Read our interview with Leverage star Aldis Hodge and guest-star Wil Wheaton, who portray computer hackers Alec Hardison and Colin “Chaos” Mason, respectively. Wheaton returns to the show when it airs its special Christmas episode on Sunday, December 12. The series then airs its two-part season 3 finale the following Sunday, December 19. The two actors discuss, among other things, what it’s like to portray a “computer geek,” how Hardison and Chaos relate to each other and why Wheaton decided to return to the hit TNT drama.
Question (Q): Wil, in your 2009 book Just a Geek, Neil Gaiman wrote in your forewords, “As we all discover sooner or later you’re never just a geek.” So Aldis, how has your character Hardison evolved in Leverage to be more than just the geek?
Aldis Hodge (AH): Well he’s taken an interest in a much more substantial role than just being behind a computer. He’s learned from everybody else on the team coupled with the ambition to run his own team one day. He has taken of grifting and he’s learned a little bit about thieving but he’s more learning the mastermind part of it. He wants to do more for the cause of what we do as opposed to just being a player, you know what I mean? So he’s consistently growing watching everybody, learning their moves. He still has to work on the fighting but as (those) know he has a dog, Megabyte, who does that. But he wants to be more than – I mean he’s always going to be a hacker at heart. That is what he does best. That is what he contributes best to the team. But he wants to contribute more to just the team. He wants to contribute to what we’re doing so he’s going to learn what he has to do and he’s definitely gone beyond. I think in these last couple seasons we’ve seen more of Hardison stepping outside of the hacker role all the while being a hacker continually but like in “The Ice Man Job” being a grifter. And you know, you get to see a little bit more action out of him in this season finale. So there’s a lot going on with him and he’s not just your conventional hacker. Actually he’s exposing different ways to hack. Grifting is hacking mentally and personally, hacking inside of someone’s head, you know. So he’s learning that art and he’s learning different ways to hack and exposing different ways to hack.
Wil Wheaton (WW): As an audience member, you know, I’ve watched Leverage since the pilot and it’s been really wonderful for me to watch Hardison grow from this, you know, from the young hacker sort of piece of the puzzle and to see Hardison’s ambition develop. And it’s so clear that he wants his own crew but he’s not ready for his own crew and I think it makes his character and the dynamic between Hardison and Nate so much more interesting and so much more compelling than, you know, it would’ve been otherwise.
Q: Wil, how do you bring more than just the geek to the characters you play, such as Chaos?
WW: Well it’s important to know why Chaos is the way he is. He’s obviously very smart. He’s obviously very motivated and very, like, committed but where he could very easily use his abilities and his talents for good, he instead chooses to use them for evil. And I had to make up a reason that was really meaningful for why that is. And I built a background story for him that’s, you know, not too far removed from my own experiences as a young geek. He was picked on and he was misunderstood and he was lonely and he was isolated. And rather than take those experiences and turn them into something positive for other people that may be experiencing that, he’s taken all of his abilities and instead used it to just sort of punish people and kind of lash out at the world. And whenever I get to work on Leverage, it’s very important to me to make it very clear that Hardison is the only guy in the world that Chaos respects. Everybody else is just a jerk and doesn’t even come close. I mean he doesn’t respect Nate. He doesn’t – if he ever encountered Sterling, he wouldn’t respect him. He certainly didn’t respect the rest of the Two Live Crew guys. He really respects Hardison. And I said earlier today, if they were on the same team, the world would really be in a lot of trouble.
AH: And also, if I may, I think that what you’ve done with Chaos is bringing out the tactician in him. I think he’s in a sense of being a general, a leader. He’s quite the mastermind himself. And I think that gets quite exposed in the upcoming episode but I think you’ve exposed him in a different light in that way in showing that he’s not just a pawn to be used but he’s pulling the strings.
WW: Yeah. He is a guy who we saw it clearly in “Two Live Crew Job” and I think you’ll see it a bit in “Ho Ho Ho Job.” He’s really happy to let everyone else think that he is a pawn on the board when he is actually – from his point of view he’s Keyser Soze.
Q: Aldis, how much of a geek or tech savvy are you in real life like before this show? You know, how much do both of you know about what you’re doing when you’re, you know, doing your show on Leverage? Like does it make sense what you’re saying or are you totally faking it?
