Ernie Hudson is an icon, and one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever interviewed. He’s smart and funny, and most of all, just an all around nice guy. Ahead of his appearance at Toronto ComiCon this weekend, I had the chance to speak to Hudson for half-an-hour about his incredible career, including standout films like Ghostbusters and The Crow, on top of his television roles.
Read through the interview to hear what he has to say about the new Ghostbusters film coming out this year, and his part in it, his role in the original film, making The Crow and working with Brandon Lee, and his moving thoughts on the “Oscars so white” controversy. It’s one of the most personal interviews I’ve had with an actor, and frankly, Hudson makes some wonderful comments on Hollywood, and how people should treat each other.
You can catch Hudson at Toronto ComiCon on Saturday and Sunday, March 19 and 20, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre – South Building.
[Ernie Hudson called me Wednesday morning, but he had to call me back again an hour later because of some scheduling issues. Once he called me back, here’s how the conversation started.]
“Things get a little chaotic sometimes. Last night I’d been up for this show, so we finally finished negotiating and so many things were going on. I rarely ever oversleep, but this morning was one time that I did.”
Well that sounds like a good reason.
“Yeah. No, no, it’s… I love being active more than sitting and looking at the phone and wondering why nobody is calling.”
Your list of projects certainly shows that.
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve been very blessed. I love what I do and I’m still blessed to be able to do it. That’s a good thing.”
If you don’t mind me asking, is there anything you can talk about yet? About the project you’re booking?
“Well I’ll say this, it’s called APB.”
I heard about that. Yeah.
“Yeah, it’s a great project. Because everyone makes you sign these non-disclosure [agreements], or whatever. I happened to talk about a project once and the studio reamed me out.”
“You know what? There’s an article that came out on Deadline. It’s out there about me joining the cast this morning. You can find out what the project is if you look at that. That’s all ready, I didn’t put that out there.”
“It’ll be a fun… It’s a great script. It’s a fun show. I’m excited about it. The problem is, we start shooting Monday.”
Wow, that’s right on the heels of Toronto ComiCon.
“There’s wardrobe and I got to you know… how that will impact me getting up to Toronto, we’ll see. I’m determined to make it up to Toronto at least Saturday, Sunday. I won’t get my schedule until later on today. This literally just happened within the last 24 hours.”
Well, I’m sure the fans will be excited to see you for whatever time you can make. It seem as well like the last couple of years, like this year and last, have been big for Ghostbusters for you too.
“Yeah, Ghostbusters. It’s been fun. I did a cameo in the new one and got a chance to meet the girls, who I hadn’t met before. Really, really funny. Very amazing. They’ve got a great chemistry together.”
“Obviously it’s different than with four guys, but they’ll do their own thing with it and it’s a great script. I’m sure the special effects are going to be phenomenal because of what we can do now that we couldn’t do back in the 80s. I’m excited about it. I’m looking forward to seeing it. I’m really honored that they asked me to come be a part of it.”
That’s cool. I mean, I’m sure you can’t talk about much, but can you tell us if you had a scene with all four stars? Or just some of them?
“Yeah, I worked with all four [actresses].”
“I know the studio is pretty excited and working with Paul Feig was phenomenal. I really like him a lot. I hope I get a chance to do that again on something a little more significant for me. It was a great experience, and we shot at the fire house, which was great going back there. It was a good experience.”
That’s awesome. One thing I read that I had to ask you about was the fact that the script changed for the original Ghostbusters film. Almost before it was starting to film. Is that right?
“Yeah, yeah. That’s one of the things that I was talking to Ivan Reitman [about]. We kind of disagree about it. He remembers it differently than I did. I have to acknowledge that it was 30 years ago and sometimes people see things from their own perspective.”
“For me, at least in my mind, it changed from what I went in thinking it was and what it turned out to be, but in all fairness I look back on it and I look at the movie with my grandkids and it’s a perfect movie the way it is. It works the way it is. I felt it might have impacted my career in a different way had it been different, but that’s all looking back. It’s a wonderful franchise and I’m very blessed and thankful to be a part of it.”
That brings me to another topic, and I hope you don’t mind. It’s always a difficult discussion, but with what we’ve seen recently with the ‘Oscars So White’ discussions and everything else–what’s your impression of Hollywood these days? You’ve had a very long career, but what’s your relationship with it? What do you think is going on?
