Aldis Hodge and Lauren E. Banks in Showtime's City on a Hill
Lauren E. Banks as Siobhan Quays
Aldis Hodge as Decourcy Ward
Hodge with Kevin Bacon as FBI agent Jackie Rohr
Shannon Wallace as Anton Campbell and Lauren E. Banks
Banks and Hodge with Kameron Kierce as Kelvin Campbell
Actors have an unusual experience in building relationships, at least onscreen relationships.
Imagine this: you walk onto a set, and meet for the first time someone who is supposed to be your husband or wife. Now imagine that this is your first big job straight out of school. That was the experience of Lauren E. Banks, who stars as Siobhan Quays, the wife of Aldis Hodge's Decourcy Ward, in Showtime's City on a Hill, now in its second season.
The show is set in the early 1990s in Boston. According to Showtime, "[Boston] was rife with violence. Police corruption and racism were the norm - and then it all changed in what was called the 'Boston Miracle.' In this fictional account, Assistant District Attorney Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge) comes from Brooklyn and forms an unlikely alliance with a corrupt yet venerated FBI veteran, Jackie Rohr (Kevin Bacon)."
Banks explains how she came to be part of it, "I actually was probably one of the last series regulars to sign on to season one. I had recently graduated from Yale Drama in 2017 in May, and I auditioned for this pilot in LA in December of that year. And I booked the show, and I was in Boston maybe four days after having auditioned for it, and of course reading the pilot, and saying yes to it.
"And I got to meet Aldis, but it came after a lot of reading and audition, but, yes, it was my first project out of school, my first big project out of school."
Hodge, on the other hand, had a lot more experience under his belt when he started this project. He had been a regular on Leverage, to which he returns in the upcoming reboot Leverage: Redemption, and had regular roles in Turn and Underground, as well as a recent role playing Jim Brown in the critically-acclaimed One Night in Miami.
Still, that didn't exempt him from wondering how this relationship would be built when he met Banks for the first time. He says, "We met each other in filming, as most of us did, honestly, on the set. But yeah, we met each other and, it just kind of just rolled in then naturally.
"She was down into her character. I was down into mine, and we both had just a set perspective on how we wanted these characters to be viewed not only just individually but through their relationship as well; we're representing that on a grand scale.
"And I think there is just synergy there in terms of the mission, in terms of what we want to give out and get out of these performances and put on the TV screen. So it just kind of rolled in there and it all synchronized."
Both actors also feel that they benefitted from the atmosphere on the set and the rapport they established with the showrunners. Hodge explains, "I remember receiving the pilot script, and I read it. I kind of thought about it for minute, put it down, but then I had a friend. I bumped into a friend actually who was working at Showtime at the time and said, 'hey, what do you think about the script?'
"I said, 'yeah, I remember that script.' I had just finished coming off of a series that had recently been canceled and [I was] really trying to figure out what is the next best step.
"So we're trying to take our time and really look at all the options, and the script came along. And it was a very interesting script, very interesting story, really dense, full of rich characters, but we were just trying to figure out is this the next step. So when I ran into my friend and said, 'yo, did you take a look at that script?' And I said, yeah, and we start talking about it. To me, I was like, all right, this is the universe telling me something.
"So I was lucky enough to meet with the creator of the show, Chuck MacLean, about it. He's a really great writer, and the director and producer Michael Cuesta and I sat there. We talked it up, talked about some of the outlook of the show and the character.
"And then after an audition, things kind of just got together. And they said, 'buddy, you are going to Boston.'"
Once there, the process of creating these characters began in earnest. Hodge says, " it was a good process. It was actually really a process that I enjoyed because during the audition process and talking to Chuck and in talking to Mike about the character and the nuances of who he is and what he's trying to achieve, what I found is that they were very - they just listened, and they understood what I was going for.
"They took notes, and they heard what my perspective was on this man in this particular setting dealing with what he was dealing with because it's not far removed from - as far as culturally - not far removed from what I have gone through in my life in terms of my work environment.
"So, the thing that I really appreciate and respect is the fact they actually listened to me and really respected what I had to say. And I saw them allow me to incorporate who I was into the character, as they have done with all the actors that I've seen in different ways.
"And that's what makes the show I think really work, and that's what makes it work for actors to come to us, just because we get to really put who we are and put our stamp on these characters that we're walking into on a daily basis. "
Banks agrees, "Oh, yeah, absolutely. I had that experience. Obviously getting the show was kind of a rare occurrence in terms of starting out, and that's such a great ensemble. But what I keep hearing even from my agents and other mentors in the business is that working on this show is very rare in the sense that I get a lot of input on who my character is.