AH: Before the show absolutely nothing. Every time something comes up I do go talk to either John Rogers or Downey or whoever
is on set at the moment about what I’m explaining because in order for me to properly deliver the lines, I need to be aware of what I’m saying. So I’ve learned quite a bit in these last few years and I’ve become more tech savvy over the years. But I was a big more tech savvy than I realized because every time there’s an issue with my computer, I’m not much a manual kind of guy I just dig in it until I find it and I understood in instances I’ve rewritten some code on my computer unbeknownst to me. But it’s not something that I understand fully so I wouldn’t say that I’m a hacker or anything like that but I’m learning a lot more and I want to learn a lot more because it’s such a fascinating world. I just get afraid with the learning process of whether or not I’m being illegal because I get to talk to hackers throughout my experience through the seasons I’ve talked to the best of the best hackers in the world. And I’ve learned quite a bit through them and it’s a great world to let my imagination run free in but not in a bad way but just to learn about what a computer actually does, how connected we all actually are through technology. You know, I found myself – I found out where I was living when I was like 8 and 6 years old just through running through sites on the Internet which it’s not hard to do but I’m like, “Jesus, I didn’t know I was on the map since then.” You know, all your business is out there and it’s a scary world though.
Q: Wil you mentioned that you are kind of playing Hardison’s opposite as Chaos. Would you say that you guys are kind of a yin yang thing then going on?
WW:I would say that they’re more than that. They’re two sides of the same coin.
AH: Look, what you guys don’t actually know is that Chaos and Hardison shared the same womb, it’s just that his daddy is a little bit lighter than Hardison’s daddy, I’m just saying. Put it out there. Let’s just break the ice.
WW: They’re definitely brothers from another mother.
Q: And to follow up, you were talking about how you were learning how to be a geek, have you ever thought about looking into other geek things, not just tech, but sci-fi stuff?
AH: Oh, yeah. I love sci-fi. I – before Leverage I was on a series called Supernatural. I did a guest spot on there and I mean that’s horror/sci-fi-ish and it’s a great venue. I love the world of sci-fi, the fans, the people that you get to experience life through because of it. And, you know, who knows, Hardison may have to build a spaceship one day, go fly to a different planet and get a little sci-fi on you all, I’m just saying.
Q: Wil, how did it come about that you’d be returning to the show? Was that something that you guys discussed based upon the first episode that you all really loved having him on and it was just a matter of getting you on? Because I know, Wil, you’ve been really busy working on other projects as well as other shows. So was it an easy fit to bring you back again or did you have to kind of work schedules?
WW: Well I lucked out. My schedule which has been unbelievably busy and complicated had a nice big Leverage-sized gap in it this summer. And I was able to go up to Portland, my favorite city in the world, and work on the show again. And, you know, John Rogers told me when we did “Two Live Crew Job” that you don’t create a crew like the crew Chaos is part of if you don’t plan to bring some or all of them back in the future. And I think the way that we all related to each other was so fun and so rewarding to the audience that it was really not a question of if but when we would all get to come back and go head to head again.
AH: And I would say that – I mean well Wil paid me about $10 a day until John called him and said, “Hey, we want you back.”
So I appreciate that, Wil. Thanks, man.
WW: You’re welcome.
AH: No, it was like you just said, Wil, yeah, the team, the Two Live Crew team, was not necessarily created for, you know, one-hit wonder. There were definitely intentions on bringing a feeling out of squad that challenges us and gives us, you know, a run for our money every now and then. But the one with the most potential out of it was of course the most evil was Chaos. And Chaos was never written to be this one-stop shop. But the thing is, the actors had to just come in there and do their jobs and see if we wanted them back. Wil was a natural fit. He was always perfect. And as soon like day one it was automatically like, “Okay, yeah, of course he;s coming back.” So whatever, you know, we already knew that. It was just a matter of how to find it in the story. And like I said, I hope this continues on throughout seasons and seasons to go because it’s such great fun to have just a nemesis in general for my character, just, you know, I was excited because he’s directly my nemesis and it gives my character a different dynamic to play with. It gives them something to actually challenge because very rarely is Hardison ever challenged. The only person who’s ever done that, who’s actually given him a run for his money is two things, one, a machine which was a supercomputer called the (Starango) and then, two, Chaos but Chaos did it best and that’s why Chaos is back.
