Ernie Hudson & Ghostbusters | The Backlot Podcast | New York Film Academy

Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy.

And I’m Aerial Segard acting alum and in this episode we bring you an actual OG Ghostbuster Ernie Hudson.

Ghostbusters did this weird thing to my career and I’ve been working before Ghostbusters I’d done some films but when it came out people began to think of me as a comedian and not a comedian. I mean those guys are from improv I’m not I’m an actor.

Conjured up a 100 foot marshmallow man. Blew the top three floors of an uptown high rise ended up getting sued by every state county and city agency in New York.

Guy shows up looking like a mime from hell and you lose him right out int he open.

My people are the ones who opey the law.

20th Century sumks. Maybe the 21st will be better.

He’s also appeared in more than 200 movies and TV shows. He was flat out terrific as the kindhearted cop in the Crow and then he’s completely believable as a simple minded handyman in the Hand that Rocks the Cradle.

Ernie Hudson had recurring roles in Grace and Frankie. Modern Family Law and Order Desperate Housewives OZ with our previous guest JK Simmons.

St. Elsewhere Congo directed by another guest Frank Marshall Miss Congeniality Transformers prime oh gosh I think we’ve only got through about like 3 percent of his credits.

Such is the career of a quintessential character actor a performer just as comfortable playing a prison warden as he is hunting ghosts with Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd.

And to hear Mr. Hudson describe it his career never would have happened if he found any other job he was even halfway decent at doing.

I grew up in a small town that was really economically depressed. Nobody in my family had been in show business. I mean you know it wasn’t even part of a consideration. And so when I got out of high school I wanted to find a quote unquote good job. My mother always said well just find a good job and I really really tried. But you know I was just really so bad at everything. I mean you know you ever take those jobs and you think you’re going to get fired and you know you’re not good at it I mean it’s like even if they say you’re doing a good job. You know you’re not doing and I’m like man. So when I found acting when I when I walked into a theater and I was at home I thought I can do this. That was you know OK. I mean just so I do this and get the lines down and and I get paid. That’s cool. I mean that’s so you know forty five years later I’m still. It’s like that. I mean. And people said well you did it because you love it so much. Yeah I guess I love it but I love the fact that I this is what I understand. It’s like this is what I it makes sense to me as opposed to other jobs that I probably could get through. But I just had never really felt right.

Mr Hudson was on the scene for close to a decade when he heard about a little comedy called Ghostbusters but even though he had just worked with director producer Ivan Reitman on a previous project.

Space Hunter adventures in the Forbidden Zone.

Mr. Hudson still had to fight just to get a chance to read for a role that changed his whole career.

I first heard about Ghostbusters from Ivan Reitman I don’t know if people remember and Ivan Reitman is the producer director of the movie. I did a movie with him the year before called space Hunter for Colombia. And I heard about Ghostbusters you know they’re casting this big film. But my agent said there was nothing in it for me and so that was the end of it and I never thought about it. I saw Ivan Reitman in Los Angeles on an elevator and he said. i’m doing this movie with Bill and Danny. I didn’t know Bill and Danny were I mean he just said Bill and Daddy like we all know and then he said but there’s nothing in it for you. And I said OK well good luck with that. And then I found out that there was a role that there were thinking about going black with the role and and everybody was getting in. And my agent couldn’t get me in and and I didn’t understand because I thought you know you make this assumption that your friends you know and but I couldn’t get I couldn’t get an interview. And this went on for a couple of months. I mean they had everybody I knew was going and including guys who weren’t black. I mean it was they were seeing everybody. And then finally we got this interview and I got a hold to the script I read the script and it was a great great character. I mean it was like I was a single parent at the time and I thought this is this is a game changer. I mean if I get this if I get this role. I mean my life is. And so I went in at Warner Brothers where they were we were auditioning. And Ivan was there and Harold Ramis was in the room. And you know I killed em. You know I was funny man I was good. You know when you go Yeah you know and I just knew I had it. And then nothing happened for a couple of weeks and then they brought me back again to put me on film. But I thought they had a camera in the room the first time but OK so I went back again and went on camera and and I nailed it again. And then they said but you know we want him to come back again. We put him on camera. And so I went in again and I heard from my agent that they really really like me it was really it looked like it might work out. And then a month or so went by and I didn’t hear anything and then I made the mistake that actors do. I call Karen the casting director Karen Ray I don’t know if she’s around anymore and said of course I tried to be clever I said you know actually I’m thinking about taking a vacation to Hawaii. I was just checking because I wanted to make sure that I was here in town in case it came up I don’t want to be out of town. She said well they are in New York and there’s an they want to see Clevon Dericks. Then they’ll decide. So a week or so later after all this stuff they offered me the role. And that was the beginning of that whole thing. So. It was kind of bittersweet. I mean I went in I fought for the role I got the role. But. it was in many ways a very difficult job.