“Well, ultimately I think that, you know, you get into movies, and movies are financed. People give the green light to have certain things done. There are not a lot of Blacks or people of color who are in the position to give the green light. There’s also a certain belief system that people have that they make assumptions that the public wants to see a certain thing, so there isn’t much diversity. There just aren’t many stories. They’ll tell a story and they’ll tell it from their perspective. I used to wonder how I would do a movie, and maybe I was in the movie. I did one called Collision Course.”
“I was in the movie, but they were shooting–supposedly it was in downtown Detroit even though we were shooting somewhere else. The scene took place in downtown Detroit. There were no Blacks in the background. Jay Leno actually said something about it, but how do you shoot Detroit with no Blacks?”
“Then I realized that for a lot of white Americans, who may even live in the city, their circle of friends, maybe they don’t have any Blacks in their world. Hence Woody Allen’s world that exists someplace. It doesn’t reflect the world as I see it, and I travel to a lot of places.”
“We are diverse. We need these other stories. We need to see the humanity of other people. Hollywood doesn’t feel it’s part of their responsibility because their primary goal, it seems, is to make money. Not even to tell great stories. Not even to make great films. It’s all, somehow, it feels to me as if it’s about let’s make money and in some people’s minds including Blacks or Asians or Latinos or whatever will not make money.”
“I read an article about one of the new stories on Egypt, Ancient Egypt, with an all European cast. They felt that they can’t sell the story if it included people of color. It’s a mindset that is behind the times, and it’s wrong, and it needs to change, but it’s hard to complain about the Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences]. You have to have worked for a fair amount of time just to get in. Not everybody can get it. Those people who have been working are obviously those people, those whites.”
“They’re the ones who’ve had the chance to work. They’re going to vote, and they’re supposed to vote, based on what they believe is the best of what they see. Since there’s not a lot of films out there with people of color to choose from, it’s all white.”
“I’m a member of the Academy and have been for 30 years, but there aren’t many people of color in the Academy, and I’m not surprised. You can’t have one film, that even if you think it’s a good film, it’s competing with 100 other movies. At the end of the day there’s not enough product. It’s not inclusive. It’s a given assumption that if we’re going to tell the story it’s going to be all white. What I think we all do, and it’s not just obvious racism, but it’s something that we have to be mindful and we have to think–‘Wait a minute, how else can we go with the character?'”
“I have people who I’ve worked for who like my work, and they will say, ‘Wow, we saw this or that and we want you in the film.’ Then they look, well how can we use Ernie? Well we’ll make him something. We’ll make him the policeman. It’s very hard for me to be the bad guy or the guy who’s really involved in the story. I try not to do those things anymore, because you’re included but you’re not included. That’s how I feel about Desperate Housewives.’
“I replaced a character who was involved in the storyline, Kurt [Fuller], who was in Ghostbusters. He was a policeman and he was interested in Brie, and she rejected him, so he was following her around. He had a story. He was in the story. He got a series and they called me and said, ‘We love your work.’ I’m thinking they’re going to carry on the storyline similarly to what he had been doing, but all I was was the cop.”
“I’d come in and say a couple of words and then that’s it. I did nine episodes, but I wasn’t involved. I think they need to look at the world. I’m glad to see now there’s a little more of the interracial coupling you see in movies that you didn’t see that many years ago.”
“We need stories that are told from a different perspective. I didn’t boycott the Oscars, because honestly, I think as a member, if you’re going to vote you can’t vote for somebody simply because they’re Black or Hispanic or whatever reason. You vote because you honestly believe it’s the best performance. I think that’s the way it has to go. Also, I think a lot of people… the problem I’ve always had with a lot of the, and this will probably come out sounding wrong, but I would much rather focus on if someone comes up with a solution that we can work with and gather round and be excited about it.”
“Keep coming up with fighting the problem and then wanting people to apologize for what they did wrong to make them wrong. To make them acknowledge that they’re wrong.”
“I don’t think people are very good at that. I think there’s no point in making someone the bad guy here. Let’s just figure out how we can, you know, what we can do. It’s not the big stuff. It’s the small stuff. Just be more inclusive.”
Well, and I mean the other side of this is that, I mean, I loved Chris Rock’s segment, I don’t know if he wrote it or who wrote it, but going out and talking to people at movie theaters. The normal person on the street didn’t know a lot of the Hollywood titles that were up for awards. They were out to see films that they were identifying with.
“They weren’t identifying with it, and that’s unfortunate, because that’s all they said. They don’t have a lot of choice.”
