In 2002, high school athlete Brian Banks was falsely accused of rape and kidnapping by a female classmate in Long Beach, California. Banks was an All-American football star with a full scholarship to USC who was railroaded through a justice system that was indifferent to his plight or the facts and sentenced him to a decade of prison and probation. However, with the help of Justin Brooks and the California Innocence Project, Banks was able to reclaim his life and was fully exonerated.
Aldis Hodge and Greg Kinnear star in the dramatic retelling of this story, Brian Banks, which is in theaters today. BET spoke with Hodge about preparation for the role and what inspired him to take on such a heavy subject.
BET: Was this shot before What Men Want or after?
AH: Oh, this was before. We shot this in 2017.
So you got to change it up a bit. What made you want to be part of this film?
AH: I was inspired by his triumph. This person really fought for himself through all of these adversities. So I thought the potential for this film to inspire people was really major. I hope that people were inspired the way I was inspired. Also the fact that this could be an effective tool when it comes to the conversation of judicial and prison reform as it relates to people who are being preyed upon by the system. If we can move that conversation forward, I would love to be effective in that way. It’s needed. It’s so necessary.
Right. We saw what happened with When They See Us…
AH: We do see the effect When They See Us had. People doing research on those in positions of power and seeing where their faults are and doing the exhaustive investigative work that needs to be done when it comes to scrutinizing people who have lives in their hands; the judges, the lawyers the DAs. I think that everybody needs to earn their place and they have to prove that consistently. In Brian’s case, the system failed him because people did not do their jobs. No one from the DAs office investigated the crime scene, he had poor legal counsel that didn’t tell him everything he needed to know, all of these things. It just seems that he was set up to fail. So I do hope that we can expose the need for really putting people to task. I think the California Innocence Project is doing an exemplary job working for people pro bono, because they believe in the value of people. And we need more of that.
Tell me about the first time you met Brian. I read that the two of you started working out together because you had to bulk up.
AH: We talked for a couple hours when we first met, just feeling each other out. I had to see if I could believe in him in order to play him. And after 10 minutes, you already know this brother is solid. He’s truly exemplary. The thing that he told me that sold me was that he wasn’t bitter. He wanted to let all the anger go. He wished no ill will towards the woman that accused him, and I said, "OK, this brother is enlightened. He’s moved past a certain point of maturity." I was going to get a trainer, but we got in the gym one day and I said, "Bro, why don’t you train me? We were together every day in the gym for a month and half and then still train after shooting.
I also read that you wore an ankle monitor throughout shooting and even off set.
AH: When we got down to Memphis for pre production, the director, Tom Shadyak, asked me if I wouldn’t mind wearing an ankle monitor for real and not take it off. I said I’m with it. That trapped sense of anxiety because this thing is on [is real]. I probably had it on for a month before we shot a scene where I had to remove it. You sleep with it, you shower with it. You have to plug it up while you sleeping because if the battery dies it will buzz and wake you up. That month of hyper sensitive awareness was insane, because you don’t want people looking at you funny. You got the long jeans, it’s hot in Memphis, and I got [on] double socks with sweat pants. My feet hot as hell. But I did that for a month. Brian had to do that for five years. That’s insane. I can’t imagine what his mentality was like. But it was awesome, because it does give you a renewed sense of what freedom actually is. And very much renewed sense of appreciation for it.
Brian Banks is in theaters now.
Photo Credit: Bleeker Street Films