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Edwin Hodge Dishes On Fighting Aliens With Chris Pratt In The Tomorrow War - Exclusive Interview

With a career that spans more than 25 years and 75 roles from his pre-teen years into adulthood, Edwin Hodge's credits have encompassed several genres in film and television. Kicking off his big-screen career with smaller turns in such films "Die Hard with a Vengeance" and "The Long Kiss Goodnight," Hodge worked his way up, taking on a recurring role in the TV drama "Boston Public" and a regular role in the sci-fi-tinged drama "Jack & Bobby."

Amid more TV roles in such notable series as "Cougar Town," "Chicago Fire," "Mayans M.C.," and "Six" in the ensuing years, Hodge dove back into more feature films with roles in "The Purge" and two of its sequels, as well as the "Transformers" spinoff "Bumblebee." And while Hodge has done his share of sci-fi in the past, the actor is no doubt making one of his biggest forays into the genre yet in the Amazon Prime Video's sci-fi opus "The Tomorrow War," which debuts on the streaming service July 2.

"Guardians of the Galaxy" vet Chris Pratt stars in "The Tomorrow War" as Dan Forester, a military veteran, teacher, and family man dejected by his stalled career. Dan's life — and those of everybody around him — change in an instant, though, when soldiers from 30 years into the future appear in the present day via a time portal, where they inform society that in 2051, the world's population is being decimated by a war with aliens. Drafting everybody from soldiers and everyday adults into service, Dan is eventually called upon to take part in a fight for the world's future, where the odds for survival are slim.

Directed by Chris McKay and written by Zach Dean, "The Tomorrow War" also stars Hodge in the pivotal role of Dorian, a soldier Dan teams with who has been hardened by the horrors he's seen during his tours of duty. In an exclusive interview with Looper, Hodge discussed his work with Pratt in the past and present, as well his commitment to the real-life men and women of the military. Hodge also revealed his elation about finally getting to star in a big-budget alien movie, reflected on his time in "The Purge" franchise, and gave a peek into his upcoming role in a miniseries about the LA Lakers in the 1970s and '80s.

Hodge approaches his military roles from a place of respect

Thanks for taking the time to talk, Edwin. I would think that "The Tomorrow War" must be one of the most exciting projects of your career. I mean, just the size and the scope of it. Clearly, Dorian, he's the most hardened, I think, of the future fighters because of the devastation he's seen in all his tours of duty. Obviously, you get part of that pain from Zach Dean's script, but I was so glad to hear, because my late father was a war veteran, that you went to visit with veterans to help prepare for your role. Is that part of the reason, or have you visited with veterans before?

No, I did a show called "Six," for The History Channel, in which we presented the lives of Navy SEALs. So, it kind of started back then, talking to vets. Once again, my mom and my father served as well, but it was using the research and the knowledge that I had over the many years after the show that I took into this character. I did work with Wounded Warriors for a bit via the show, "Homes for Vets," where we built homes for vets. So, as much as I can, I try to give back to that community, or just let that community know that I appreciate what they've done for us. If I have an opportunity to do that through my career, performing on camera, I'd like to be as genuine as possible.

So, I form these relationships, I have bonds, I have some friends on Instagram that every once in a while, we'll say what's up. But, like you said, Dorian was a hardened character. If you've talked to vets who have experienced war or experienced seeing life being taken in front of them, their perception of the world is just slightly different. You can't really embody that mentality, and embody that image, unless you truly understand what that definition means to these vets. It means different to everybody. So, Dorian is just a collective idea of many people that I was able to meet over my lifetime here.

Absolutely. And thank you to your mother and father for their service as well.

Thank you.

The Tomorrow War reteams Hodge with Chris Pratt after a dozen years

I was at the press conference for the film, and a couple of you talked about the ultra-intense scenes that you guys filmed. I know Chris Pratt mentioned about that first jump into that time portal, and luckily for him and you guys, you land in the pool. What would you consider your most intense scene in the film?

The most intense scene for me is a collective group of sequences that we shot over probably a month's span. It's that huge opening running sequence, and it was incredibly tasking on the body. I didn't understand how much running we were going to do, jumping, shooting — all at the same time — that we're trying to act and pretend that these creatures are chasing us. It was grueling on the body, trying to work out in between takes to keep the body in shape. We did everything we possibly could, but the staircase scene, it was probably the toughest day, just going up and down this close space. You got gun powder all over the place, smoke in your eyes — it was a highly exhausting day, but it was fun.