Q: And then just quickly as a follow-up, Wil, you know, you’ve had a lot of recurring parts, you come back for Big Bang, you come back for Leverage and now you’re going to have an arc on Eureka. What for you, you know, is kind of the pull? Obviously the good role but, you know, there is the kind of geek thread which is awesome, do you try to find projects that appeal to that sensibility as well as being a character worthwhile, you know, jumping into them?
WW: You know, it’s more about the character than it is about the genre. And I have settled into these characters that you kind of love to hate. And it’s been so much fun for me and I am really grateful to everyone that’s given me an opportunity to work on these shows and create these characters and keep playing them because it’s really, really a lot of fun. And it’s sort of like being in the middle of a no-hitter. Everything is really working right now and I just try not to think about it too much and just keep going out there to the mound every inning and just try to keep doing what I’ve been doing.
Q: We’ve seen some recent crossover – not crossover so much, but homages like Psych this week when they did the homage to Twin Peaks. Is that something that you all would like to see going forward on Leverage? And if so, with what?
AH: Oh, certainly. I mean we actually had a – Psych gave Leverage a shout-out one time and then we gave them a shout-out in “The High School Reunion Job” that we did when my character made a reference to what’s on Nate’s Netflix queue. So funny I actually saw Dule Hill the other night. He’s a friend of mine. Good guy. I would love to continue to build out Web of relations and, you know, promote other shows, have other shows, you know, promote us and do some real crossover things because it’s so much fun for the audience when they’re, you know, say they have, you know, a list of great shows that they watch and they’re watching one of them which mentions another great show that they love, you know, they always get a kick out of that. And the watching experience is what we focus most on as entertainers. We want to do everything possible. And that one little thing that we can do just to keep them having fun, keep them excited and then tie it, you know because it gives them something to look forward to. And then they also know that as a show we’re watching what they watch. We’re a fan of what they’re a fan of. So it builds our relationship with our audience even further. And I would love to continue to do more crossover mentions, maybe even have episodes where we crossover cast and, you know, (doing) stories, you know, a Leverage episode with Pysch would be crazy, you know, but I think it’s something completely doable and I think the audience would love it and get a kick out of it.
WW: I think whenever you work on a genre show there are such passionate, devoted, core audience members that are so invested in, you know, not just our show but other shows that are a little bit outside of the mainstream. And it’s always wonderful, you know, most of these shows are run by people who are also fans. And it’s really wonderful to give a very subtle and very clever wink to people in the audience who know what you’re referencing. And then everyone else on the couch with them who maybe doesn’t watch the other show has no idea and it doesn’t stand out like, “Well that was a weird thing that came out of nowhere.” It’s something that people who know get it. It’s like a dog whistle; some people will hear it and some people won’t see it at all. But that Twin Peaks thing was brilliant.
AH: I also think it establishes the characters a bit more as real people because when you’re watching these characters on TV who are watching what you watch it invests a little bit more credibility to who they are, to the nature and the organic rhythm of the character that yourre watching when you watch somebody who watches what you watch, you know.
WW: Yeah. One of my favorite moments ever on Leverage is where Hardison says, “Listen, if everything – if things go south, I’m going to say the name of one of the Star Trek movies that’s bad so those are the odd numbered ones. And if it’s going well, then I’m going to say something that’s from the even numbered ones.” And everybody looks at him like, “What?” And then all of us in the audience who are Star Trek fans are cracking up because we totally get that. It’s something we would do and it’s something that we’re going to catch. And you know that the writers don’t, you know, you don’t put a gun on the mantle in act 1 if it’s not going to go off in act 3 and you just sit there and wait for the rest of the show like, “Oh, when’s it going to happen? When’s it going to happen?” And you know, “Is it going to be ‘Wrath of Khan’ or is it going ‘Undiscovered Country’? What’s it going to be?”
AH: It was “Wrath of Khan” too. “Wrath of Kahn.” Yeah, it’s fun for us too as actors. A lot of fun.
Q: Leverage is like one of the highest rated shows on TNT right now. What’s it like to star on such a popular show?
