Q&A: Wil Wheaton and Aldis Hodge Talk Leverage!

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Photo by Wil Wheaton

I was able to chat with fan favorite Wil Wheaton and Aldis Hodge, who plays the fantastically quirky, hacker Hardison, during a conference call last week to discuss the upcoming Christmas-themed episode of Leverage! The episode features returning guest star Wil Wheaton and Dave Foley on Sunday, December 12th at 9pm on TNT. The two-part Season 3 Finale airs on Sunday, December 19th at 9pm EST.

You both play hackers, but in real life who has the most computer knowledge?

Wil Wheaton: Well, in my late teens and early 20’s I subscribed to the Phrack Newsletter and I’ve read 2600 since I was in ninth grade.

Aldis Hodge: Yeah. You’re – yeah, Will has that one. He’s got me beat on that. I’m new to the hacking world. I’m still in my 20’s trying to figure out this hacking thing, but I did hack into my mother’s computer; got past her password one time. Yay. Actually, no, that’s not right.

How do you feel about Hardison’s development throughout the course of the show, and what do we have to look forward to from him in the upcoming episodes?

Aldis Hodge: I think the hardest is taking a more authoritative stance. I – as far as his role in the team and his responsibility to the team, he understands now more of what he’s capable of and his value. And I think because, as it was stated earlier in the season, that he wants to run his own crew someday.

Now, he’s more in – he’s very playful, very, you know, very much a kid and having fun and is loving his job and enjoying his job, but he’s grown up in the sense of just being a bit more focused on the world that he’s now become a part of. Because he, you know, he needs to learn a few things to start learning – running his own camp one day.

Oh, and as far as upcoming episodes, I don’t know if I can tell you too much about that, but he has some exciting things going on for those of you who pay attention.

How is this Christmas episode special?

Aldis Hodge: Well, we get to steal stuff and blow stuff up on our Christmas episode, so I think that makes it a little special.

Wil Wheaton: Yeah, this is – this particular episode is – it’s a classic Leverage heist put within the context of a mall at Christmas time. It’s not – it completely avoids the trap of taking a Christmas theme and forcing a show to work within it. In this particular case, the story and the characters are as important to what happens as the setting.

Wil, you guest star in a lot of things, what is it like working on Leverage, and how do you approach it differently than guest starring on a webseries like The Guild?

Wil Wheaton: It’s very – they’re very different practically. The filming experience is very different. You know, on The Guild we have a very small budget and we’re – we never have enough time, and we’re all working as hard and as fast as we can to get the story done. Leverage is different because Leverage has the backing of an enormous network and a studio and you know, we have a bit more time to go and bring the whole show together.

Where they’re very similar is they are both shows that have tremendous writing and an extremely talented cast, and I do just my very best not to mess up. I want to honor what I’ve been given, I want to rise to the occasion, and I don’t want to be the guy that everybody has to keep slowing down to, you know, pick up. So, I work just as hard on everything. You know, all – every job I work on, I work as hard as I can and as professionally as I can to make sure that I rise to the occasion.

How do you learn to interact with guest stars quickly since they might only be for an episode or two, compared with the cast being there day-in and day-out for a 13 episode season?

Aldis Hodge: Well, a great guest star is like having gold on set because we as a cast, we need guest stars to fill our stories to keep things interesting for the audience and push us throughout the season. So, whenever we need that – a really good guest star who comes in, does their job well, finds their comfort zone easily, and meshes well with us that’s always – it’s very lucky, because sometimes it can be rare.

But, you know, Wil, just came in. I remember the very first time and for the job. That was just some massive fun because – of course he was my direct nemesis and the first time I think we introduced him as a direct nemesis for Hardison, so I was very excited about it; very excited to see who I was working with. And we played off of each other so well, I think much more – much better than I had anticipated or anybody else had anticipated.