I think Chris Pratt has shown, especially in that press conference, that he's very passionate and enthusiastic. I can't help but think it influences you a lot when you're on a film like "The Tomorrow War," where he helps you up your game in a way.

Yeah, indeed. I mean, films like this, even the smaller ones, it starts at the top. The boss' rapport spreads down to everybody else, and Chris was definitely the type of guy who would show up to set ready to work, smile on his face, ready to attack his role, and ready for everybody else to attack their roles. He's very much the actor's actor; he understood the beats that needed to be had by the other characters, as well as his own. But I worked with Chris 12 years ago on a film called "Take Me Home Tonight." Meeting him even back then, he was just this kind of uplifting, joyous guy. It was nice to see that nothing had changed, besides the fact that he was a super megastar now, and killing aliens and superheroes all over the place, or supervillains. But Chris Pratt and Chris McKay, they really set the tone in how we were going to execute this film. They both were just prominent leaders, really involved, and thoroughly dedicated to the idea of what they wanted to present to the world.

Since you and Chris Pratt go way back, maybe you can lean on them a little bit and say, "Hey, man, the next 'Guardians?' I can be an alien, whatever it takes! Can you slide me in there?"

[Laughs] Yeah, I mean, I wouldn't mind stepping into the Marvel Universe. My brother [Aldis Hodge] is in the DC Universe, he's playing Hawkman [in the upcoming Dwayne Johnson film "Black Adam"]. So, I don't know how he would feel about that, but I wouldn't mind a little Marvel action myself.

Well, now you have me interested. Any particular MCU character you'd love to play?

No, I would like to play an unknown superhero, someone that was just kind of in the fray, had this dope power, but nobody really knew of him. That I can't think of right now, but I'd kind of want to play somebody new, and expand on building this superhero that nobody's ever heard of.

Acting opposite an invisible alien (before CGI)

With "The Tomorrow War," Chris had described the work against something non-existent — what would become the aliens with the CGI — as "embarrassing." I thought, "Maybe he's being humble," because when you look at this stuff as a viewer like me, it seems incredibly real. It's got to be really satisfying for you, Edwin, when you see that completed product. But what is your mindset before that, on the set, when you're going into battle for what will become a battle once the film is finished?

It's interesting, I've been shooting guns and doing battling scenes, God, I want to say over half of my career now, and it's always different. This time it was completely different, because we literally had to use our imagination the entire time. We had an idea of what the aliens looked like, we had an idea of how they moved. So, when the set designers come on, and the choreographers come on, and they're like, "Listen, we're going to have an alien running down the building," "He's going to do this," "He's going to jump," and "He's going to land here," we already have the visual constructs in our head and our minds.

So, as artists, which we always do is create things in our head, we were able to easily feel, jump into the moment, into the mood. Once again, you have six actors who are essentially playing make believe, and we want to have the most fun as possible. I mean, there's actually a take where I stumble and I fall, and my gun goes off. It was a complete accident, but they used it in the film, and they used it to have me kill an alien; it was crazy how they mixed it in. But that was a day, sometimes we messed up, sometimes we found little nuggets within the flaws of shooting and we would just roll with it.

Look, fighting aliens is not an easy endeavor. So, hey, tripping, it happens, and I'm glad that obviously they used that shot. Now, seeing those aliens for the first time, the completed film — it had to have been a thrill, man.

Man, yeah. Beginning to end this movie was a thrill ride, it was an adventure, for sure. I had an idea looking at the script of what it may be, I had a more defined idea at the table read. But seeing the aliens come to life for the first time, that first introduction in the stairwell, my jaw was on the floor. I was like, "I'm in this movie, this is cool." Once again, they did an amazing job. Like I always say, I think we have the ultimate alien, this thing can do everything, and it's probably one of the hardest to kill. So, I think the fans who love this type of stuff, fans of aliens and who are looking for the next coolest alien out there, I think they will be thoroughly impressed by our villains here.

Most certainly. And what a bunch of gnarly SOBs those aliens are!