"And our wonderful show-runner, Tom Fontana, he came to me after the [first] season said, 'OK, what would keep you interested in playing the part?'
'Well. I've got ideas, and we talked very in-depthly about who Siobhan was introduced as and what her trajectory may be, could be, and I feel very validated and seen as a co-collaborator with Aldis, with Kevin, and obviously with the rest of the production team. So, yeah, it's important.
'I see acting as a very collaborative - it's not just acting, but storytelling in filmmaking and including TV is a very collaborative thing. And I think it's its most powerful when it is collaborative in this sense, and so I think that's what we've gotten a chance to explore for season two."
The actors also work with series star Kevin Bacon, who directed the second season opener. Both relished the experience.
Banks says, "It's been really wonderful working with Kevin. You know, I think we have the beautiful pleasure of working with his wife, Kyra [Sedgewick, who directed an episode], in season one. And starting off season two with somebody who is a part of the show, I just felt very reassured and in good hands with how he understood everything tonally and vice versa. I think he trusted us a lot and leaned on us knowing our characters the best.
"But Kevin as an actor, he understands that sometimes - it's a rare thing to give any kind of feedback, but he knows - I think the thing I recognize the most that Kevin knows how to push on the gas as the director, and get more out of the performance, and really when to hold back, and know that an actor is on the track to what they know what the scene should be, if you will, in working in a scene.
"And so he won't try to dictate the performance so much as he'll sit back and know that it's coming, and when we get it when we nail it for the tape, he'll say 'is that the one?' And you'll say, 'yeah exactly. '
"I definitely felt like I was learning a lot from him by how he approached it. And it made me look forward to directing, quite frankly. Very, very soon."
Hodge feels the same. "Kevin's directed before, so he has his experience as a director. But because he is such an experienced actor, he understands how to work with actors and kind of keep the vibe on set in a place where it's just easy to try things and sort of play a little bit.
"Of course, the fact that he understands the show so far makes it even more of an easy process. I mean, granted we had so many fantastic directors on this season because of the way it was broken down as eight episodes. We shot the first two before we went into lockdown, and then after the lockdown we had six left, but they brought in these other directors."
Both Banks and Hodge are enjoying working together, and a definite rhythm has developed between them.
Banks says, "I really enjoy working with Aldis. I think in many ways it's like working with a mentor or a big brother because he's been doing it for so long compared to me just getting started. But I think the best thing is that we very much are seeing each other eye to eye, and he sees me in that sense. He doesn't look down on me like he's pulling up a little sister or a young kid from school.
"He looks at me as a collaborator and values my thoughts, and we're able to have creative and critical conversations about our characters in the same way that Siobhan and Decourcy see each other as equals in the time in the '90s, where maybe a woman's role would be different.
"I think it's a very atypical relationship that we get to share on screen, and I think that would be very difficult to bring truth and authenticity to if we didn't see each other in that same light.
"So, it's a lot of fun. I think in many ways art imitates life imitates art in that sense. And then I think I kid a lot about Siobhan and Decourcy being like the Bulls in the '90s. By the Bulls, I'm talking about Chicago Bulls.
"They're very much a team, and they're very much an all-star team. There are two black people, professionals, attorneys, accomplished, and yet just because they're winning they have a lot of people who want them to lose. And they go out into the world every day with something to gain, and almost as if they're playing in a championship game and everything is on the line for them.
"And it becomes a question of who takes the winning shot, who are we passing the ball to in the clutch, who are we listening to in the huddle?
"And I think what we get to see is that they are very much figuring out how their dynamic works, and how they can be the best to each other, and what their strengths are as individuals, and what they bring to their marriage as companions and lovers, but also how can they support each other in their own individual pursuits as they self-identify in 1994 society."
Hodge agrees, "It's fantastic. I mean, it is nice to see a fresh talent come into her own. She's really just taken the ball and run with it with what she's done with this character. You know, like she said, that teamwork - that's very necessary, and it's really integral to the growth of these characters, honestly.
"We do put a lot of who we are into these characters, and oftentimes we really just discuss amongst ourselves what we feel their bond is, and their relationship is, and then we'll present it.
"What you see on screen, it's not a fabrication outside of consistent commitment to what it is we're doing. And you don't have the foundation of these characters without Lauren's commitment to her character, so it's nice to have somebody who's actually dedicated to what it is that we're there for and is on the same page with you.
"And I'm just looking forward to seeing how we continue to grow with these characters."
City on a Hill airs on Sundays at 9:00 PM, and can be streamed any time on Showtime On Demand.