Ernie Hudson Interview: "Ghostbusters" Alum Portrays Patriarch in "The Family Business"
Image attributed to Ernie Hudson
Ernie Hudson has been an actor for over 40 years and has appeared in many film and television roles. He is perhaps best known for his roles as Winston Zeddemore in the Ghostbuster film series, Sergeant Darryl Albrecht in The Crow and Warden Leo Glynn in HBO’s Oz. Film appearances include Leviathan, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Airheads, The Basketball Diaries, Congo and Miss Congeniality.
Beginning in 2015, Hudson was cast in a recurring role as Jacob, the romantic interest for Frankie Bergstein (Lily Tomlin) in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie. Currently, the storied actor stars in and also executive produces Carl Weber’s The Family Business, which is based on the New York Times bestselling author’s most popular family crime drama novel. The drama has begun its eight-week run on BET and is centered on the Duncans, a prominent family from Jamaica, Queens living fast and luxurious. In addition to Hudson, the series stars Valarie Pettiford, Darrin Henson, Javicia Leslie, Tami Roman and Sean Ringgold.
"I’ve never seen this done with a black family with all the children involved. But we just see the people as opposed to these characters."
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Ernie, how did you become involved in The Family Business?
Ernie Hudson: Carl Weber wrote, I think, eight books in this series about this family, and I got this script and was like, “Wow.” I’d been wanting so much for something I could really get involved with and just bring all of myself to a character because so many of my characters have been sort of service characters, I mean, to tell someone else’s story. And I was so moved by it, I started reading the books. It’s a wonderful series of bestselling books, and fans are out there of the books. But I just wanted to help in anyway I could to be able to offer this story to my fans, to people that have supported me over the years in things I’ve said, “Eh, it’s good, but …” This is something I can stand by and go, “This is a lot of fun.”
Also it deals with issues of family which is really, really important to me and important to us as a country and as a society. I don’t necessarily agree with some of the choices the character makes, but he is making choices for his family and that means a lot.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your character is L.C. Duncan, the family patriarch. Since Weber’s books are crime novels, is he a bad guy?
Ernie Hudson: You know, my grandmother raised me, and one of the things that she would tell me was you have to make sense out of what opposites mean. On one hand, we’re all the same, and in the same way, we’re all different. How can you have both? Well, both are true. We see choices that people make, and we don’t always understand what’s behind those choices. We judge people based on those choices, but we normally don’t get a chance to look into what drives them, what goes into making those decisions. I think we can understand that.
We might go, “You know, in that situation, I might do that.” So you can see into a family and be able to see how you’re trying to hold your daughter together who does not behave in any way that you would want her to but she’s still your daughter, and you still love her. For me, I’ve seen people doing things, but I don’t get to see people behind the scenes. Here’s a guy playing on the floor with his grandkids, and yet he does some things that I personally could never do. But he does them because family is that important to him.
I think that as a society, it’s good for us to begin to see the total part of us as opposed to the surface and just that surface, judging what we see without really understanding the deeper level. I think this show allows that, and I think that’s what made movies like The Godfather. We saw the dynamic in that family. This kid who inherits this legacy has to carry it forward even though he wants to do something else. While we understand that, it takes us a little deeper.
I’ve never seen this done with a black family with all the children involved. But we just see the people as opposed to these characters. We see a lot of people behaving a certain way and making these judgments. We pass judgments on everybody who looks that way, and we go, “Wait a minute. That person is not much different than who I am.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): He’s the head of Duncan Motors, so he probably made enemies along the way of making his fortune?
Ernie Hudson: When you’re strong and young, and you come in just by the force of will, you build this thing. Well, you push all those forces aside. Now that he’s at a point where he’s wanting to retire, relax and fade into the sunset and let his kids take over, all of those forces have been waiting to pounce, waiting to take back what they think he took. So it’s one thing to build all of that, but now you’ve got to wonder how you hold onto it and keep your children from paying the price for your stupidity.
I think that for a lot of us, we look at our kids and go, “You know what? Good luck. I raised you to get out of school, and now you’re on your own.” But to be a real parent, you know that never really ends with concern. But, yeah, he’s got a lot of people who are just waiting to see a weakness.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Armand Assante’s also in the cast?
Ernie Hudson: Yeah (laughs). He’s in the mix. I’ve got to tell you, he’s a fun actor to work with. It’s one of the best casts I’ve ever worked with. Clifton Powell is great. He’s been around forever. It’s really a good cast. I’ve worked with Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Jessica Alba (on this show I’m doing now called L.A.’s Finest). I remember when I first came to Hollywood, I worked with Bette Davis and Jackie Cooper. I did Fantasy Island with Ricardo Montalban. When you work with people who are really good at what they do, it’s great, and this cast of veteran actors are really good. I think acting is our way of giving to our fans and society. This is our gift.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did you get into acting, Ernie?
Ernie Hudson: It’s always been there, just sometimes you don’t recognize that part of yourself. I grew up in the small town of Benton Harbor, Michigan, where everybody expects you to finish high school and get a job working in the factories, which would’ve been fine for me except I never could quite accept that. I began to realize that if I wanted something beyond that, I had to make some changes. I could not do what the people I grew up with did and expect a different outcome. So I joined the military and because of asthma, I was discharged early. Then I realized in order to change the dynamic, I had to go to college. I managed to get into college and graduate, but I discovered theater along the way.
My grandmother was very religious, and she taught me that we are personally connected to a greater part of ourselves, to a spirit, and that spirit not only looks over us but it wants us to succeed. All the great religions say, “Ask and it’s given.” So we can ask and expect results. As a young man, I always believed that I didn’t have to have the answers of how, but I had to be able to ask the right questions. Once I discovered theater, my answer was, “Let me work. Let me be a part. Let me find something I can enjoy that I can do for the rest of my life.” Fifty years later, I’m still doing it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I heard that you gave Stan Lee credit for your going to college. Is that true?
