Ghostbusters ♦ The Crow ♦ Transformers Prime(Voice) ♦ Miss Congeniality ♦ Law and Order ♦ Oz
There are very few actors who can lay claim to a professional resume as long and varied as Ernie Hudson, but Hudson has always been a unique screen presence, capable of taking on any role. He was slimed when he co-starred as one of the “Ghostbusters” in two films; he played the simple-minded handyman Solomon in the box-office smash “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle”, and currently stars as Warden Glynn in the critically acclaimed HBO series “Oz,” now in it’s sixth season.
Born in Benton Harbor, Michigan, a career in show business seemed like an unlikely path for young Ernie Hudson, who was already married with a young son when he enrolled at Wayne State University as a Speech and English major. “Being an actor never occurred to me,” Hudson recalls. “There was no one even remotely connected to the industry where I was from. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized how much I enjoyed it.” Hudson’s early ambition was to be a writer, and was for a time the resident playwright at Detroit’s Concept East, the oldest black theater company in the country at that time. Later, he founded the Actors Ensemble Theater, which allowed him and other black performers to stage and appear in their own works. After attending Wayne State, Hudson accepted a full scholarship to the Master of Fine Arts Program at Yale University. This led to a number of regional theater roles and critical acclaim, and his feature film debut in “Leadbelly.”
“The thing that altered my life the most was when my first marriage ended and my two young sons came to live with me,” Hudson remembers. At the time, Earnest Jr. and Rahaman were 10 and 7 years old. “Thankfully, their mother had taught them how to cook and clean. They were very self-sufficient,” Hudson jokes. “I sent them away one summer and the house fell apart.” Being a full-time dad to his kids enriched Hudson in unexpected ways: “They did as much raising me as I did them,” he explains. “I grew up without having a father, and I wasn’t really sure what that role was. They helped me find it.”
Meanwhile, Hudson was pursuing other roles just to put bread on the table: making a living, as an actor was now a necessity, not just a dream. There were parts in feature films like “The Main Event” with Barbra Streisand, “The Jazz Singer” with Neil Diamond, “The Octagon with Chuck Norris, and television projects like Abby Mann’s acclaimed miniseries “King” and the highly-rated “Roots II.” Hudson found himself alternating between film and television roles until 1983, when he was cast as Winston Zeddemore, the fourth member of the “Ghostbusters” team. The two “Ghostbusters” films, starring Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd, were huge box-office hits and gave Hudson a higher profile than he had ever known. He continued to work at a steady pace and began to get recognized on the street. “I was in New York City once and someone was on the street telling his friends ‘That’s that guy from that movie, you know that movie,’” he says with a laugh. After doing so many different kinds of movies, his fan base is very broad. “Black, white, young, old, people recognize me from a wide variety of movies. I haven’t worked in just one genre, and my roles have varied as well.
Hudson’s subsequent screen roles included parts in “Weeds” with Nick Nolte, “Leviathan,” “Sugar Hill,” “The Cowboy Way,” “Speechless,” “No Escape,” “The Substitute,” and “Basketball Diaries.” When director Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential”) was making “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle,” he cast Hudson in the pivotal role of Solomon. “After ‘Ghostbusters,’ it was hard to get the dramatic parts I wanted,” says Hudson. “Doing ‘The Hand that Rocks the Cradle’ reminded the studios of what I could do, and it reminded me of the fun I could have while acting. I loved making that movie.” Another favorite role of Hudson’s was in the thriller “Congo.” “For a long time, I had been told that I wasn’t a ‘leading man’ type, and I had started to buy into that. The character in ‘Congo’ was my Ronald Colman character, the man who ran the show. After I saw my performance in that movie, I felt really good about what I have to offer as an actor.”
Hudson also co-starred as Officer Albrecht in the 1994 thriller “The Crow” opposite the late Brandon Lee. Although Lee’s death, a result of an on-set accident, is still a painful memory, Hudson remains proud of the movie. “I’m so glad we got to finish it because it really shows Brandon’s enormous talent,” he says.
It is his role on “Oz” that has occupied Hudson’s television work in recent time. Series co-creator Tom Fontana had worked with Hudson when he guest-starred on eight episodes of “St. Elsewhere” years ago, and cast him as Warden Leo Glynn, the fair-minded warden of the high-tech experimental unit of a maximum-security prison. Produced by Fontana and Barry Levinson, “Oz” is one of HBO’s signature programs and is currently in its’ sixth season. “It’s a wonderful show to do because the actors are so good,” Hudson enthuses. “It’s a hard show to watch because of the brutal nature of prison life, but I do thinks it makes a very strong statement and the writing is very powerful. It’s definitely one of the best shows on TV.” Recently, Hudson won the International Press Academy Golden Satellite Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Drama Series for his work on “Oz.”“Oz” also afforded Hudson a unique opportunity to get a chance to work with his oldest son, Earnest Jr., who played an inmate in several episodes in the third season. “I always told him that it didn’t matter what he did for a living, but I knew my own career would influence what my kids wanted to do,” he says. Both of his older sons got college degrees and are finding success.
As he continues with his career, Ernie Hudson has also successfully fought a nemesis that often derails performers – aging. “I was starting to get a lot of ‘suit’ roles a couple of years back,” he remembers. Not wanting to be typecast, he’s recently taken on more daring parts, including playing the cigar-smoking professional golfer in “Miracle on the 17th Green,” a terrorist expert in TBS’ highly-rated premiere film “Nowhere to Land,” a psychotic mass murderer in the thriller “October 22,” the President of the United States in the action film “Stealth Fighter,” and the late James Jordan in the Fox Family telefilm “Michael Jordan: An American Hero. In his current roles, Hudson is as usual proving equally comfortable in any genre. He can be seen in Universal’s “The Watcher,” a suspense thriller starring with Keanu Reeves, James Spader and Marisa Tomei. He so-stars in the Castle Rock comedy “Miss Congeniality,” with Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt, and Michael Caine.
As for his recent TV roles, he stars in the TV movie for A&E “Spenser: Walking Shadows,” with Joe Mantegna and Marcia Gay Harden. He recently wrapped production on a CBS TV movie “A Town Without Christmas,” where he stars with Patricia Heaton and Peter Falk, and guest starred in a special episode of “Touched By An Angel.”
For someone with over 100 film and television credits on his resume, Ernie Hudson still considers his biggest challenges ahead of him. “Acting is what I do. At the beginning, it might have been out of necessity, but I love it, I’m fascinated by it. To me acting is a journey filled with incredible discoveries. Getting old will never be an issue for me as long as I can explore the parts I want to play.
When he’s not working, Hudson likes to spend time at home with his wife and children.
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