Does it get any better than speaking with Alexander Hodge? After weeks of lead time, we managed to speak to Hodge on a recent Friday afternoon about his role as Andrew, aka “Asian Bae”, on the oft-underrated Insecure, which is definitely one of the best shows on television that you should be watching. Hodge went deep into the episode ‘Lowkey Trippin” which saw Andrew and love interest Molly (Yvonne Orji) taking a vacation together and finding that it doesn’t exactly go exceedingly well. He also mentioned that for the first time he gets to play an Australian in his new movie Milkwater, as the Sydney-born, then New York and now Los Angeles-based Hodge is actually from Australia. His American accent in Insecure is spot on and his performance on the female-driven series is really layered.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our phone conversation with the magnetic Alexander Hodge of Insecure.
Brief Take: How did you enjoy filming the first episode of Insecure outside of Los Angeles, in Mexico?
Alexander Hodge: It was crazy, man! It was a whirlwind experience. It was actually the last episode that we shot in production and when we finally go around to shooting episode 7, we’re in Mexico, it was at the end of shooting the longest season that we had ever shot, so everyone is running on empty. But when we get to Mexico, the scenery—I feel like Mexico itself is a whole added character in the episode, it really pulled out the best in everyone, and it was so nice to be down there with everyone, it was kind of like a work trip. It was very heavy on the work, but in the few moments that we had to relax, it was unbelievable.
BT: What it is like to recur and now to star in a series that is mainly female-focused?
AH: I think it’s refreshing! It’s one of the few shows in which we really do get to see largely from the perspective of the female experience in the show. And this is one of the very few that offers the perspective of the Black women at the centre of the show and I love the fact that it’s a perspective that is not as explored, or could be, as it has been before. Getting to be a part of something that can push the medium a little bit further in terms of that cultural visibility in an authentic way really means a lot to me.
BT: How did you craft the character of Andrew, as he talks and dresses differently than you?
AH: It’s a collaborative effort. Obviously it starts in the writers’ room and it’s shaped by the showrunner, Prentice Penny and the room. Episode 7 was written by Jason Lew, with whom it has been great to work, but then in costumes with Shiona Turini really establishing his look, it kind of really informs my work after everyone else’s work to see with what I have to work and what I have to play. And I get really inspired by seeing the character come together. Especially after reading script after script, every time I read a new script I learn a little bit more about him. And that’s how Andrew kind of comes to be in my mind.
BT: Part of what is interesting about Andrew is that he is quite open about some things and less so about others. How have you enjoyed playing that?
AH: Yeah! I think that like all of us, especially in terms of relationships, you’re constantly learning, you’re constantly setting and resetting. Early on in the season, when Andrew wasn’t very open, it was a very real aspect for a lot of men and also something with which I have personally dealt in relationships. But then to be able to see the character journey through to the point in which now he’s very open and he’s very honest and he’s been working a lot on the things with which he needs to work in terms of his part of the relationship. It’s really gratifying as an actor to be able to see these journeys through.
BT: What did you enjoy about filming the block party, and then having the spectre of Issa into this last episode but not having her actually be present for it?
AH: Oh, the block party was crazy. There was so much going on. Overnights are always intense and shutting down a whole street in Inglewood is also a big order, but above all else, it was really fun! At the end of the day, we’re shooting a block party, so block parties are always fun, it was nice to see the acts and watch people like Vince Staples do their thing. But yeah, it was a big setup to have such a large event in the middle of the season, and I think it’s also interesting, in doing so, watching the responses of the characters after the big event. You know, episode 7, Issa wasn’t in physically, but she definitely featured heavily, she was very much a presence within the episode. I think that goes on to speak about the presence that best friends have in each of our lives, in which Issa is not physically there, but because her friendship with Molly is so strong, she is still very much a large presence in her life, no matter where she is in the world.
BT: What do you enjoy about working with Issa Rae, even though you only have gotten to work with her on camera in a couple of scenes?
AH: I love being able to see how much she puts in. I think that she really is there any time of day, she’s ready to go put in the work. And that’s the most inspiring thing, being able to see someone operating at the top of their game and seeing that the little things are still important. Also, she’s such a great presence on set, her personality is always such a warm beacon on set that you enjoy yourself when you’re with Issa, she’s always laughing, there’s always something funny going on. No matter how much she is dealing with, she always finds something to laugh about, and that might be one of my favourite things about her.
BT: Some of the scenes are kind of subtle and this is from where a lot of the humour derives. How much do you lean into the awkward humour in this series?
AH: I think that it goes as real life goes. [laughs] As much as we would like to be, we’re not always the most effective and open communicators. There’s a real opportunity to dance within these moments, in which we’ve all experienced them in real life. But getting to do it take after take, you really get to explore what it is that we’re missing in these moments and it’s brilliant.
BT: Do you find different perspectives and notice certain things when you’re watching this series as opposed to being in it?
