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 featuring the Justice Society of America from DC Comics, of which Hawkman was a member. And on his rise as a career actor, Hodge had racked up a number of buzzed-about physical performances, building an impressive physique along the way. But he always hoped for a superhero part to come through and give him the chance to really spread his wings.
Hodge was handed that chance when Black Adam star and executive producer Dwayne Johnson called him personally to offer him the Hawkman role. Men’s Journal spoke with Hodge about the fitness journey that began as soon as that call came, the workouts on set in Atlanta, and what it was like to square up in onscreen battle against Dwayne Johnson as the iconic antihero Black Adam.
Men’s Journal: Can you describe what it was like to get that call that you were going to play Hawkman?
Aldis Hodge: The first time I heard I was going to play the superhero was back 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 someone was playing a joke on me at first, but eventually realized that it was most definitely him. That’s when he told me, “Welcome to Black Adam.” My mind was blown at that moment, and I knew it was time to get started.
How much did you know about the character of Hawkman?
I’ve always been a big comic book guy. I grew up on graphic novels, and was already a fan of the JSA so already had ideas. But when I did get 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 the man is a superhero with or without the armor. The plating that he puts on is just an extension and an amplifying force to the power he already has.
Did you have an idea of how you wanted to look physically?
I really wanted to elevate the physique as much as possible, because this is the first time Hawkman has been in a film. There are a lot of fans of this character who wanted to see justice done. This goes back to 1940. His powers and capabilities are incredible. I wanted to push everything to the fullest extent. The fight scenes that we’ve done in this movie are unmatched. I wanted to make sure what I was doing stood up alongside what everyone was bringing in this one, lead by DJ.
So when it comes to getting started, what did you do first?
I guess you could say I was preparing a long time before I actually got the role. I’m not sure if I knew this was going to be the opportunity, but it’s all about staying ready, because you never know. I was staying in quarantine at the time, coming from another job, and as soon as I had the call from DJ the first thing I wanted to do was get in the gym. I tried to sneak into the hotel one but they wouldn’t let me. So instead, I had a few large dumbbells sent up to my room and the process of getting in shape for Hawkman started right there. I got the Bowflex joints where you can adjust the weight on the dumbbell. Those were great because I was stuck in a little room in the hotel and could manage a lot with those. I was in there doing chest flys, rows, and everything else.
How about when you were finally able to get into a real gym?
Everything went to that next level when I was able to get into a proper gym. I felt like a kid going into the candy store every day, because I’ve always wanted to have one of those gigs that forced me to push my training to that next level—an excuse to take it to that physical limit. Before getting this film, I’d done a bio picture about football player Brian Banks and spent a lot of time with the actual Brian Banks training. I took a lot of what I’d learned with him. That was a few years ago though, so my body was in a different place when I started this journey. I was already good with building muscle, but I wasn’t cutting the fat the way I needed to so I hit up DJ for a little guidance. He put me on his team who helped me get into the metabolic science of working out.
Who were some of those key players?
As far as the gym, when it came to bodybuilding, I worked with my guy Myles Humphus, who’s on DJ’s team. He’s a stunt guy who is awesome at his job, but he also knows how to build up a body like nobody’s business. He had so much confidence in me, he would take me to the gym and put me on a weight that I’d never attempted before. One day we were doing leg press, and I was expecting to do an easy 400 pounds, which I knew was easily in my range. Myles gets this crazy look in his eyes and puts on 1,000 pounds. I thought he was just doing that for his reps, and I was proud of him for it. Once he was done, he motioned over and wanted me to hit a few reps of it myself. I didn’t think I had it in me, but he had full confidence I did. I was surprised when I was able to knock them out. I needed someone like him there to push me beyond those previous limits, and set new benchmarks.
What did a typical day of training look like?
We would start by waking up at 4 o’clock in the morning, then get to the gym by 5 a.m. Everything would start with warming up, stretching, and mobility exercises. During those movements, we weren’t even using weights, just bodyweight as resistance. That time is even more important when you’re bulking up because you want to prevent getting too big and locking up while you’re putting on mass. We’d train for three hours until 8 a.m., then make our way to the stunt gym where we would work on fight choreography and wirework. On top of that, we’d do endurance runs and wrap around 4 p.m. So we had somewhere around a 12-hour day of training for two months straight, non-stop, until we started shooting the movie.
What were some of the exercises that you were doing during these sessions?
Once we were done warming up, the session might start off with benching some weight, which was kind of an additional warmup. My starter weight at the time was 185, then I’d get it up to 250 on the regular reps, and max out at around 300 pounds. Sometimes I’d have it up to 315. Along with my dude, Myles, we’d do slow tension pulls where you push the bar up explosively then slowly bring it back down to your chest as you count out five seconds. The movements were focused on having us deal with tension, fluid movement, and pressure in different circumstances. There was a constant force being exerted, if we were done with a set of bench presses, then we’d jump down and hit some pushups just to keep the muscles warm. End of the workout, we’d do a little rowing to completely burn out. We would try to see how fast we could get to a mile on the rowing machine. Once the filming started, 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 with martial arts and I grew up watching action heroes. Jet Li, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and the rest. I was always looking for the reason to live in that space mentally. Black Adam filmed in Atlanta, and I got there early to start training with the stunt team. I was working with my stunt double David Charles Warren on movement and this guy is just insane. I like to do a lot of my own fighting, and I’m good at it, but this brother has insane ability in the air. We were working with Chris Brewster, who was our stunt coordinator and fight coordinator. I went to Chris and told him I wanted to build a style out of all the martial arts that I’ve 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’s all you. What was it like putting it on?
[Laughs] You’re right. That’s all me. There isn’t a whole lot to hide behind the suit. The only real challenge was seeing through the helmet, because it cuts down your visibility. I had to learn to convey emotions and act bigger, because the shield covers part of my face. The action with the suit was fun though.
I always wanted to step into the shoes of an awesome superhero, into the ultimate action world in any real capacity, and to end up getting to do it playing one of the most badass heroes out there is a win—especially when I get to go up against the biggest action star in the world. Hell yeah, this is the way I wanted to do it. I was blown away by how we were able to get the context out of these fight scenes, which was largely thanks to the partnership between our director Jaume Collet-Serra and our director of photography Lawrence Sher. They composed the fight scenes in a way that I think really elevated what we’ve seen in past superhero movies. The fight we did was beautifully savage. Everything was massive in a special way. We wanted the audience to see the best of Black Adam and the best of Hawkman.
You definitely brought the best of Hawkman to the screen. I’m hoping to seeing more movies with you as the character. Any plans?
There’s a lot of great backstory there with Hawkman that I’d love to explore…the reasons behind how he became who he did before we see him in Black Adam. I think there’s a lot to build on when it comes to the JSA and all of its members. I hope to see more of him, too.
Black Adam premieres in theaters on October 21st.
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