That’s what everyone wants. Anyone going to a movie theater wants to identify with someone or something. That’s what they’re trying to see.
“We found that we, especially when I was coming up, there were no films that you could identify with. Somebody like a Sammy Davis Jr. Or whoever. If there was a Black then everybody would tune in to watch it, because it was so rare that we got a chance to see.”
“But, when they do that on the street thing, Chris Rock, I mean okay, I’m glad he addressed it. He had to address it, and it was okay, fine. Even though I don’t understand the Rihanna’s panties thing. I know his point, but it wasn’t that funny. Secondly, he dragged on with it way too long. I mean, let’s not make the whole show about that. Make your point and let’s move on. You’re hired because, you know, be funny and stop… I don’t know. I just thought it went too long. That’s just me. I’m just saying.”
“The thing I hate is you go on the street to show people to make your point, I guess, and then it comes a point like, are we laughing at these people? I mean, you know what I mean? You choose people that, okay, this is really funny. Here’s a woman with her wig on wrong, and all it does is lock more firmly these stereotypes that you say you want to get away from. You say you want to be a part of the American story, but you’re only showing a certain part or the African-American story. The fact that they don’t see these people. They don’t see the movies, or they don’t understand, and I get that. Not all Black people go to just those movies. I see all movies, and so the studio is going, well of course I’m not going to make movies, because they’re not going to see my movies anyway.”
“I think you just have to be careful of the message. Some of those people go, yeah, they’ll make a point. Then they resist and you end up with somebody like Donald Trump speaking for a lot of people who felt a certain way but they didn’t say it.”
“I’m glad he addressed it, it had to be addressed. I’m glad they hired him, an African-American. I’m glad they were inclusive on the program. I’m glad the president is Black and on and on and on, but it really comes down to we need more projects.”
“Blacks need to be… whatever the problem in society is, we Blacks, we exemplify that even to a greater degree, because we get very clique-ish. We get very exclusive. We need to be more inclusive as well. It’s not just a white thing. I, it’s hard for me sometimes to, people say, well, is there racism in Hollywood, when I got a job. You know what I’m saying?”
“I don’t have a job in Spike Lee’s movies. I don’t have a job in John Singleton’s movies. I haven’t worked in those movies, because, well I don’t know why. I’m just saying, thank God, that it really shouldn’t be about color. It should be about humanity and I believe that we’re human beings, and on the being level, which is spirit, we’re all one. That is the common denominator. Until we kind of see the world from that perspective and stop making people the bad guy, because when you make them the bad guy then you’re justified in doing anything.”
It’s comes out as a strife.
“Yeah, it’s like, well those people don’t deserve it. They don’t contribute anything so We can drop a bomb on these people and their families because they’re not real people anyways, you know. We’re all one in that we’re all worthy. You know, it’s just this way of making somebody bad and then you want to wipe them off the face of the earth, and then this happens over and over and over again. We need to just back up and go, ‘Wait a minute. We are all part of the human spirit.'”
“My grandmother raised me and I didn’t have a dad and she would say, ‘God is your father.” She said, “But God’s source is…”, everything comes from the source. We’re all a part of it.
“That puts you on an even level with everybody. Nobody is better than you. That’s the good news. Nobody is less than you.”
“You know, and you see that humanity. When you see that humanity in everybody then you know they’re worthy automatically. They don’t have to earn it. As long as sad things that I feel in our society is, making everybody feel like they got to go and create some phenomenal thing. All got to be Donald Trumps. Or if you didn’t discover something, the cure to cancer or become somebody really famous then you’re nobody.”
“It shouldn’t be that way. Everybody doesn’t want to be Donald Trump. We have humanity, no matter who we are, that’s not something that we have to earn. They should be respected.”
“I was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan. I never knew my dad. My mom had tuberculosis and died three months after I was born. When she gave birth it was on Monday. At the house with her was her seven-year-old sister. The other adults had gone to town not expecting what happened. When I was born there was no doctor, no midwife, it was just my mom. I not only survived, but survived well, because I am spirit. I have humanity. I have a right and a desire to be here. The right to live. We should respect everybody’s right to life.”
“We talk about it in the Declaration of Independence. You know, the right to pursue… We are all a part of that humanity. We should be respected for that.”
“I didn’t mean that to preach.”
No, that’s a great answer.
“I’m so adamant about it. That we don’t tell kids you have to earn, you have respect. You are somebody. You don’t have to go out and do something to earn it. You’re never going to earn it by going after all this stuff. You don’t need somebody else’s approval.”