AH: Well just to have the support of people like that is amazing because as an artist all I really care about is whether or not people are enjoying the work and if they’re not then I need to figure out how to do my job better. But the response is overwhelming when it comes to meeting fans personally and it’s great to actually meet them. The experience you get when you meet somebody and they say, “Oh, my God, you guys do an amazing job. I love your show,” that’s so much – that’s so fulfilling for us as actors and for me definitely in particular because, you know, you’re an entertainer, you have an obligation to your audience. You create a relationship with these people, you do not want to let them down and every time, you know, these people are blessing me to be able to go to work every single day and do what I love. I don’t feel like I have a job. I just have a really good hobby because I don’t feel like I loathe going to work. It’s not an obligation to me. It’s never a time where I’m really unhappy. So these people are allowing me to live out my dream experience and I have to pay that back by hopefully giving them a good show, good performance and I’m trying to better every performance every step of the way, every page. So whenever somebody says, “Hey, look, you guys are doing a good job,” I feel validated in what I’m doing and the fact that they do watch us, the fact that they are loyal and they keep coming back is, you know, for as many shows as there are out there, it’s very rare. It’s very rare to have a loyal audience, a strong stable audience. And it just makes me feel like we are doing our job properly and that werre continually getting blessed to be able to be in the position that we are in because to see somebody – to know that you made somebody smile or laugh or whatever, that’s something that you can’t imitate, you know what I’m saying, that kind of emotional connection. You cannot imitate that. And it’s immediate gratification. So I’m eternally grateful for our audience and, you know, the show keeps spreading every year which it’s lucky and, you know, we really are trying to go ahead and give these people a little something to take off the edge of the day with. You know, we want them to have fun watching us and thank God they do and we really appreciate our audience.
WW: We’re really lucky as actors. On the longest most exhausting, most frustrating day…
WW: …our job is to pretend.
WW: And our job is to do what children do just naturally. We just make believe and when we do it right and everything comes together, we end up with a show like Leverage and the ratings, you know, from an artistic standpoint we can’t be working to try to get good ratings. From a practical standpoint, of course the ratings matter because the higher rated a show is, the more likely it is that there’s going to be more of it. And it’s wonderful to be part of something that we can feel good about at the end of every day that actually means something to people because, like I said, we are unbelievably lucky to be doing what we do.
Q: So you guys are working with Dave Foley on this next episode. Just wondering how it was to work with him and how convincing he was as a villain.
WW: I had a lot of scenes with Dave. And, you know, I don’t believe I am cleared to get into the specifics about his character and exactly how our relationship plays out but he was, you know, it’s very clear when – there’s a very specific definite experience that happens when I work with an experienced veteran professional actor who really knows just what’s going on. And Dave is one of those guys. He came up to do an episode of Eureka when I was working on Eureka and I got to yell at him to stop following me around and coming into my shows and, you know, he gave it right back and it was great to work with him. I don’t remember, Aldis, did you have a lot of scenes with him?
AH: We had a few, very, very few. But what I do understand is that, you know, it’s weird, our type for a villain has so many dimensions. There’s so many facets into what makes somebody that bad guy, that antagonist. And there’s no real true definition behind it. What we are able to do with the show which is so fantastic is that we change it up and we give you every different venue of what a villain can be, the guy who seems nice, the guy that seems sweet, the guy that seems untouchable. Even Chaos’s character, you know, he seems like he’s not as devious as he truly is. We get to switch it up. So what you’ll see from his performance — I don’t know how much I can say as well — but what you’ll see from his performance is a different definition, you know, different take on what a villain can be and he does it so well. It’s a great performance by him. And to elaborate on what you said, Wil, about having seasoned actors, it makes our jobs a lot easier. It’s so great to have someone like Dave or like Wil because you’ve been doing it forever too, man, to have good, good artists, people who are really good at their craft on set and doing what they know and doing it well. It saves time. It’s a learning lesson because you get to feed off of this other actor and learn, “All right. Well I didn’t know this before. And, you know, I didn’t know I could take a scene this way or we could you do it like this?” It’s so great to have somebody who gives you a different perspective on the art of what we do. And that’s what a seasoned actor does and that’s what he did, that’s what Wil does and he just gave a very fun performance. I’ve seen the episode. It turned out amazing and I think people are going to have a lot of fun watching it. So, you know, stay tuned.
By: Karen Benardello