And in today's world, today's society, we have no chance. I'm going to be real, we don't have a shot in hell against these things. So, if this movie is foretelling the future, we need to get on it real quick.

Hodge loved Chris McKay's 'vibrant, creative' energy

Now, you mentioned Chris McKay before, I had the opportunity to interview him for "The LEGO Batman Movie," and of course, he comes from stop-motion animation with "Robot Chicken." I think that helps him bring in a really unique perspective into this film. What sets him apart from other directors you've worked with? Because again, I think it's an interesting hybrid of experience that he brings to this.

I think that's just what it is, it's taking something that he naturally knows and recreating it in this new element. This was his first huge live-action film, and I think for him to attack it in a specific way, and negate what is naturally his own sense of creativity, I think it would have hurt the film. Once again, Chris is just this vibrant, creative, energetic guy, and it reads well when he is communicating with you, when he's trying to develop your character, so forth. He was a man who was willing to learn, and educate himself throughout the process, and enjoy the process. I think when people watch the film, you'll see the humor, you'll see the lightheartedness. Contextually, it's just a little bit different than most action films. I think his experience from animation, working with voices more so, working with editing boards, and really having to build out this visual art piece, it just aided in creating this film here.

I think probably one of the cool parts, as you probably discovered working with Chris McKay, as well as Zach Dean, that this all begins with the written word. They place a high priority on the human story in "The Tomorrow War." I mean, yes, you can have great visuals, and you can have kick-ass aliens, but none of that means anything unless you can ground that in a great human story. Would you agree?

Yeah, I agree. Especially for this film, it works. I think, off the top, we think sci-fi, aliens, crazy, but that the meat of this story is heart. It is family, it is the idea of what you would do to save your loved one. We don't really get that a lot when we're looking at action films, it's always going to be about the explosions, the guns, and how much adrenaline they can kick into your blood system. But trying to marry a grounded, real story, or a human story, within this catastrophic, enormous situation.

Trying to maintain this human element in such a big film like this, I could see where it would be hard. But throughout filming, that was the main focus is that when people watch this film, they will be able to identify with all of these characters. They're not going to be superheroes, they're not going to be untouchable, they're not immortal. They're very human people thrust into an extreme situation, and we had to play that idea as such. Because at the end of the day, we want people to feel like when they're watching this movie, that if something glitches on their film, that, hey, there might be a draft. [Laughs] We wanted to kind of feel that it could be real, so keeping this story grounded in a very human aspect, once again, just it helped drive the story and the belief in what we were doing.

Hodge was thrilled that Dorian was given a complete story

I think the great part for Dorian is, as far as getting a great story arc, he gets to show, without giving anything away, how noble a person he is. It must be tremendously satisfying to see that character get that full arc like that.

It was. It was an arc that was built over the process of filming. When we first were introduced to Dorian's character, we really didn't know who he was. He just kind of seemed like this aggressive vigilante, just out on a range. Chris McKay really wanted something more for him, so we talked about who he was, and what was going on, and the military aspect, and the background started to come into play. "This guy is an elite fighter, so where does his experience come from? Okay, let's set it in that. Obviously, he's fought many wars, and he's fought wars against human elements, and now aliens. How does that really impact him? Okay, there is no hope for him at this given point, let's put on the top that there's an illness." 

It's like, "All right, let's just keep building this character to see at what point we can actually start breaking him down." We wanted him to arrive at moments where we are we going to start seeing him be human and vulnerable. Once again, it was an interesting character to kind of develop, but I think we found the sweet spot. We meet him, and everybody thinks that he's this badass, and then we understand the reality of his life, and his purpose then changes when you meet Dan, Chris Pratt's character. So, I really, really enjoyed embodying this man, this being, I know there are people out there like him. So I hope I did it some type of justice.

Pratt's passion to inform Dan helped inform Dorian, Hodge says

Thinking about the effectiveness of somebody with Chris Pratt — the believability and passion, again, that he brings into that role — you really do need that chemistry in order to make both of your stories more believable, don't you?

Yeah, indeed. When you see Pratt's performance, he is your everyday man, he is a father. He is on his search for his own meaning and purpose in life, and all of that is centered around his daughter, his family, his wife. Any man going through any type of struggle. I mean, we just went through a pandemic. I don't know what father or mother didn't go through the struggles, or the ideas of what can I do to get everybody back on their feet? How can I protect my family? That's who Dan is, and Chris Pratt is a father, so I'm sure it was very natural for him and easy to tap into the idea of what it would be like to have the loss, and what it would be like to actually have to fight. How would he do it? Is he going to have a second thought?

