. So we had about a 12-hour training day for two straight months before we started shooting the film.
What were some of the exercises you did during these sessions?
Once we were done warming up, the session could start with some weight on the bench, which was sort of an extra warm-up. My starting weight at the time was 185 pounds, then I took it to 250 on regular reps and maxed out at about 300 pounds. I've had it up to 315 at times. Along with my buddy Myles, we'd do slow tension pulls where you explosively push the bar up and then slowly bring it back down to your chest while counting five seconds. The movements focused on engaging with tension, fluidity and pressure in different circumstances. A constant force was applied, when we finished a set of bench presses we jumped off and did a couple of push-ups just to keep the muscles warm. At the end of the workout, we would row a little to burn out completely. We would try to see how fast we could do a mile on the rowing machine. When filming began, the training didn't stop. We had to keep up the pace to maintain everything we built.
Can you describe what it was like doing the stunt training?
I grew up watching martial arts and I grew up watching action heroes. Jet Li, Jean-Claude Van Damme and the others. I've always looked for the reason to mentally live in this space. Black Adam was filming in Atlanta and I got there early to start training with the stunt team. I was working on movement with my stunt double, David Charles Warren, and this guy is just crazy. I like doing a lot of my own fights and I'm good at it, but this brother has insane aerial skills. We worked with Chris Brewster who was our stunt coordinator and fight coordinator. I went to Chris and told him that I wanted to build a style out of all the martial arts I had studied. It really came down to movement and choreography.
I was super impressed with how you look in the suit and that's a compliment because when it comes to the physical aesthetic it's clear that you are everything. How was it putting it on?[Laughs] You're right. That's all me There's not much to hide behind the suit. The only real challenge was seeing through the helmet as it obscures your vision. I had to learn to convey emotion and appear taller because the shield covers part of my face. But the action with the suit was fun.
I've always wanted to step into the role of an awesome superhero, in the ultimate action world, and to end up doing it as one of the baddest heroes out there is a win - especially when I get to go against the biggest action star in the world. Hell yeah, that's what I wanted to do. I was blown away by how we managed to get the context out of these fight scenes, thanks in large part to the partnership between our director, Jaume Collet-Serra, and our cinematographer, Lawrence Sher. They composed the fight scenes in a way that I think really improved on what we've seen in previous superhero movies. The fight we fought was beautifully fierce. Everything was massive in a special way. We wanted audiences to see the best of Black Adam and the best of Hawkman.
You definitely brought the best of Hawkman to the screen. I hope to see more movies with you as a character. Some plans?
There's a lot of great backstory with Hawkman that I'd like to explore... the reasons why he got to be what he was before we see him in Black Adam. I think there is a lot to build on when it comes to the JSA and all of its members. I hope to see more from him too.
Black Adam hits theaters on October 21st.
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