“I’m an actor, okay. I’m respected, but am I respected compared to Denzel Washington? Well, you’re not Denzel Washington. Or compared to whatever. It’s like no. That’s your birthright, and you should respect everybody’s right to life. It should reflect in our stories and what we do. It should be inclusive, because collectively we come together, we create solutions. We create answers.”
“Anyway, that’s… I honestly believe that, and I think, I honestly believe, as simple as what my grandmother said, that you are a child of God as a kid. I think if she had told me that when I was 15 I would have just totally ignored her, but as a little kid, three or four. I was like, ‘Oh my God, if that’s true…” I’ve always kept that. If I am then I’m not here by accident.”
“I thought everybody got that from their parents and then I realized everybody doesn’t get that reinforcement.”
“I remember as a little kid I would go outside and I’d see all the butterflies and bees and ants crawling around and birds flying. All different kinds. Different trees, different plants. All of that creation, in the middle of all of that life sparkling and jumping everywhere, that the universe created me. That I’m here. Uniquely me. I mean how cool is that? In the middle of all this creation I’m here. I mean, as a kid, I thought, ‘Wow.’ I think we should all feel that way about our lives. This is a gift, and not to take it lightly.”
“Sometimes I get a little ugh, because I see so many people come up to me and they go, ‘Wow, you’re Ernie Hudson.’ I go, ‘Yeah.’ They say, ‘Man wow, I knew you was somebody.’ I go, ‘Yeah,’ and I say, ‘Well you’re somebody too.’ They go, ‘No I ain’t. I’m nobody.’ I go, ‘Of course you’re somebody.’ They go, ‘No, no, no. I’m nothing.’ I get that a lot more than the other way. Feel good about yourself.”
“Okay, I’m sorry man. I just totally hijacked your interview.”
No, that’s really awesome. I love it. I mean, this is what interviews are about. It’s about talking about things that are important to people, and I happen to agree.
“Really now, because I go around. We know about, like you asked about the story of diversity in Hollywood, but I see it all across the country and I see people living in conditions and feeling that they deserve, and I go, ‘No, you deserve more, but it’s not somebody else’s responsibility.’ The first thing is to know that you’re a part of source and that source will guide you to what you want. It really will. The universe will guide you to what you ask for. That’s why the Bible and other sacred books talk about ask and it’s given.”
“If you ask believing you’ll receive it. You got to trust that, but I see kids in situations of abuse and I just, I just ugh. I mean it’s horrific, but we don’t have to live that way. We really don’t. The good news is, it’s kind of nice to get out and see places and people and organizations and it’s heartbreaking to see that some people feel that there’s nothing they can ever do to change.”
Right. Well, you know, I hate to change the topic, but there’s so many things I still have to ask. For one thing, there’s the Ghostbusters documentary, which I know you’ve promoted this on your Twitter account now and then. I guess that’s pretty close to coming out?
“Yeah, I think it’s pretty close. It’s one that some friends of mine, and I don’t know their different names, there are two that I’m aware of, and I’ve done interviews for both.”
There are two documentaries? I didn’t know that.
“There’s two, yeah. There’s two that I think I tweeted about. There’s one that’s coming out, I’m not sure, that’s being done here. Then there’s one in Europe that these guys, Anthony and Claire Bueno, they’ve been working on for a number of years. They’ve really covered the film. It’s really exciting. That should be coming out. I think they’re both coming out this year. Really extensive. Behind the scenes of people.”
“I think on this one, I know on the European one they have Harold [Ramis], who just passed–they interviewed him and Michael Gross. It’s pretty extensive. I think the fans are going to love it. I’ve seen bits and pieces. There’s now a lot of merchandising that the studio is finally sanctioning. A little late, in my opinion. This should be a good year for Ghostbusters.”
That’s great. I don’t know if you’re aware–obviously there are a lot of the Ghostbusters fan groups, but there’s the ‘Ontario Ghostbusters’, who I’m sure are going to be fanatical about seeing you. What’s it like meeting with these hardcore fans?
“First of all, I’m humbled. You know what I mean? When I started out as an actor, I grew up in Benton Harbor, which is on Lake Michigan and went to college in Detroit. When I finally decided to be an actor I was like, if I could just even be an actor. I couldn’t even think about money and all that. Just to be able, and to be in a movie. Any movie. Now I look back on my career and to be a part of a movie that fans love, not only love, but enough to remember it 30 years later and enough to take their money and make a backpack. Which is not an inexpensive proposition. Or turn their cars into the Ectomobile. Or come together and do charity events that they do all over the world. I am humbled, man. I’m so touched. Whenever I go and the guys show up with their cars and their suits it just, I like to hang with them a minute.”