He put himself in a situation where our reality very much played into this fantasy world. You see that with the other characters, Sam [Richardson], he plays Charlie. He's very much your nervous Nancy. [Laughs] He's the guy who he's talking all the time, and he's probably the real example of what anybody would be like if we were thrown into that situation, not knowing what's going on or is not good with a gun. He is probably your perfect example. Dan, Chris Pratt's character, had military experience, I have military experience, but Charlie is ... he's you. He's definitely going to be me, because if you put me in that situation [in real life], I'm just going to be like, "I don't know what I'm doing! I know I need to run!" That's it. So, the human real element of this film is what I believe is going to make it very successful.

So, this particular instance, going back to Chris, you're glad that he's not Peter Quill in this situation?

Yeah, I mean, if he was, the story wouldn't make any sense. The thing is that we have to have something to fight for, and in doing that, we need real superheroes. I mean, your firefighters, your police officers, your doctors, your nurses, we need the real superheroes to step in and play a role in bringing everything back. That's who Dan is, that's who Charlie is, that's who Dorian is. In certain aspects, Mary Lynn [Rajskub], Mike [Mitchell] — two other actors in it — they're in the throes, they're comedians, and you're going to love their performances as well.

But the same thing with them, they have no clue what's going on, and they must have, or at least within this story, they have to have a reason to fight, and a reason to win. Dan pretty much does a good job with trying to rally everybody, and find that purpose and meaning. But I mean, it's life, it's our life now, we're fighting a lot of things right now. It's going to take the whole world to rid ourselves of a lot of this negative energy.

Living the sci-fi dream

Time travel films, from a narrative standpoint, can be really tricky. But "The Terminator," "Back to the Future," "X-Men: Days of Future Past," and now "The Tomorrow War" have proven that they can be well thought-out and very engaging. Is this a sub-genre you always sort of hoped that you would get involved in, a time travel movie like this? And if so, was there a particular film that sparked your desire to be in a time travel film?

I don't think I ever really thought I wanted to be in a time travel film, I was always the actor that wanted to kind of just test any limit that was afforded to me. For a while, I found myself doing a lot of military things. Now, when it came to time travel or epic films of this nature, I've always wanted to do a film like "Independence Day." Something that was just out of this world, ahead of its time, epic, a blockbuster. So, to jump into this realm, and to be a fan of aliens, and I watched "Starship Troopers," "Alien vs. Predator," "Predator," these films, really ... It was my childhood.  

So, for me to kind of step into that world and once again play, and have fun, and do something that I love doing, I'm blessed to have the opportunity. So, I do hope that I could do some more sci-fi type films, I've actually written one that I want to get off the ground my damn self, but it's a fun world to be in. It's not your everyday job showing up to work and you kind of have a routine, we showed up and everything was different every day. So, for the fun aspect, for sure, I would love to keep those sci-fi films.

And you must find that substance too that's going to set it apart. I think here, with "The Tomorrow War," it examines to me this whole idea — and I'm fascinated by this anyway — this idea of fate versus free will. To me, the film says, "The future is coming, and while we can leap ahead and try to change what is happening when we get there, our true power is in the now," isn't it?

Yeah, indeed. I mean because this film is science-driven. If we believe in science, and we look at the signs, the earth, the world, it's telling us things, it's speaking to us. We're looking at our oceans, we're looking at our polar ice caps, droughts here in California, water levels at the lowest possible. We're given signs, and I feel that we'd be ignorant to not listen and adhere. To think that we're such an advanced being and species, that we completely know it all, and we can correct things. It's going to take a body and it's going to take collective minds; time waits for no one at all. It's evident in this film, some people just are out of time, period. How we interact with our environment, our trees, our oceans, our animals, it all affects where we're going to end up five, 10, 15, 20 years from now. Personally, I don't want to see us in a deprecative state because we were just ignorant.

Hodge is thrilled his work in The Purge franchise has had an impact

I'm sad to see you're not involved in the next "Purge" film, "The Forever Purge." But given your history in the franchise, you must be proud knowing you were part of that franchise for so long.