AH: Yeah, definitely! I think that when we’re in it, when we’re shooting, it’s our job to be the advocates for our characters. But once you’re watching the finished product, I think that you really get to appreciate everyone’s efforts. You get to appreciate what the editor has cut together, you get to appreciate what the director wanted for his or her vision, and it really becomes clearer as a whole and a bit more objective. There’s always going to be that part of you that resonates with your character because you did the work, but I think that watching the final product, you get to see the collaborative effort come together. More often than not, I find myself learning about things and being like: “Oh! Okay, that was the point of that. That was the part of the story that they wanted to tell”.
BT: What was it like to play the scene in the pool?
AH: It was a scene that we played with over several hours. There was a lot going on. [laughs] We had to capture the swimming, we had to capture the splash and the entering and the exiting of the pool, four people talking in one scene, there’s a lot of coverage. We had a lot of opportunity to really play with our delivery and get to explore how we wanted our characters to be represented in the story. I knew while filming it that this was going to be something that was a contentious topic, but also very much needed to have in terms of media representation. We rarely have conversations about race between minorities, it’s usually involving a white person and a person of colour. It was the first time that I had sort of really seen this kind of conversation play out between different minorities.
BT: Could you preview the remainder of the season a bit?
AH: Actually, my favourite episode is coming up. My personal favorite episode is episode 8, it’s such a beautiful, beautiful episode written by Natasha Rothwell. I cannot wait to see it, but yeah! This show goes in such a…it reaches a whole new level this season because of those two extra episodes and it really goes into new territory and I can’t wait to see what people have to say about it.
BT: What was your favourite scene to shoot?
AH: It would probably be the Wobble. Yeah. [laughs] I’m from Australia, so I never knew what the Wobble was until I read it in the script, but it was fun. It was definitely a moment of: “Can I do this? Is this going to work out? What’s going to happen?”. But it worked out and it was so much fun.
BT: You seemed like you had a good time reading Jane Eyre as a part of Acting for a Cause.
AH: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. It was a very quick turnaround. I got the play the day before and we read it the next day and it was something that spoke to me in which again in quarantine, I wanted to feel like there was something that I could do. And I was able to be part of a really cool group of young actors who were reading a wonderful story and raising funds and awareness of frontline workers and people who really need support right now. Overall, the whole thing was just a wonderful experience and I’m really excited about the fact that I got to play Mr. Rochester, that was so much fun and a role that I never considered myself being able to play. Then with Natalia (Dyer), obviously, who did such a wonderful job as Jane Eyre, it was a really wonderful experience.
BT: Tell me about opening up about your own path of mental health?
AH: Yeah, I think that it’s important for us all to know that we’re all just a work in progress. I think that we all have our good days and our bad days and I don’t think that we should have to hide our bad days and only have to show our good days. I think that being honest with people is really important. There is a time to put on a brave face, but then there’s also a time to be honest and be true, because that I feel like—for me anyway—that becomes a part of my power, to be able to be honest…to be able to say that I deal with these things and I am not the only one, and hopefully other people out there feel less alone by me sharing my story, one of many stories. And knowing that we’re all human and we’re all okay.
BT: What does the concept of representation bring to the role that you are playing on this series, that you are breaking new ground?
AH: It makes me hopeful. It makes me hopeful for a brighter day, for a brighter future. I think that what would be amazing to come from all this is more authenticity and more dedication to authentically telling stories of colour. I think that Hollywood does a wonderful job of showing the world what it can be and as well as what it is and I think that sometimes we have missed the target in terms of showing the world what it is. Because we have many incredible, beautiful stories from all corners of the world, representing people who look all kinds of ways, behave all kinds of ways and love and share in all different kinds of ways. I think that being able to be a small part in this push for authenticity and storytelling for people of colour, it makes me feel really good about the future and the direction in which we can be heading.
BT: What are you currently quaranstreaming?
AH: Well, I’m actually in a bit of a pickle, because [laughs] for the longest time, I’ve always been into shows that are kind of about technological evolution, and the world is sort of coming to an end. I was watching Devs, Westworld, things like that. But now that we’re in quarantine, I’m desperately searching for comedies because I have a really hard time honestly in quarantine dealing with optimism for the future. For me, right now, it’s all about comedy. If it can make me laugh, if it can make me feel good, I’m watching it. That’s my quaranstream right now: nothing but comedy.
BT: What has your personal journey been like that took you from Sydney, to New York, to L.A. for this series?
AH: It’s been a wild ride. I can say that for sure, it’s been an absolutely insane journey. Right now, during quarantine, I have a lot of time to sit and reflect and I’m realizing how many wild turns and twists on which my path has been. I’m really grateful for how things have gone, I’m really grateful that I ended up studying in New York, purely by coincidence. I’m really grateful to right now be out in L.A., again, purely by coincidence because a job brought me out here. I think being open to the changes has been a really wonderful thing for me and I’m really happy to simply be on this ride.
Insecure airs on Sundays at 10pm ET on HBO and Crave