Ernie Hudson has enjoyed an incredible run as an actor during his 45-year career, starring in everything from The Crow and Ghostbusters to acclaimed TV shows like Oz and Desperate Housewives. His most recent series, The Family Business, kicked off its third season last month, and the actor will also be seen in the highly anticipated sequel Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which opens this weekend.
ComingSoon sat down with Ernie for an interview and the actor discussed everything from his amazing career, Ghostbusters, and his current stint as an executive producer on The Family Business.
Jeff Ames: What drew you to the world of acting?
Ernie Hudson: Well, I grew up in this small town in Michigan and there weren’t a lot of opportunities. I got out of high school and wasn’t sure what to do with my life. So, I joined the military and that didn’t work out. I was back home after about ten weeks because I had asthma and was discharged.
Just by accident, I went past a theater — the Detroit Repertory Theatre — and they had this play, and I had never seen a play before. There were people lined up and I got in line just for something to do and I saw this play that just blew my mind. I couldn’t even imagine trying to do that for a living. And then I needed an elective that fall in college and took an acting class. When I first walked on stage I just felt at home. I never had that feeling before. All the other jobs I had — I worked for the telephone company, I was a communications consultant, I worked in sales … I was trying everything I could. I worked at a Chrysler plant in Detroit, but nothing felt right. I never felt like I could really establish anything and acting was something I felt I could do.
I never had that moment where I felt like I made it and still don’t feel like I’ve made it in the sense that I’ve seen friends who eventually earned a million dollars per episode on TV or earned some outrageous amount of money on a project. I’ve never made that throughout my career. I’ve always been a working actor.
For me, acting was home. So, I started working — I did about ten years of theater. I did a movie called Leadbelly [in 1976] and worked on a couple of TV shows. Then, I went back to school, spent a year there, my marriage broke up, the kids came with me, and then I came back to California and started working. I did some film stuff but just worked.
Before Ghostbusters, I did the stage play The Great White Hope in Minneapolis and Kansas City and LA; and then I got cast in the Martin Luther King story. Then it was Going Berserk with John Candy — I did that and a couple of low-budget things like The Human Tornado, Penitentiary 2, but I always worked. I’ve always found a way to make a living since I first started acting.
Ghostbusters was something I thought was going to be a big break in my career, but it had the opposite effect. I was working non-stop and then Ghostbusters came out and I couldn’t get a film. I was shut down for about three years, even though I was doing all the different TV shows, sitcoms, and whatever. I could stay busy, but I didn’t get back into film until the movie Weeds with Nick Nolte came up about three years after Ghostbusters. I’m not quite sure what happened.
So, I thought that Ghostbusters would be my big break and suddenly I would be the new guy who everyone wanted to work with, but it was just the opposite. After Weeds, I did seven movies back-to-back and then we did the second Ghostbusters and the same thing happened and everything just shut down.
I’ve done a lot of movies I’m proud of, but there’s never been a break big enough to where I go, “Ok now, I’m the guy.” Even though, when I’m in New York, I walk around with a mask on and people still know who I am, which is kinda weird. [Laughs]
How would you say your career has evolved over the years?
I started out thinking of myself as a playwright. When I first got involved in theater, I was writing plays. The scholarship I got to Yale was for playwriting. When my marriage broke up after that first year at Yale and the kids came with me, writing just took too long to make some money whereas acting was immediate.
So, I put the writing on hold and focused on the acting. I’ve always enjoyed acting because it never felt like work. But I’ve always tried to find that thing to perfect it or make it better. And it changes. The style has changed. You’re always reaching for it, but I’ve never found that place where I go, “Yeah, that’s it.” I felt good about some jobs, but I never felt that I — I never got bored. You hope to bring your best to it, and you try to make something out of it. It still makes me nervous. [Laughs]
But I look back on all the years I’ve been doing it and look at friends who have won the big awards — and I haven’t. So, there’s a part of me that wonders if this a comment about my work — am I not as good as I think I am? So, I’m dealing with all those insecurities. A lot of people go through them.
I went through a bout with cancer in 2011 and almost died because a doctor botched the surgery. It was a moment where I thought this very well could be it and you have to ask yourself, “If it is the end, am I okay with it? How do I feel about my life?” And you know, I feel like I’ve run the best race I know how to run and I’m okay with that. Maybe it’s in the future, maybe it’s not, but I don’t want to wake up every day feeling like I haven’t achieved something. I found peace with that. But there’s always a desire to get better. Each character is a little different and you’re fighting with directors and producers because what you’re seeing is not what they’re seeing and they want certain things that you don’t necessarily believe in, but you’ve got to somehow put your own spin on the role and your own integrity, and sometimes that requires compromise.
So, with Family Business, which is in its third season, what excites you about your character L.C. Duncan?