For sure, that was a little surprise in my career. When I initially had auditioned for the first film, I auditioned for a completely different role, and the director called me back in for the "bloody stranger" at the time, and it took off from there. It is some of my proudest work, and I'm definitely proud of the franchise, and what I was able to add to it. I take it every day into my career and use it as motivation. It's fun to hear people randomly come up and, "Hey, you're the guy from 'The Purge.'" It's nice to know that my work has some form of an impact on people, whether it's just entertaining them or educating them or so forth. I hope to do more franchises, hope to continue bringing stories that people love to them.

What do you think is responsible for the success of the franchise with audiences? What do you think grabs audiences about these films?

About "The Purge," specifically, or just in general? I mean, with franchises I feel that, especially if you set it up well, you leave people wanting to explore characters more. The thing about films is we're not in your house every week, so people become spoiled with television, because they get to see their favorite character every Friday, or every Wednesday, they know. But with films, we give people something to really look forward to. If we can set it up right, if we just set up that kind of vague ending to let you know that there's more, that's how we keep people's attention. I think, once again when you go to see a film, you're going to escape. Two hours, whatever it may be, you're going into relieve yourself of whatever reality you're in, and enjoy a story, enjoy art. It's a moving painting, it takes you out of your element.

Specifically with the "Purge" franchise, why do you think people want more and more "Purge" films?

I think with "The Purge," a lot of sociological issues, economic issues that were brought to light in a way that certain people, they would love to express themselves. So, now we present them a film where the David has taken out the Goliaths on a steady basis. The rich were being eaten by the poor. Psychologically, a lot of people are in that position in their lives where they feel like they have been just stepped on, taken advantage of at work, looked over for promotions, things of that nature. It really affects a person's well-being — mentally, emotionally, economically — we all want the house or we all want this [or that], and the person that's always telling you no or keeping you down. On Purge night, it was just like, "Go for it."

To unleash the pressure valve.

Yeah, exactly, so I think just that idea, as gruesome and as a crazy as it is, it satisfies the heart a little bit. People who are a fan of gore and whatnot, they're going to come and watch it, and people who want to see rich people get their just due, they're going to come and watch it.

Taking the court in an upcoming LA Lakers mini-series

I know one project that you have in the works is an untitled miniseries about the LA Lakers. You play Ron Boone, and I'm wondering what you can share with me about the project? Personally, I'm interested since the LA Lakers were first the Minneapolis Lakers, and I'm from Minnesota. So, the Lakers, even after they moved to LA, they were a team that I always followed. Plus, they're one of the most storied franchises in the NBA, so it must be cool getting a chance to bring part of their storied history to life.

For sure, definitely. Full disclosure, I'm not a Lakers fan, I'm a Spurs fan. [Laughs] So, I'm going to catch a lot of heat for that, but I'm a fan of the game all around. This show is doing something special. I can't really talk too much on what's going on, but I was able to see some old footage from a couple of the episodes and whatnot. We're telling the story of the Lakers, how they came to be, and I was fortunate to book this role of Ron Boone. I did not know who Ron Boone was prior, but I did my research, and what I found out about this guy, and kind of his position on the team, and how he interacted with the team, it was pretty interesting.

I really kind of fell in love with playing this character. But you're going to expect what you saw from the Lakers on the court in the '70s, '80s. It's high intensity, it is the grounding and the foundation of how these basketball guys came to be, essentially. So, I think the Lakers fans, basketball fans all around, they're going to really, really enjoy the story. The actors are absolutely killing it. I'm surprised, the guys that they have playing Kareem, Mike Cooper, and Magic Johnson [Quincy Isaiah], this is their kind of first big gig. These cats are ... I mean, I'm impressed. So, we got the newbies on here, we've got the vets, and we're just having a fun.

That's great, just don't be wearing any Spurs hats to the set or anything, and I think you'll be fine.

Yeah, I kept all of the Spurs gear at home. My Duncan jersey's still in the drawer here. I do have Kobe's jersey, but yeah, man, I'm going to catch heat. [Laughs]

Also starring Yvonne Strahovski, Betty Gilpin, and J.K. Simmons, "The Tomorrow War" debuts on Amazon Prime Video July 2.