What Men Want is a new comedy starring Taraji P. Henson (Empire, Hidden Figures) as a sports agent who gains the ability to hear men's thoughts. Produced by Will Packer (Girl's Trip) and directed by Adam Shankman (Hairspray), the film sees Henson's character, Ali, use her new found ability to her advantage in both work and love.
Playing Ali's love interest, Will, is actor Aldis Hodge, and when Screen Rant visited the Atlanta set of What Men Want earlier this year, he discussed not only his character but the comedy, how Will pushes Ali to grow, and working with the young actor who plays his son.
Tell us a little bit about your character?
Will is a single father, a good, well-natured man. Bartender. Just, y’know, he's a good cat who's trying to make a good life for his son. I think he’s in a place where he meets Ali--they're both in a space where they're enjoying life, trying to have fun, but then it turns into something that both of them never really expected, so they're just trying to figure out how to deal with that. That first encounter, Lord have mercy! We shot the scene, it's ridiculous, it's hilarious. But he definitely did not expect that.
But he's a really good cat and that’s the thing I love about him, and is what I feel drew me to him is the fact that he's just a stand up guy trying to be a good single father. We don't see that portrayed a lot of times in television, especially from the man's perspective. Having grown up without a father in my life, I really respect being able to put that image out there.
So when your character first meets Ali does she not have her ability yet?
I'm not going to give you the secrets, now! I'm just going to say that she was at a place in her life where I don't think she was exactly ready for love. And she did not intend on sparking a little relationship with Mr. Will. But yeah, I think that their presence in each other's lives came at sort of an awkward time but it came at the right time
How would Aldis feel if a girl that he was with was able to explore and read his thoughts?
No, we wouldn't even be together. I'll be honest with you, growing up as a kid I was big into graphic novels, loved all the Marvel stuff, all the DC stuff. I always wondered what superpower I would want to have and I used to think that it would be reading somebody's mind. Nah, I'm good I do not want that power. I would not want to read my girl's mind, I don't want her to read my mind. We would drive each other crazy.
Is that something you changed your mind about after doing this film?
I changed my mind about that after a few relationships, but doing this film just reaffirms that no, that would be insane, I couldn't even imagine it.
How much physical comedy do you have to do?
I'll say this, it got pretty physical last week. I can't give up the cookies, man. There's some physical comedy, you'll see what I'm talking about when you watch the film, of course. Y’know, there's some physical comedy that goes on between him and Ali, I'm going to leave it at that.
Was that difficult for you to do?
Nah, man. When it comes to any kind of physical stuff, be it stunts or whatever, it really depends on the team, it depends on who you're working with. And y’know, so, Taraji is a pro, but when it came to doing the setup and trying to get at it, we both had the same mindset. And so as long as we were on the same page about how to execute the scene and what's best, then it flows. And then you have a director like Adam, he brings crazy energy to the set and personally, I think he should be in the movie because he's funny as all hell. But because he creates that sort of environment where you understand what the goal is and then you just have the freedom to play and not feel silly, it's all good.
And then me and Taraji, we've been known each other for a little minute now, but this is the first time we've ever been able to work together in this sort of capacity. So it's cool because there's already that familiarity to a degree that's sort of like professional safety, where it's like, you know you're working with your partner and you got their back, they got your back. This has been, actually, a really easy experience so far.
And would you consider your character kind of the moral center or someone who's a moral compass for Ali?
I think that he could be almost likened to a moral center. He could be a moral point of focus. She's got a few things that are driving her to growth and he's just one of those places that sort of shifts her perspective to want grow a little bit out of her comfort zone. But I can't say he's all of it, I'd like to say that but…
Obviously the focus of the film is Ali and her journey, but you talk a lot about your character as a single father. Do we see a lot of that relationship between Will and his son in the movie?
Yeah, the child actor is Austin, he is 5-years-old. He's a ball of awesome, he's a really--he's a funny kid. It's funny, you put out props on set, doing a scene or doing whatever, and then some of the props are food. He's five, he knows nothing about continuity. In between each take, he's over there getting chips, getting popcorn, but he's hilarious because you see his focus. Play time and food.