Despite having such notable SNL alums as Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd in the cast Mr. Hudson didn’t view the film as a guaranteed hit.

I don’t think you can really tell when you work on a film. They say there’s three movies that you make the movie you intend to make. The movie that you make and the movie that you thought you made because by the time people get through playing with it you don’t know what you got. So it’s kind of hard to say what’s going to be successful and I’ve done a lot of films that. People would have thought was going to be just you know huge that didn’t do anything and other films that we did the hand that rocks the cradle and I didn’t think anybody would ever even watch it. And it turned out to be a hit. And we did the cowboy way that they tested off the charts and they thought was going to be huge and you know it wasn’t except for some cowboys in Arizona who I met. But but. It’s hard to say. So I knew that Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd and Harold you know with the Saturday Night Live stuff I knew they were really popular. And I think when we were making it because you know it was a big budget you knew that it would do business. But the fact that I’d be talking about it 27 28 years later I had no idea Ghostbusters 2 came along. Five years after the fact which I never could figure out why it took so long. I thought five years was long. Now it’s been like 20 years. But since the last one. But you know I love being a part of it. I thought the first one was just really just much more original. But I made more money doing the second one. People say you have fun you have most fun when you making money and. You know that’s kind of cool too.

While working on Ghostbusters Mr Hudson got another surprise that was unfortunately not quite so pleasant the one that showed him that the role you get will not always be the same that you actually play.

The character in Ghostbusters. I thought that was a career changing character. Now what. There are so many things that as an actor you don’t control the role in Ghostbusters that came in on page 6 and was this amazing role. By the time we get ready to shoot it he came in on Page 68 so that was a very different character than what I thought I’d be going into. Now part of my growing up process is you have to adjust to what is which was not an easy thing to do and the game has changed. I find most actors no matter what they’ve done or how successful they’ve been. People still want you to audition to come in to read. And so ultimately you have to make a decision. Is it something I really want to do. Is it worth my. Because if you want it then you’ve got to go and fight for it. And if you haven’t saved your money and you need the job you got to go in and fight for it even though you really don’t want it which is really sucky place to be at. But yeah most people still want you to. Come in to audition to do this thing. They seem to think actors it’s fun. I’m like why is that fun. I mean as a director you might show some of your work but you don’t have to come in here and I feel like auditioning like you really go in. And you pull your pants down and you stand there and they say OK thank you. Thank you Ernie for coming in. And then you kind of pull your pants up and try to be somewhat graceful about it and then walk out. I mean that’s an awful but that’s how it feels. The acting part is a lot of fun. The auditioning part especially when they know your work. Well why am I here reading three lines. I mean it gets like that. And you’re lucky to be the guy who gets in to read for three lines because the guy you know who had a series for eight years he can’t even get in to get the three to read for the three lines. So the game has changed a bit. But that’s part of it that’s what we do and I sort of take it that way.

But as an actor auditioning for a role that you really want is beyond worth it.

If you want that you have to fight for it I used to say there are only three reasons for working. One is it’s a great role. I mean I’ll do anything for a great role I’ll pay you. If it’s a great role. I did a movie called everything’s Jake. We shot in New York. These two students from Syracuse wrote this great script about this great character. And we shot in New York and I loved the movie it didn’t they knew how to make a movie but they didn’t know how to get it distributed and the movie sort of went nowhere. But I love that character. So as an actor give me a reason. If it’s a great role yeah because I want. I’m still looking for that opportunity to do what I know I can do which I don’t feel I’ve been able to do it on stage I did the great white hope and that was everything I had everything I had. I haven’t had that opportunity to do that film. I love the fact that Brandon Lee got the crow before he passed away because I think it was very tragic that he passed away. But what a role to get a chance to show what you can do. So if there’s no role then then pay me some money. I mean I love people you know say well why’d you do that role. Well they gave me ten million dollars. People go OK you know I understand what it’s like. But when there’s no role and you have no money. I’m like why do I want to do this now. The third reason is if somebody it’s Spielberg you know it’s somebody who you think is going to be kind in the future remember the favor you doing for him which doesn’t happen very often anyway. But at least you go. I want to work with good people. So you know Andy Garcia who’s a friend he was here I guess a few weeks ago and he’s in a movie and somebody asks so OK I’m doing it for that reason. But you know I get offered films that the character is not even well developed. There’s no money. And I ain’t know the people doing it and actors we. Have a hard time saying no. I was listening to Betty White’s book on tape and she was saying it is very hard to say no. And I was like oh a chance to work I maybe I should take this because maybe it might be seen and maybe but good roles are hard to find.