Ernie Hudson: Yeah. You know, I met Stan Lee for the first time maybe a little over 20 years ago. Then I would see him at different conventions, and we would always talk. I’m so disappointed that I haven’t done any Marvel franchises, but I’ve always liked him, and he always seemed to like me as well. But I was so honored to meet him because I didn’t grow up in a family that put a lot of emphasis on going to college. The big thing was, “Just finish high school, and we’re good with that.” But when reading was mandatory in school and when I found the Marvel comics that Stan Lee created, I just loved the stories, and I loved the characters. That inspired me to want to discover reading in another way. I just felt it was life transforming.
I think had it not been for those comics, I wouldn’t have seen beyond the possibilities, you know? You grow up in an environment where you go, “Okay. This is it. How do I imagine something bigger?” Those comic books were pretty amazing, and I was so honored to get to meet him, tell him that and tell him that I really appreciated him.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you have any idea at all that you’d still be talking about Ghostbusters over 30 years later?
Ernie Hudson: I had no idea I would be talking about that film almost 40 years later, but I’m still thankful to have something to talk about 40 years later. People will pick out different movies that touch their lives that meant something to them and their families. But one thing about Ghostbusters is that it crosses generations. Grandparents and their grandkids talk about the movie. There’s something there that everybody, no matter the age, enjoyed. The fact that people love the movies and guys will turn their cars into ectomobiles, make their jumpsuits and build those backpacks, is humbling to me. I’m just so appreciative and so thankful that people find inspiration in it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You mentioned working with Bette Davis, and you’ve had a long, storied career. But is there still someone out there you’d like to work with?
Ernie Hudson: Well, my wife and I were talking. We bought a home in Minnesota and were thinking that maybe now we can sort of wind down. Then this Family Business came around, and I thought, “Wow! I’m not winding down.” It inspired me to sort of want to jump in. I went to Yale with Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver. We were all there at the same time.
I’ve never worked with Meryl Streep, but I would love to. We had dinner in New York a few years back. Before it’s all said and done, I would love to get the chance to work with her. I’ve been blessed to work with some wonderful people and on some good projects and stories that you feel you could recommend to families. To me, that’s the most important thing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You began your career in the 1970s. Have you had any direct experiences with discrimination in Hollywood?
Ernie Hudson: I don’t think we’ve reconciled the way that African-Americans are perceived based on our history, the marriage between blacks and whites in the country and how we still feel with each other. So it comes up, but my grandmother would say to not necessarily ask God to change things as much as to give you a new perspective. So much of it has to do with how you perceive it and how you perceive that certain things will elicit certain reactions. A lot of people will say to me, “Did you see how he …?” Honestly, that’s not my focus.
I think what I find now is many people feel resentful over things that aren’t happening in their lives. But I’ve been so thankful for the things that are happening. I think that’s where the focus should be. I know people who literally have millions of dollars who feel they’re disadvantaged. So much of it is how we began to see ourselves. I really believe that as a society here in America, we really need to appreciate us, you know? I love what Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you.”
I think we need to recognize what we have in common and focus on that more than our differences more than the things that aren’t what we want them to be. I find that in my family. I find that in my marriage. We’ve been together almost 45 years. If I want to sit down on a rainy day and think about all the things that I don’t like, it can become quite a nightmare. I focus on friendship and just the little things, and it just changes my world. It’s a lot about appreciation, and I think that we really need to value each other and the fact that we’re blessed to share this space and time. It’s so important.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you an outspoken political activist?
Ernie Hudson: I look at the country as a body, as a united body, as I look at myself as an individual. There are warring parts of me and parts that say, “I want to do this,” and another part of me that fights me to make sure I don’t do that. I think we are altogether. Whatever we are, it is us. Whatever choices we’re going to make; it’s going to be all of us. Whatever the consequences, it’s going to be all of us paying them. I think we really need to see our commonality a little bit more. So I don’t get into politics.
Good things are done by people you don’t agree with sometimes. Sometimes, it’s good to have people you don’t agree with to show you another side. That’s what I love about marriage. When I've got something that I’m so definite about, my wife will look at me, and then I realize, “You know what? Maybe I should’ve rethought that.” We need all parts of ourselves, and we need to value that. What I love about elections is that everybody has an opportunity, and it reflects us. You can say you don’t agree or whatever, but that’s who we are. It’s all of us.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will your character make a return to Grace and Frankie?
Ernie Hudson: Well, you know, I’d love for the character to return. I love working on the show. But it’s Jane and Lily’s show. The producers would tell me how much they loved the character and that the fans loved the character, then I’d say, “Give me a reason to stay.” (laughs) When L.A.’s Finest came along, they loved me, too, but it was reflected in my paycheck. You know what I mean? It wasn’t my show. I’d love to recur on Grace and Frankie, but I couldn’t commit to it in the same way because they hadn’t committed to me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It wasn’t your show.
Ernie Hudson: Yeah. And it’s important to have influence. I was happy to be there with Lily and Jane and help them build this thing, but it’s their thing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): After The Family Business, do you plan on slowing down and just pick the projects you’re interested in?
Ernie Hudson: Well, at my age, I’m focusing on the things that I feel passionate about, that I enjoy. For so many years, I was raising my kids, getting them through college and all of the above, so a lot of times it wasn’t about the work. You make the most of it, but honestly, if I didn’t have to make the mortgage payment, I wouldn’t have done them.
Now, I have no mortgage payment, so there’s got to be a reason to be there. Do I want to shoot in Louisiana or be home? I’d rather be home unless there’s a reason to do the work.
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