What do you get when you cross an ambitious, artistic person with a passion for watches with a congenial actor and a die-hard perfectionist? Aldis Hodge. The 30-year-old actor who plays the leading role of Noah in the WGN America television series Underground (about the Underground Railroad in Georgia), and who has been seen in many a film and television series, is not just a designer and watch lover, but has also started his own watch brand.
Planned as a boutique, bespoke line of unusual watches, the new eponymous Basil Time Piece brand — Hodge was born Aldis Alexander Basil Hodge – is slated to be out in about two years and has been in the works for nearly a decade (part time, of course). The long course to the brand comes via Hodge’s dappling with watch designs, working with several brands, and self-teaching himself horology – all while keeping up his acting career.
In our Perfect Timing column on Forbes.com next week, we bring a look at Hodge’s life and plans. Here, we bring an exclusive, insider interview with the star that revolves around his childhood, his abilities to juggle several lives, and what, in general, makes him “tick.”
Q: Is acting a means to an end?
Aldis Hodge: “No, not for me. In generally I am a very diversified person. I like to draw, paint, and constantly learn. In this situation, I think that I established one love so you can chase another love, but I can’t ever let either one die because that would be like letting a pieces of me die. I love acting – it is what I do the best and what I know the most. I will never stop being an actor, however this new love of watchmaking takes a very specific turn. It requires really paying attn. to details and I think watchmaking satisfies a certain part of my brain, the one that loves engineering and design. This is the newer baby, but both of my passions need equal attention, just different kinds of attention. I don’t identify with being an actor or watchmaker, I am an artist and these are the different methods I use to distribute my talent to art. I guess I am a psychotic artist; I want to do it all. It does get hard when I am on the set, or if I have to travel for months at a time. The back and forth takes a toll and maybe sets me back more, but that life has also afforded me the time to invest in learning horology and perfecting my line. My dream would be to run this company until I die and the same with acting.”
Q: What drives you?
Aldis Hodge: “A legacy is what drives me to do everything. I constantly ask ‘What am I leaving behind? What is my carbon footprint?’ because somebody is watching, and when they look back they should be able to see something bigger than just what I did for me, this is what I did for others. When people ask, ‘what did he create or build?’ I want the answer to be something good. I want to be able to make some charitable donations; I want to turn it into a company that I can pass on to my kids as my legacy. I also think that there are a lot of kids like me who want to do a lot of things, but the world tells them you can only do one thing. I don’t believe that and I hope my legacy shows that to them. The nature of your interests should not be ignored. You should have the ability to chase the dreams you want and to fulfill all of them. Whether you do them all great or not is not the point, the point is that you lived your life and chased your dream.”
Q: When did you know you wanted to start your own watch brand?
Aldis Hodge: “In art school, I designed all sorts of things from furniture, to cars and even watches. Then, at around 21 or 22, I brought some of my designs to a watch brand in Switzerland and they explained to me that they couldn’t create my designs because they didn’t make their own movements. I didn’t want to abandon them, so I decided that I would build a watch company. I didn’t want to quit acting, though, because I also love that and because acting gives me the ability to be able to create and design things in my free time. Granted, it has taken me a lot of time to get here, but I am very proud to be working with the manufacture I am working with now; I have a lot of respect for them. And for so many other people, brands and watchmakers who have helped me along the way. I feel the time that it has taken me to get to this point is ok because I have grown a lot as a designer, and a watchmaker and as a baby horologist in order to get to this point.”
Q: Do you pride yourself on being on time?
Aldis Hodge: “I always want to be on time, and so I am usually there 15 minutes early. My mom always told me that being early is being on time, and being on time is late. That was the mentality I grew up with: show up, look everyone square in eye, shake hands and look good while doing it, and that means carrying myself with respect. I am not making the effort to impress others; I am making the effort for myself, to present myself well because the moment you look at me you should know exactly what I am about, what I care about, that I respect certain things in other people as well.”
Q: What role have you played that has struck a chord with you the most?
Aldis Hodge: “My current role in Underground is the most pivotal. It has been an education in culture nationally for me, and internationally as well, because slavery exists around the world, it is s a global issue that is perceived differently around the world. So I have really learned to respect the past. We portray these people with dignity and a fresh, meaningful look at their lives. I love the way I get to engage people at this point in conversation about the show because for me it is reshaping the way I look at myself and the way I look at history – and how I speak on the issues of slavery, civil rights, equal rights. I am more aware now of how current the issues are still today; you can’t ignore it, so I feel like this role is the most effective project I’ve ever been a part of. It was not a role I would have foreseen myself in, so I feel it was luck, Karma, something was pushing it my way.”
Q: What are your favorite watches?
AH: “I am still a baby when it comes to collecting. I have about 15 watches that include brands like Gerald Genta, Jaquet Droz, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Arnold & Son, Montblanc, IWC, Glashütte Original and others. I also have several great old pocket watches from Elgin and a few others. It is a nice mix of vintage and current day pieces. I have a lot of respect for the pocket watches, they bring me back to that age of watchmaking that is classic and beautiful.“
Q: What stage is your brand in now and when can we see watches?
AH: “It is slow going but I am not in a rush. I am more concerned that the end result is exactly what I want it to be. We are working on prototypes, but I don’t expect to see a launch of the brand until maybe 2019.”