A few years after Ghostbusters Ernie Hudson appeared in one of his other biggest hits Curtis Hanson’s psychological thriller The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.

Their trust.

I don’t know what we would have done without her.

Is her weapon.

If something happens to my mommy would you take care of me.

Of course I would.

The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand the rules the world.

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.

The role of Samuel a mentally challenged handy man originally called for a completely different physical type. But Mr. Hudson knew he could pull off the part and put in the research to make it work.

Well you know after the hand that rocks the cradle came out people out meet me and they’d go. Hello. Hi. So but Ghostbusters did this weird thing to my career and I’ve been working before Ghostbusters I’d done some film but when it came out people began to think of me as a comedian. I’m not a comedian. I mean those guys from improv I’m not I’m an actor. And so getting dramatic roles were you know it’s just difficult even getting interviews. And so when the hand that rocks the cradle came along. Disney was doing it through Hollywood films and I once again I had a hard time getting interviews so I sometimes you almost have to go and you have to stay on the agent and you have to do everything you can do to get in the room because I really related to the character. You know the character is written as a 5 foot 8 fair Irishman whatever that means. And it didn’t mean me so but I just felt really that if I can get in here. And so I went into the meeting with Curtis Hanson. But in working on the character which is what your question is. They have these in San Bernardino. There’s a Friday night party. They go to. And so I went to I went to some of the homes and met some of the people when I first went to the party. I went in and people came over to me and they said hi and they kind of hugged me and and I thought oh because you know they know I’m a ghostbuster. No but they did it to everybody it was like it had nothing to do with anything. But I found a guy who was see sometimes you can be mentally disabled but sometimes you can be high functioning in a certain area. And this particular guy I met he couldn’t live on his own but he could really do these elaborate drawings certain things he could really do really well which is what Solomon had to do to be able to build a fence and all that. And he was the one I patterned the character on. Also I think I used to believe that I could be different people and I’ve since learned that you can’t be different people. I mean it’s you just can’t you are who you are but if your life had gone in a different direction and with different influences you could be differently. And when I was a kid a soon to work in the fields and pick fruit and this guy once kicked me and I fell and hit my head and knocked me unconscious. And I mean I was fine at least I think I am but that I always wonder if something had seriously happened and I had gone in that direction. So Solomon was me. If something had happened and how do I you know. So and that’s how you so you just. To me that’s how you kind of with a lot of characters you know because acting is believing so if I can create as much believability then if I can believe it then you can believe it. If I can’t believe it then I don’t expect anybody to believe it.

Ernie Hudson faced a very different challenge. On Frank Marshall’s Congo based on the Michael Crichton novel.

As Patton Oswalt described in an AP Bio.

It’s got everything teens love it’s got gorillas it’s got lasers it’s got a character named Herkemer Homolka.

That character is played by Tim Curry and the gorillas do sign language. Laura Linney goes full Schwarzenegger and.

Hey hey calm down take a breath. Good thanks to special effects wizard Stan Winston Mr. Hudson didn’t have to share the screen with a single real ape. Though as he explains acting with special effects presents its own set of problems.

No I don’t work with gorillas real gorillas so that so that means none of the gorillas were real in anything that I was in. But it’s funny because a lot of people ask because Stan Winston who did the animatronics or whatever they they did a great job but it’s great when you have. I mean it’s they’re believable looking and you. It makes your job easier. You know if you got a marshmallow man that there’s nothing there. And then they’re trying to describe it to you. It’s a little bit harder to you know to go with it. But obviously that’s what you getting paid for the in ghostbusters 2 the train sequence where there’s a train coming. And I get hit by the train.

What’s what’s.

What’s what.

Sounds like a train.

These lines have been abandoned for 50 years.

I don’t know sounds awfully close to Me.

Did you catch the number on the locomotive.

Sorry. I missed it.