So, it was very much a treat because for us, you know, it’s a staple of any good show. You can have a great actor that’s amazing, but you need good guest stars to keep things interesting for the characters. And the characters keep things interesting for our future investment for moving where we want to go, such as it’s proven with Wil, coming back a, you know, another time. Or Chaos coming back another time to give us some more problems.

We already have a history there, the audience loves it, they’re anticipating it, and they’re waiting for it. So, it creates great, great rhythm for our production in general, and it’s just – it’s very typical to have a very solid actor who knows how to do their job.

And yeah, Wil, you came man, you just fit right in, you played along because you – sometimes it can be sticky trying to get a nice relationship right off the top with new actors, and he came and he did his thing. He was very comfortable, made us feel very comfortable, we try to make him feel very comfortable, and we had a lot of fun playing. And I’m pretty sure this is, you know, at least I hope this is not the last time that we see Chaos.

Wil Wheaton: You know, any show is – the – any cast, it’s like a family and the family dynamic, you know, there are functional families and there’s dysfunctional families, and Leverage is a very functional family. And as a guest star it is a double-edged sword for me.

I get to work consistently without being tied to one particular character and one particular story style, but at the same time I get to work on a show like Leverage where I instantly love the cast, I instantly feel at home, I instantly feel like I’m part of the family, and then eight days later I go back to my regular life or I go back to a different show.

And it is a – it’s a real wonderful gift that I get to work with great material, but I also get to work with actors who really make me feel like I am part of their team. And it was such a good time to do “The Ho Ho Ho Job.” Like I really, really, really hope that we’ll get to come – that I’ll get to come back in the future so that, you know, so that we can go head-to-head again.

They’ve been building a Hardison/Parker relationship. How you feel about where it’s going?

Aldis Hodge: Well, something that – I – that’s just one I’m anticipating myself because the two characters has been figuring out what their relationship is since day one. And they’re getting to the point where they’re just about ready to earn it, you know? The – and the audience is also earning it as well because we can’t give it to you all and serve it up on a silver platter too quickly, because where do we go from there?

But, I think these two characters because they’re both crazy in their own way, Hardison’s team’s a little bit more stable, but really when you think about it he makes his living off of, you know, digging into other people’s privacy, so a little crazy to me. So, these two characters they sit and they work in the most obnoxious way, and I think that once we actually get there, because believe me they will get there, once we get there it’s going to be a beautiful thing and it’s going to be very interesting and quite fun.

But, I’m looking forward to it and I know that our audience is definitely looking forward to it, but every step of the way, every season, you know, every episode we try to take steps there. And like I said, the season finale, we don’t give it to you all, but it’s definitely another step and we give you something to look forward to in Season 4.

Hardison is the super geek of the crew. Do you consider yourself a geek?

Aldis Hodge: I am in my own little way, except for – well, I’m a geek in the mechanical sense, as opposed to the technical sense. I’m becoming technically savvy, but I’m more gear savvy.

I grew up designing homes and architecture and cars, frames, and right now I’ve made a business out of designing watches. I love gears, I love the interworkings of things, and I like to get my hands on them and physically take them apart and put them back together, whereas my character gets his hands on them virtually and takes things apart and reassembles them.

So, I am a geek in that sense. I do love my sciences. Math is a whole different deal, but I love design. And math is married design. And it’s something that I think I’m always going to be a part of.

Do all of the geek references come from the writers or do you get to throw any in yourself?

Aldis Hodge: I do improv a ton when it comes to this, but usually the geek references come from mainly John Rogers and Chris Downey. That’s the geek soul of this character. It usually comes from those two. John and Downey, I mean they’re the generally just intelligent in a way that I can’t even fathom. And I learn more just sitting there listening to those guys than I could learn in a whole semester at Harvard, so that I attribute to those two.

And also, we have a great staff of writers that also contribute much as well, great staff of writers. I mean, you know we have – we – in the past few season we’ve had Albert Kim, Christine Boylan, Amy Berg, Jessica Rieder, Melissa Glenn. We’ve had amazing, amazing cast writers, and now we have Geoffrey Thorne who’s a great writer. I really love his work. And I usually get some great geek references from him as well.