“Sometimes if I have time and don’t have to rush back to work I’ll get together with them and go to dinner or breakfast or something. It’s important for me to acknowledge them to say to them how much we really appreciate them embracing the movie and it means a lot. It just means more than I can say. I always take time. At least go and take photos. Sometimes, when there’s time, I can do a little bit more.”
The other question I have is, I mean, I’m a huge Ghostbusters fan, I love Leviathan, you’ve done so many amazing projects, but for me, I have been a fan of The Crow since it came out. What was that experience like? Especially since it was such a strange… I mean the whole thing must have been so strange. What was it like working with Brandon Lee before he passed away?
“Well Brandon; I met Brandon a few years before in Vancouver. I was doing… I think it was in 1988 or something. I was doing a television for Stephen Cannell up in Vancouver with Miguel Ferrer. Who is on one of the CSIs now, but Miguel is Jose Ferrer’s son and he and Brandon grew up together. Brandon had just gotten over, come back from China. He stopped through Vancouver. He spent a few days hanging out with us. I got to know him sort of well. Not saying we became best friends, but we spent a little time together.”
“When the movie came up I knew he wanted me to play this part. I wanted to get a chance to work with him. I really liked him a lot. He was really respectful, he was very–just a very sweet guy. We shot the movie and I was–you learn a little bit, something, I think, from every movie.”
“The one thing that really impressed me with Brandon is that he was just so–he gave so much and didn’t really ask a lot. He’d be on the set, and it was freezing conditions, but he wouldn’t complain. I complained. They didn’t have heaters down there. I’m like ‘You’ve got to get some heaters here.’ Brandon was just wanting to do it. He felt this film was going to be a game changer for him. I remember my wife’s brother pass away unexpectedly. He had some issues, but we thought they were on top of it. He was in his mid-40s. My wife and family was down in North Carolina where we were shooting the movie and she was devastated. We were going to go up to Minnesota, where she’s from, but we had already arranged to have dinner with Brandon the night before and we went to dinner. Brandon was so kind to my wife and supportive to my wife.”
“Then the conversation went into how long I’d been in the business and how frustrating things were. Then he basically spent some time trying to encourage me to hang in there, using his own life as an example. The movies he did that he hated. Some of the lines we actors have to say. I know there was a line he had to say to Dolph Lundgren about how big Dolph Lundgren’s penis was. He just hated that line.”
“We do these things and our time will come and now he had this movie that he’d got signed to a three picture deal. He was getting married. All these amazing things were now finally happening for him. He was really excited about it. Then the next day he was dead. I think, for me, it just shows how delicate this life thing is. How we think we know. There’s a joke, a line I read in a movie, and it said, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.'”
“We don’t know, but we have this moment. Like I said, this gift of life. Then Brandon was gone. It just was so confusing to me. It just made no sense.”
“I really liked Brandon, and I don’t understand how that could happen. I know there were reports. The movie, I thought, was really special. Still one of my favorite movies and kids, teenagers especially, connect to the movie in a special way. That’s another one that people still, that was, I don’t know how many years, 20 years ago. Yeah, it’s a very special movie and I’m glad, when it happened we had about eight days of shooting left, and I personally didn’t want to deal with it. Then the makeup artist who was with Brandon when he died said Brandon had worked so hard on the movie, so we had to finish it. And we did. We went back, and I ‘m glad we did.”
“Now they’ve made a bunch of other Crows [since then], once again Hollywood will go for the money. I haven’t seen any of them and I don’t wish anybody ill will, but Brandon was the Crow and that was the end of it as far as I’m concerned.”
Well, thank you very much. I don’t mean to end on a sad note, but I feel like I’ve taken up a lot of your time already.
“No, no. I enjoyed talking to you and I apologize. I didn’t plan to go down that, but I just feel, for us to be able to live these lives and you know, to not envy anybody because what we have is so amazingly special. I think if we realized how special it is. A lot of that fear that somebody is going to take something away, we could just move on. Just love yourself and in doing so you automatically got to include everybody.”
That’s awesome. It was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much.
“Enjoyed talking to you man. You take care of yourself.”