But when it comes to saying those lines and being right on set, he understands what he's doing. He's a really mannered child, well-behaved, smart kid. I'm really enjoying my time working with him. You do get to see a lot of that relationship between Will and his son, and a part of that is what influences Will's relationship with Ali, y’know? Because there is the decision of, like, dating somebody with a kid, y’know? Life changes - drastically - there is no, ‘I'm thinking, maybe? If?’ No, it's a zero to a hundred is zero seconds flat. So some of that does sort of drive how they maneuver in trying to find their relationship.
How large is your role in the film?
My answer is I'm not going to tell you. You will have to watch the movie. He’s sprinkled in there. We’ll just call him Lowery's, he’s sprinkled in there.
But you had many scenes with Richard Roundtree, who plays Ali’s father. And when the father of someone you’re dating is Shaft…
It was awesome because you're sitting there and you’re working, and like, and you realize, ‘Wait a minute. That's Shaft.’ But yeah, he's a cool cat, and I like to working with that sort of experience, that history. You see how they maneuver, you see how they get things done, and you just sit back and soak it up. It was a pretty cool experience because how many times, as an actor, do you get a chance to work with people of that caliber?
Is there anything in particular that you learned from him?
Well actually, we were able to share I suppose a good kinship on literature. So first day on set, get there we're sitting on our cast chairs and get called to set, so I throw my book that I'm reading - it’s called The Destruction of Black Civilization by Chancellor Williams. It seems like a heavy title, it is. It's a great book, but I'm really interested in the beginnings of cultural establishments and disestablishment for black culture, and how we got to where we are today in terms of our relationships to one another and our relationship to America, our relationship with government, politics, things like that. And so I'm doing the research, so that's one of my books, my research. It’s a fantastic book.
I put it in my chair, we go do the scene, I come back, the book is gone. And I'm like, I'm moving the chair, I'm asking everybody, I'm asking the PA’s, ‘Have you seen my book, y’know?’ And then one of the PA’s says, ‘Oh, I think I saw Richard with that book.’ I was, like, I am not about to go ask Shaft to get my book back. Like that's not about to go down, y’know what I'm saying?
So I go up to him and I talked to him, and went like, ‘You see this little book here, with the white and the red?’ ‘Yeah,’ he pulled it out of his bag, and ‘That's the one.’ He said, ‘Man, when I saw this book I said, oh, that's some gold right here.’ So he started reading that, we started talking about a few of the chapters, it was pretty cool to be able to lock in and sort of have that conversation. Especially with someone from his elevated perspective, coming from a different point in time where the stakes were much different. So it was cool on that, I told him to keep reading the book until we were done with the shindig and all that. But my book is kind of beat up. So I just ordered a new one, and on his last day I gave to him the new copy to keep cause my book is really beat up. That was a cool moment, to be able to be like, ‘Me and Shaft, talking about the literature. Not sports and not the game. Not music, we were talking about high quality literature. And I felt smart for two seconds.’
Speaking of cultural impact, is that something that attracted you to this movie because this seems like something that could also have that effect?
Oh, absolutely. As an artist you must be responsible with your choices. Of course, what we do is influenced by how we are, what we're living, what state were living in. But then again, the impact of what we do is to a degree our responsibility, you always want to have a positive impact. And in times like this that seem a little bit downtrodden, I feel like this film is great because it serves several purposes, but one of the main purposes is to add levity to the situation and allow people to laugh again. Y’know? Give me a minute just to smile! Crack a smile!
But then it also allows you to laugh while ingesting that seeing a woman in a position of power is normal. Being an African-American woman in a position of power, living her life is normal, seeing these lives converge. What you do on-screen helps to influence how people see things in their daily lives and it could alter their perception to thinking, 'What I rejected before because I didn't understand it, has now become something that I do understand. Y’know, maybe because I just saw this movie. I saw this character.' You get to see things differently. ‘Being a woman and making a bunch of money as a high-powered sports agent? That's ludacris!’ ‘Wait a minute, no it's not. It actually happens in real life and I just saw this film that helped me to think about it differently.’
There's so many notes that this film hits that can teach us how to just breathe a little bit easier around one another and how to engage one another in a more copeable way with, again, a degree of laughter and levity. And that's a part of helping the situation, not being a part of the problem. And if I can stack up my reputation and my resume with roles and projects like that, that's what I would be proud of at the end of the day.
What do you want people to take away most from your character?
That there's still some good men left in the world. There are men that love their families, that are honest and humble. And that respect women.
- What Men Want (2019) release date: Feb 08, 2019