Wil, what is it like playing the various guest star roles on shows like Eureka and Leverage, versus playing a cartoon version of yourself on Big Bang Theory?

Wil Wheaton: Well, I wouldn’t characterize Evil Wil Wheaton as a cartoon version because he is grounded in a certain reality. It’s really fun to play characters who are very unlike who I am in real life. The greatest joy of being an actor is getting to pretend and experiment with realities and motivations and ideas that are completely different, and in some case antithetical from my own.

And the key difference between every show I do and Big Bang Theory is even though I am playing a character on Big Bang Theory who looks like me and sounds like me and has the same name as me and is actually from sort of an alternate reality in which I exist, it is always a real like – just – it’s a mind frack to hear the actors and writers and director talk about me as Wil Wheaton, when they’re talking about Johnny as Leonard or Kaley as Penny, and then they talk about me as Wil Wheaton.

It’s really weird to wrap my head around that because I’m used to playing characters who don’t have the same name as me.

How do your characters interact in this episode? What is the animosity or mutual respect, being that you’re both hackers?

Aldis Hodge: I think there was a bit of jealousy established between our characters and, Wil, you can definitely jump in on this one if you – I think in the first episode that we did together when Hardison was kind of beat for the very first time. And of course he doesn’t like Chaos, but there’s a general respect for his skill level because there’s nobody else in the world as good as Hardison.

I mean, Hardison can go work for the FBI, who has the best hackers in the world working for them, so he chooses to do his own thing. So, I think there is a bit of jealousy established. And I think that Chaos, once he got beaten himself, had to give us his crown, his thrown; his pride was beat down a little bit. And, you know, I think there may be a little bit of jealously on his end.

So, I think because of that these two are going to continually go back and forth, back and forth for seasons to come.

Wil Wheaton: Yeah, these guys are – they’re Holmes and Moriarty. It’s Superman and Lex Luthor. You know, it’s Kennedy and Khrushchev. These guys are complete nemesis to each other and I think if you asked Hardison who the greatest hacker in the world is he would say, “Well, it’s me of course.” And if you asked Chaos he would say, “Well, it’s me of course.” And then, who’s the second best and each would probably say the other.

And that’s what makes it really fun to bring these guys to life and have them clash, because they probably – I mean, if you were to make them characters in a role playing game and build out their stats, they’re probably really close. They’re maybe separated by one point in either direction in a few different places. And they, you know, they are both, from their point of view, without peer. And the truth is, these two guys, you know, if they were on the same side the world would really be in a lot of trouble.

Wil, you’ve been doing a lot of guest star roles. Do you have an interest in doing a steady recurring role and maybe a show of your own again?

Wil Wheaton: Absolutely. Being an actor and being employed full-time are two things that rarely overlap and it’s always great to, you know, to know, “Okay, will I go to work tomorrow?” Instead of, “Well, I finished the job today and I don’t know what’s coming up next.” I’ve been – I’m incredibly grateful and I am incredibly fortunate to have a lot of opportunities the last couple of years to, you know, to work pretty steadily on a lot of different shows.

I was saying earlier that it’s wonderful to be a guest star because I get to go around to a lot of different shows and play a lot of different characters, and steadily employed. And I certainly would not say no if the right show came along and wanted to put me on as a regular.

I worked as a reoccurring regular on the last ten episodes of Eureka this season, and it was just great. It was really wonderful to be, you know, to be there, you know, essentially full-time and get to settle into a rhythm and get to be somewhere for more than a week at a time.

Are there any that you would love to get on yet that you haven’t yet?

Wil Wheaton: You know, I am a huge fan of Modern Family and I love Fringe, and I love shows that are intelligent, that don’t play to the lowest common denominator in the audience. And I would love an opportunity to work on a show that is smart and clever, that doesn’t try to run away from that.

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