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Hollywood Icon Ernie Hudson on His Passion for Storytelling

ernie hudson-quantum leap-hollywood-storytelling-film-theater
ernie hudson-quantum leap-hollywood-storytelling-film-theater
Ernie Hudson. Photo by Mark DeLong

Ernie Hudson is perhaps best known for his roles in the 1984 blockbuster “Ghostbusters” and “Quantum Leap,” currently airing on NBC.

Hudson, 77, is foremost a student in the art of acting, not to mention a passionate storyteller — and his 50-year career (and counting) is the result of his commitment. 

“A lot of people reach out to me with projects,” said Hudson, who is a father of four. But these days Hudson doesn’t face the same pressure to say yes that he felt when he was getting his start as an actor. “There’s no real reason to do the work now, because I have everything these days. Unless it’s worth something and it’s going to be fun or different or with people I really like working, I don’t have to do it for the money anymore.”

Studying the theater 

Things weren’t always that way for Hudson, who began in theater in Detroit after a short period in the U.S. Marine Corps. Hudson was a playwright at the historic Black Theater Concept East. After that, he received his bachelor’s degree in theater and studied acting and writing at Wayne State University. After attending the Yale School of Drama on a full scholarship to receive his master’s degree, he appeared in the musical “Daddy Goodness” in Los Angeles.

“I fell in love with theater when I first discovered it,” Hudson said. “I’ve always done theater. That’s pretty much all I’ve ever done to make a living. I always managed to make enough to get by and keep a roof over my head.”

Pivoting to the screen

Before launching into his widely known film career, Hudson starred on the small screen, a feat he achieved after actor Harvey Mann saw him star in the Los Angeles production of “The Martin Luther King Story.” At that stage of his life, Hudson’s eldest sons began living with him, and he was a single dad. Life changed, but he stayed committed to the art of acting and relished the creative challenges of the profession.

Photo by Brendan Meadows

“I would always try to adjust for the job,” Hudson said. He never felt the need to create a specific image for himself in Hollywood — it was always about the craft.

He marveled at the opportunities actors from all backgrounds have these days, as well as the ongoing dialogue around “Me Too” that has led men to ask themselves tough questions. Hudson has promoted a safer, more inclusive workplace culture on TV and movie production sets. 

The art of storytelling

Speaking more generally about the industry, Hudson said, “The door is so open in ways that, honestly, I never could even believe. If I was doing it now, I think I’d take a different approach because I see the possibilities, and I wouldn’t be so reliant on someone else to see me and decide what I can’t do and what I can do.”

Amid the changes in Hollywood and theater, though, one thing has remained the same: Acting is a means for storytelling, and storytelling isn’t something Hudson has tired of — despite his selectiveness.

In particular, Hudson is interested in helping tell stories that educate and encourage empathy — and allow the world to shrink a bit. 

“​​The world is so much smaller. I mean, it’s instant. We know what’s happening everywhere around the world. That’s really exciting to me,” Hudson said. “For example, I’m looking at what’s going on in Ukraine, and I can’t comprehend it. We can’t keep moving forward doing these things. I mean, we’ve got to make a change — and movies and stories will help.

“As an actor, that’s kind of what I do,” Hudson continued. “I have to get out of my own thing and try to understand what this person is experiencing and struggling with. That, to me, is part of doing research on the character, and some characters have lived things I can’t even imagine. But to be able to see them, to emphasize with them, and see out of their eyes? It’s only through the truth that we can begin to see things from a different perspective.”

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