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Kevin Bacon, Aldis Hodge Talk Racial Inequity And Policing In 'City On A Hill'

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Showtime's hit series "City On A Hill" returns this month for Season 2. The series takes place in Boston in the '90s and shows us the crime and corruption rampant in the city and also the moral cost of fighting for justice.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CITY ON A HILL")

KEVIN BACON: (As Jackie Rohr) Well, people tend to hang themselves. We all do. It's just a matter of time.

ALDIS HODGE: (As DeCourcy Ward) You know, this line I've been dwelling on? Can't seem to get it out of my head. It's the price of hate. You feeling that?

BACON: (As Jackie Rohr) You hate them. You end up destroying yourself.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Aldis Hodge and Kevin Bacon, whom you just heard there, star as the two leads in the show. Last season, they teamed up in the landmark court case, but this time, they are at odds and the lines between right and wrong, justice and injustice are blurrier than ever. Aldis Hodge and Kevin Bacon join us now to talk about Season 2 of "City On A Hill."

Welcome to the program.

HODGE: What's happening?

BACON: I feel like we're hitting the big time being interviewed by you, Lulu.

HODGE: Absolutely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's right. I want to start by asking you to sort of describe your characters for those who haven't seen the series. Aldis, let's start with you.

HODGE: So I play DeCourcy Ward. He's an assistant district attorney originally from Brooklyn. He's moved to Boston and has a very high moral code, very idealistic on what justice looks like. So he really - he wants to do the job right that he's got. But he realizes that there are people who play by different rules. So he's trying to figure out where he can hold on to who he is and still accomplish the job at the end of the day and how far he's willing to stretch his morality to the limit in order to succeed. Basically, his complex is, you know, how many battles do I have to give up to win the war? And is it worth it? At the end of the day, will I keep myself? Will I know who I am at the end of the day?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, Kevin, I would say that that is not a description of your character.

BACON: I would agree with you there.

(LAUGHTER)

BACON: No, Jackie Rohr is extremely corrupt FBI agent. He has some pretty serious substance abuse issues. He's got a very, very tainted and jaded look at the world. He's a working-class, self-made man, and he really is desperately trying to cling on to an old way of doing things. He feels his power and his privilege slipping away and being threatened by people like Aldis' character, DeCourcy Ward. But at the same time, I think he's smart enough to realize that he needs DeCourcy in certain ways, and that's where the relationship grows at.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You both had a pretty functional, if transactional, relationship in the first season, but a lot has changed between last season and the start of this one. Briefly, what happened?

HODGE: (Laughter) Well, can we say that Jackie played some tricks and screwed DeCourcy over?

BACON: (Laughter) I think we could say that.

HODGE: End of the bromance.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: End of the bromance. Kevin, Rohr, as you mentioned, is bad in so many ways. And what struck me about your performance is I always have thought of you - you know, you have an amazing range. But a bit like Tom Hanks, you're someone who engendered a lot of goodwill. And this is not a man that engenders a lot of goodwill. Was that the attraction?

BACON: I've played a lot of people that have done some really pretty terrible things. I mean, the most terrible things, you know? I've never shied away from that. I don't really think about me personally engendering goodwill as a man. I really don't think that's my job, you know? I think my job is to stay true to the characters that I choose to play. So I just try to stay true to who he is. And is it fun? Yeah, it's fun - not because he's bad. It's fun because he's well written. In any sort of scene, they give me something cool to play and they let me do my stuff and that's why it's fun.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Aldis, I'm going to ask you a similar question. I mean, your character, passionate about justice, but some of the actions he takes, particularly against Jackie, feel like they don't really have that goal in mind. What is the draw for you?

HODGE: Yeah. I mean, for me, it's - the personal draw was really exploring how justice is sort of manicured and composed from the inside, from the powers that be - some people who are actually trying to do the job and you see how hard it is for them to do the job and then some people who are actually manipulating their positions to shift the idea of justice towards their biased agenda. So, you know, I just get to play a little bit, have a little bit of fun and at the same time dig into the psyche of what we come to know is this idea of justice.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Racial inequality and policing criminal justice is a prominent theme in the show. I want to listen to a bit of Season 2.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CITY ON A HILL")

UNIDENTIFED ACTOR #1: (As character) You said this rally is to draw attention to the policing in Boston.

UNIDENTIFED ACTOR #2: (As character) The policing in greater Boston is a drain on the greater metro economy.

UNIDENTIFED ACTOR #1: (As character) What do you say to those that think holding this rally in a place like Cambridge is an implicit threat?

UNIDENTIFED ACTOR #2: (As character) A larger part of your constituents might be offended that you assume they're just as afraid of Black people as you are, Councilman?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So given this conversation around racial disparities in criminal justice and the fact that this is set in the 1990s, what do you want people to take away from the issues as they're shown?

BACON: You know, dealing with a show that, like it or not, has to do with racial injustices is an interesting thing. This season, Aldis has come on as a producer, which to me was a great move. And he has taken on a lot of responsibility in terms of the tone of the show and how things are portrayed.

HODGE: If there's anything to learn or gain, it's just that this conversation has been had for a long time and there's work that needs to be done. You see people who are doing the work, you see people who are not doing the work, and you get a better understanding of the necessity to continue to move forward and progress because the idea of the show was drawn from the Boston Miracle. You see a lot of people who really sort of galvanized around the truth of justice. They work together within their city to weed it out. And you saw real progress happen when you see people come together from all walks who have the same goal, who understand the necessity to do their own individual work. Whether you're an official, whether you wear a badge, whether you're a citizen, everybody's got a job to do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, one of the really interesting scenes in Season 2 without giving too much away, is the small conversation that you have with a cop, a Black cop. And there's a lot of moments like that in the show.

HODGE: Yeah, I'm really happy that we get to explore the themes that we do with this type of show. You know, we're set in the '90s, and the only thing that's different from the '90s versus now...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: With flip phones.

HODGE: ...Is - yeah, is technology, you know?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, yeah, I just had to mention the flip phones because it just brought me back and it was very lovely to see the...

HODGE: Yo, the great flip phones, the big bricks.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The great use of flip phones.

HODGE: The bricks that these young'uns, these millennials will never know about. They will never know what it means to carry a pager (laughter). They will never know.

BACON: Well, if shoulder pads can come back, maybe flip phones can come back.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah.

HODGE: I feel like this show is an exercise in the graduation of shoulder pads. I mean...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As a woman, take that back. That's all I'm saying.

HODGE: Lauren Banks who plays - she's brilliant. She plays my wife Siobhan. Every time she comes out in shoulder pads, I'm like she's auditioning to be a linebacker for - you know, because those pads are major. But that's kind of the fun of the show, though. I mean, we get to step into the '90s era, the style. We get to step into the mood, all these nostalgic things that you kind of miss but you didn't realize that you missed, you know? For me, that's really fun.

BACON: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge from the show "City On A Hill." Season 2 premieres on March 28 on Showtime. Thank you both very much.

BACON: Thank you, Lulu.

HODGE: Thank you as well. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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