Ivan Reitman who directed it. I said OK just so I’m clear now the train I’m on the tracks and the train hits me so yeah I guess it’s just like if you were on a train track and the train comes and bam you get hit. And I said well what is the train like. It’s like it’s like a locomotive it just comes down the track and so when I got hit I thought I got hit by a locomotive. And then when I saw the movie it’s like this little Choo Choo was like this fake choo choo. I was like that’s not a locomotive. I don’t know what I would have done differently. But sometimes when you see stuff it’s not at all. I mean you can’t really imagine the marshmallow man climbing up a building until you see the movie you’ve got oh that’s the marshmallow man. Even though you got a little model of him but it still that takes it to a different place.

Similar to how CGI changed Hollywood. There were a few HBO shows back in the 90s that completely changed the landscape of television. The Sopranos the Larry Sanders Show and the prison drama Oz the groundbreaking show brought a new level of authenticity and depth the performance to the small screen. Ernie Hudson was proud to be part of it but the nature of his character often affected how he was treated on set.

It’s interesting because I’m very humbled because I can’t believe that I’m actually an actor. I mean I just think what they do is really cool and so the fact that I get to do it but I’m really impressed by when actors sort of you know. Put things on the line. But when I would go and I have a little ritual with most characters especially if you’re doing a TV show because you have to kind of do it every week and you have to kind of get up for it. It’s a little bit different than when you’re working on a film. So when I go in I would go into Oz you know I’d shine my shoes I put on the uniform I put on the suit. So now you know I mean I’m I’m the warden. And. I’m not one of those guys who I got to be in character all the time. I mean like you know we just do it. And it’s done let’s move on 30 40 years ago when I first started. You know my kids couldn’t call me by my name. They’d have to call me by the character’s name but you know you sort of change but these are a lot of young actors and not young age wise but a lot of them just really starting out and they were really into character. So when I’d go in everybody’s going hey Ernie what’s up and all that but when I came out in my it’s like they would just it was like nothing it was really cold. And I’m like hey you know no it just wasn’t happening. And I I just found that very odd. And also they would be in a scene that we’d be doing and they’d be like like out there you know and it was like OK. All right. So we got to do it like that so we got to OK.

One thing Mr. Hudson’s behind the scenes work does not include is the burning desire to direct.

You know I think to be a good director you really got to like to. Run the show. You really I like to be the guy who organizes everything and pulls it together and the guy in charge. I don’t like being the guy in charge you know what I mean. I like doing what I do. I know that sounds lazy but you know get it together. You know the actors just left and. We don’t know why she’s in a trailer. You go talk to her. I don’t want to be the guy to talk to her. You know what I mean. I don’t want I want to do what I do. So that wouldn’t make me a very good director. I do like writing because in my world as a writer I control everything until you take it and screw it up. But until then it’s my world. And I know that about myself you know. So I don’t really. If there was a project I was really passionate about with good people. When I was in college I did a lot of directing for stage and actors are so you know man they get into their stuff. And they they’re late and it’s very frustrating. I’m not the kind of guy who. Who likes to control some guys love that. It’s a challenge you know and I’m not one of those people you know. You know the hard the hardest time I have now finding a good assistant is I’m like you know what never mind I’ll just do it myself. So I end up paying somebody I end up doing all the work anyway it doesn’t make sense you know. But that’s that’s my that’s my flaw.

So what does the future hold for Ernie Hudson. Well most likely another 100 plus roles with no plans of slowing down.

That’s the only thing I know how to do. You know I do it as long as you know. I mean I’m not very good at anything. So. You know I mean I could write. But that doesn’t mean anybody going to pay me money to do it. So. This is what I’ll do until I’m not saying I wouldn’t do anything else. But you know I mean. I’ve always worked and even as a kid so you know find a way to make a living doing something. Hopefully the same thing I’ve been doing and hopefully bring something to the table and hopefully there’s a reason why people I mean why would somebody give me a job. You hope you bring something. I mean if you’re going to do something then for God’s sake do it well enough to where you bring you don’t want to be in a situation somebody gives you a job as a favor. You know or. Because they want to sleep with you. I have no problem. People wanting to sleep with me but. I like to think I got the job because I’m the best person. Because I bring something to the table. I mean you’ve got to be that good. I like to believe that they cast me because I really was the best person out there. And not because. I knew somebody. But that’s just me. I’ll take the job however I can get it but I like to believe that it’s because I’m really good .

We want to thank Ernie Hudson for turning these jobs into so many memorable roles during his 40 year career.

And thanks to all of you for listening. He’s Eric Conner.

And she’s Aerial Segard. And this episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Chris Devane to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As check out our youtube channel at youtube.com/newyorkfilmacademy. This episode was written by Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and Eric Conner.

Executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible.

To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen.

See you next time.

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