The four men at the center of Regina King’s One Night in Miami… are all famous for their own reasons, but the actors portraying them hone in on them as men and not as legends. We have read and seen Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay, and Jim Brown in other stories and films but they rarely get to connect with one another as they do in King’s film. Aldis Hodge’s Jim Brown is a man at the beginning of a transition in his career as the world is on the precipice of change. Hodge doesn’t have to say much and he holds the audience with strength and power.
As Brown moves from being a professional football player to an actor, the other men chatter about how they can all equally help the Black community with visibility in their respective fields. These talks about representation are not some new woke, Hollywood conversation, and the film proves that men and women of the Black community have been fighting for that visibility for decades. Hodge has been on a hot streak lately, bouncing around between big Hollywood thrillers and intimate, character-driven dramas.
The connection between these four men is what truly drives One Night in Miami… and it’s the reason the film keeps getting talked about. The thoughtful work of these actors is so evident and Hodge gives Brown an agency as a man eager for change.
Awards Daily: You’re having a great streak right now in your career. Clemency came out last year, and I think you and Alfre Woodard should’ve been nominated for everything under the sun. The Invisible Man was, for a lot of people, the last movie they saw in theaters and now you are finishing the year with One Night in Miami… How are you doing right now?
Aldis Hodge: There’s a duality to it. I have had, in terms of my family, a very emotional year. We keep each other strong and we have a strong foundation. Things happening in the news have affected us personally. Going through what many people have gone through this year and then I look at the professional side of it. This is the best year I’ve had in my career. There’s a reason for that, and I think there’s a reason for everything. I took advantage of my opportunities now to further my truth and my true purpose to be, which is to open the doors for others. To help level the playing field in terms of equality in the workplace. That, for me, was to fight for more executive positions for Black people. I became a producer on one of my projects this year. Fighting for more Black writers in the room when necessary. Opportunities this year have come only to service the bigger agenda or the bigger picture. It’s not about me or serving my own personal platform. I have a job to do, and I got to make sure I do it.
AD: What was the rehearsal process like for you? I think the pacing of this movie is so great, and I know the film is based on a play.
AH: As far as the chemistry, a lot of that we can owe to Regina [King] and Kim Hardin, our casting director. For Regina, she really wanted to make sure we had the essence of the men we are playing. I was the first person cast, and as we cast more actors, I’d be in the room with them. The chemistry came from that. We’d talk to each other on the phone and we’d get a feel for one another. It came down to being on set and we could have sometimes a half hour to rehearse. Or we could pre-rehearse at the end of the day for things coming up later in the week. When they’d call cut, we’d stay there off the clock and work on our characters. Regina would sit with us and talk it through, and we’d all give our personal time. That synergy came from our personal relationship from one another.
AD: What did you all want to keep in mind in terms of playing these four real men in this presumed scenario?
AH: I can’t speak for the other gentlemen, but I didn’t want to be a caricature of somebody. The biggest thing at the forefront of any motivated choice was the meaning of this film. What it could mean to the audience. I was cast briefly before November and we started with table reads then and shot it through January and cleaned it up in February. So this was right before everything shut down. There have always been major issues when it came to cultural relationships and the relationship between police and the Black community. It’s always been present. We shot this all before the incidents with Mr. Ahmaud Arbery and Mr. George Floyd. When that all happened, it made the value of the conversation of this film a thousand times more present and more important and personal. I felt like this could have this effect in terms of being the active conversation that we are trying to have. When I watched the film, I thought that we can make a difference.
AD: Jim Brown retired in 1965—not long after the events of Cassius Clay at the start of his career. Jim is transitioning to something new. Did you guys talk about that at all?
AH: What I thought about when it came to everybody’s transition–you have Malcom X about to leave the Brotherhood, Sam Cooke reconsidering the value of his work and how he can do more with it—is at the inception of something bigger. I felt like this was a night that changed history for a lot of us. We grew up with the results of the choices of these men and we can dig into how that came about. This film could be the beginning of, hopefully, how to have these conversations and what the conversation really is about. The conversation we having been having for so many years is about equality. There’s a responsibility about understanding where these men are in life and how they are making changes on a global platform in front of the entire world. That’s terrifying. They were taking so many risks, and it shows the depth of courage that all four of these men have. You get that vulnerable insight and you show that they are human just like everybody else.
AD: That’s something that I really responded to as well. They are these huge figures in history but they are just men hanging out in a hotel room with each other.
AH: Just want to have a great night together.
AD: When Malcolm and Sam get into their big argument, you say, “Y’all pulled out the knives. If I get cut, I’m fitting to hurt somebody.” How does Jim stay out of it?
AH: The way I interpreted was that Jim understands both sides.
AD: Yes, I definitely got that sense from you.
AH: But now is not the time for Jim to get involved. If I jump in, it’s going to be a hot mess. I’ll have to grab them both by the collar. (Laughs) It’s a real moment of friendship where we get to see them testing each other. It’s also a teachable moment to know where your limits are. Wait for the right time to see what follows afterwards like in the scene between Jim and Malcolm. Now that it’s a quieter moment, he can explain to Malcolm what Sam was trying to say.
AD: Regina King is such a powerhouse. What do you think is the most valuable thing you took from her as a director?
AH: As far as her directing style, her capability to direct and express her vision is top-notch. If anyone has any doubts about her, they are about to be disproven. She came to this like a veteran and it shows. That’s a compilation as her experiences as an actor and as a director, so she bridges that beautifully. She has an intelligence for filmmaking that is unmatched. What I took away personally was her patience and her humility. She allowed us to figure out where we wanted these characters to go. The teambuilding experience allowed us to push our influences until it fit. She never made us feel less than or the pressure of anything. Regina felt us all respected and valued and as one of us. She came to the table with that and it was so impressive.
One Night in Miami… debuts in theaters on Christmas Day and expands to Prime Video on January 15.