Tonight's episode of Leverage (9pm ET on TNT) -- An episode we saw earlier this week and think it's the best episode of the season -- has the team going head-to-head with a rival gang of thieves that features Griffin Dunne and Wil Wheaton. Aldis Hodge -- who plays computer hacker Alec Hardison -- joins us to discuss the current season and to make sure you don't compare the show to "Oceans 11."

Mike: I'm curious, how much do you think you have in common with Hardison?

Aldis Hodge: Well, all the personality and humor's there; the sarcasm is there. As far as skills as a hacker, he's way more into it than I'll ever be. The personality is a big thing between the writers and me; it's a collaborative effort because they write what they write, but they also allow me to improv and add as much to the character as possible. Which is really big of them because of the fact that, you know, writers usually want you to say what's on the page -- I always respect what's on the page. I have a rule: Give them one straight then give them hell. Because I like to run my mouth and go off, I used to do stand-up so it's just a part of my nature; if I see a chance, I'm going to take it.

Mike: Do you find yourself late at night watching "Star Wars" and "Dr. Who," or is that all him?

Aldis Hodge: (Laughs) I do watch some "Star Wars," I've seen all those good movies. I love fantasy films because I'm a writer as well and I'm writing a fantasy film. As far as "Doctor Who," I have seen that a few times but prior to the relation with my character on the show. Just to see what it was all about; a lot of people were talking about it. Then I saw it and I was like, "OK, I got it." I'm kind of a fan of European shows. "Extras" is great, "The Office" is great...

Mike: Oh, yeah, Ricky Gervais...

Aldis Hodge: Ricky Gervais, he's ridiculous. He's a genius.

Mike: You know, the first season was basically about putting the team together -- then, technically, ending the team. What's the theme of this second season?

Aldis Hodge: The second season, thus far, is really shaping up to be about our camaraderie. The first season was all individuals trying to figure out how to be a team. The second season is the fact that we are now comfortable in being a team and we've become acclimated with that and we're finding our way in the world. We're reaffirming what we really do, who we are and why we do it. We're much more a family and we're more tight knit this time around. And it works, it flows better for us. We don't have to ask so many questions. We just get down to the business.

In general, off screen, off camera, we as a cast have gotten stronger and we've gotten closer so that definitely plays out on screen, which we're fortunate to have, because that's not always the case. With us filming in Portland, we're kind of like aliens. We're almost forced to stick together. So we spend a lot of time together and it's been a great, great experience.

Mike: I want to get your opinion on this. People that watch "Leverage" will try to describe it to someone else who doesn't watch as "kind of like 'Oceans 11'." What's your opinion of that comparison?

Aldis Hodge: "Oceans 11" is a decent setup, but it's definitely not what we are. It may give you an idea of the world we live in but "Oceans 11," they were thieves. They were out for themselves. Our purpose for being thieves is for other people. It's because of the fact the legal system failed us. So we're not necessarily thieving for selfish reasons, we are thieves specifically to help people. So we have a different way about us and it is kind of hard to explain. With a second season -- God willing we go to a third, fourth and fifth -- we're coming into our own definition (laughs). Watch it. That's my outlook: Watch it!

Every time I explain it I say that we're this group of thieves that came together to help the little guy to get back at the big bull, the big dog, and people automatically say, "Oh, it's kind of like Robin Hood." And I'm like, "Yeah, (pauses) I guess."

Image © Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.

Mike: What should we expect from Parker and Hardison's relationship?

Aldis Hodge: (Laughing) Watch the season... There are things that even I don't know. A lot of people want to know. But if I did have an answer, I wouldn't give it out.

Mike: I know.

Aldis Hodge: There may be a little something, you never know. It really depends on what the fans want. You know, the fans are going to get what they want, eventually. If the fans want it bad enough, it just might happen. They might be getting busy! I'm kidding.

Mike: How do you describe Hardison's relationship with Eliot (Christian Kane)?

Aldis Hodge: They're brothers who can't stand each other, but they know they need each other. It's weird their relationship; they rely on each other, it's a love/hate relationship. They might not enjoy each other's company, but when a plan goes off right, they know who to thank. They have their own little thing going on on the side, whenever it's just Eliot and Hardison it's a whole different shindig, man.

Mike: Last one. What's your favorite episode this season?

Aldis Hodge: We did an episode "The Three Days of the Hunter Job" and I was able to really step out of what Hardison does, naturally, and get into a character. I was playing an old war vet who was schizo, freaked out, all bugged out Mr. Conspiracy theory. That episode was nothing but fun to play. There's another episode [which airs September 2] where Hardison decided to take on the role of being a grifter; he decided to just go off and do his own thing without letting anybody know. I'm playing this greasy gangster from London and he's just all color and flash. I felt like that one was just throwing the imagination out there and seeing what we hit. And I think we hit the nail on the head with that one; it was a great episode to do. You know, they're stretching me this year, which I love, because that's the only part of being an actor is to stretch. I want to step outside of my comfort zone, I don't like sitting in the same spot for too long. They're giving me that, so I'm a happy and unfortunate man.

"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at
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