First of all, it was the first time I’ve seen — and I don’t watch a lot of TV, so I’m not saying it wasn’t already out there, but it was the first time I saw a Black family that wasn’t struggling with poverty or violence. It’s a family that, even though they’re into crime, they’re powerful movers and shakers in their own right. And they’re a family who is held together by the husband and wife. The whole family is in the business, but they were loyal, and the love was there. I haven’t had a lot of chances to portray that. I also like that L.C. is a businessman but if he has to go to that dark side, he’ll do it.
Since Ghostbusters, most of the roles people see me as is the best friend/nice guy/everybody’s dad type. So, here’s a guy who has a dark side who would consider doing things I certainly would never consider doing.
What do you think has led to the success of the show?
I think for those reasons, certainly for the Black audience. These characters aren’t all strung out on drugs. They shouldn’t be selling it, but they’re not begging — it’s a family that’s together. They have issues within the family, but I think people can see themselves in all the characters. Most of the Black shows that I’ve seen that deal with the African American experience, I don’t see those different colors. And Carl [Weber’s] a good writer, he’s written about eight books on this family. There’s a lot of twists and turns and threats. We draw a great supporting cast and people love to work on the show because it gives them a chance to play parts that normally they don’t get a chance to do. I’ve never had a chance to play a role like this ever. And because the film industry has become so international, a lot of these type of roles have gone offshore. So, it provides a lot of opportunities for a lot of actors to get a chance to do things they normally haven’t been cast in.
You’re an executive producer on the show, correct?
Yeah, I don’t think they could’ve gotten this show to the place it is without me. I like the idea of being the executive producer on it just in the sense that I have input. I don’t try to change anything, but if I feel something’s not right, I have a voice at the table — unlike Ghostbusters and most of the work I’ve done where they want a certain thing and I don’t agree but have no voice at the table. I thought if I’m going to do a show about a mob family, I want to be able to have a voice at the table.
Where would you like to see the series go in the future?
Well, Carl’s got a bunch of books about these characters. The TV show doesn’t go right along with the books, but those are the characters. When I decided to do L.C., it was pretty much laid out who he was. I would love to see the family pull out of the whole drug thing — they do have a legitimate business. I’d love to see them get involved with politics. I would love to see them take a more legitimate side because, for me personally, I haven’t seen that done in a real way with an African American family. I think the drugs and crime dealings brings a certain amount of excitement and drama, but I think you could achieve that without all of that.
So, what can you tell us about Ghostbusters: Afterlife?
I got a chance to meet the new cast and see everybody. I saw Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts. So, I met them during that time, and I saw a rough cut of the movie and I think it lives up to all the hype. I think Jason [Reitman] did a great job.
Winston has moved on and become very successful in his own right. He’s done very well for himself. Even though he’s a very successful man, he always sees himself as a Ghostbuster. That’s all I’ll say. In the video game that came out after, I think they made him a doctor. But Winston has certainly built on all he learned from being a part of the team.
Do you still enjoy playing the character?
Yeah, you know, over the last 40 years it’s been such a big part of my life. It didn’t start off that way. I’m sure you’ve read where I was frustrated as an actor because things didn’t go the way I thought they should’ve gone. But now I look back on the movie and think it’s perfect just the way it is. Also, being an executive producer on a show, I realize some of the choices the studio was making had nothing to do with me personally. Certainly, as an actor, I took it personal.
But, you know, Ghostbusters, the reason we’re talking about it is because of the fans — almost 40 years later they’re still wearing jumpsuits and turning their cars to Ectomobiles. I’m amazed by that and flattered by that. I’ve met people who have my face tattooed on their body. I find that, I don’t know, humbling and endearing and it forced me to look at it from a different perspective. The film crosses generations. I see parents with their kids and grandparents with their grandkids, and somebody in their 90s watching Ghostbusters and laughing, and I see a little 3-year old finding something in the film to laugh about. That’s really special. I’ve done other films — I did The Crow. That was really popular, but it’s not something you want to watch with your kids. Ghostbusters is one of those films that the whole family can sit down and enjoy.
Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?
During the pandemic, I did a movie called The Retirement Plan. We shot that down in the Cayman Islands with Nicolas Cage. [Laughs] It was fun working with Nicolas. It was one of those action things where we got to do some fighting and shooting, which, at my age, is always fun.
I also did a movie with Brian Cox and Kate Beckinsale called Prisoner’s Daughter. We finished shooting about a month ago. We shot it in Las Vegas. That was fun.
So, I work on finding those projects that are fun, because the money is not life-changing anymore. When you’re starting out, you’re looking for something that’ll pay the mortgage, the rent, or the kids’ tuition. But those things are done. Also, at my age, 15 years from now I’ll be 90. So, do I really have three months to give something I’m not really excited about? So, you start to look at your time very differently. And you ask yourself if it’s going to be worth it or fun, and try to find that thing that you can connect to people with. That’s why I like Ghostbusters. It’s nice having that in my filmography. It’s all good, I’m sort of in a good place.
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