Ernie Hudson is always delighted when people stop him on the street to talk about his work.
“I feel very, very blessed being in projects that people share with their families,” he tells Closer. “I really appreciate how much love they have for the films and TV series I’ve worked on. It’s nice to get to that place of recognition. And, of course, everyone asks about Ghostbusters.”
Beyond that blockbuster franchise, Ernie’s impressive career has spanned five decades and isn’t slowing down. Currently, the Michigan native costars in NBC’s reboot of Quantum Leap, which premieres September 19, and stars in and executive-produces the popular BET+ drama The Family Business. Ernie, 76, also played Lily Tomlin’s love interest on the hit comedy Grace and Frankie.
Congratulations on Quantum Leap. Did you watch the original series?
I saw the show from time to time, often with my sons. Loved Scott Bakula. I think he’s one of the most charming actors ever. When this new one came up, I looked at a number of the old episodes just to sort of refresh. I remember the show very vividly because I was a single dad to my first two boys. They were excited to hear I was doing this because it’s something that we shared.
What have been some of your other favorite roles?
I have never had that one meaty, career-defining role, but there are so many films I have been in that were interesting. I had a lot of fun in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Congo. Working on the series Oz was an incredible ensemble piece. I recently did a series called City on a Hill with Kevin Bacon, Tom Fontana and that whole group who produced Oz — it was great to be back working with them.
And I loved working on The Crow. Young audiences loved that film. Of course, everyone loves Ghostbusters! I am grateful to be a part of that franchise. I must have done five screen tests before getting it. I really needed it because as a single dad, the rent was due, the phone bill was due, I needed that job.
Working with Bill Murray and Harold Ramis — I knew this film would do well and would be number one. I did not expect it to sustain over 30 years.
Why do you think Ghostbusters still resonates with fans?
People love the joy it brings them. It crosses generations. I remember for the 30th anniversary a few years back, I got invited to Chicago to introduce the movie. When it started, I was watching the audience, and there were people who could have easily been in their 80s and 90s with their grandkids who were 3 and 4 years old. Everybody was laughing.
Was it ever difficult to be the least well-known actor playing a lead in that film?
I always felt the studio made a conscious effort to include my character but not include me. We were a team of four. But on the movie poster, there were only three guys. But the fans really embraced the character.
Will you be back in future Ghostbusters films?
Jason Reitman, who produced and directed Ghostbusters: Afterlife, wanted to make sure that I knew that the character was important. They’re writing another script that I believe Winston will be a part of, and I appreciate that.
What was your childhood like?
I didn’t know my dad. I didn’t know my mom either. She died when I was 3 months old. I found a way to make peace with that because you can’t miss what you never had. I had an amazing grandmother who raised me. I had four amazing uncles who were really strong men and really loving. And I had an older brother, who I loved dearly. We were always very close.
Did you ever try to find your dad?
I never did. But with Ancestry.com, my son Ernest Jr. started researching and traced the family back to Africa. He found my father, who had passed on, and as a result, I found I have another brother and two sisters that I only met about four years ago. They’re very wonderful people and I wished I had known them when we were all younger.
How did you become an actor?
In college I needed an elective, and they had an acting class. That first time I walked into the theater, I just knew that I was at home. Up until then, I’d done all these little stupid jobs, not really feeling that I was particularly good at anything. When I walked on stage, the prayer was, “God, if you just let me do this, I will honor it, I won’t take it for granted, and I’ll show up on time. I will always be prepared, and I will do my best.”
Did your grandmother witness your success?
I remember I did a movie with Linda Lavin when my grandma was in a hospital in Illinois. While the film was playing, the doctors and nurses were gathering in the room watching the movie. I felt very proud because finally she could see I’m on TV. When the movie was over, I signed some autographs for the staff, and they left the room. My grandmother was just lying there and said, “This is nice, baby, but when are you gonna get a job?”
Aw! Did you have to make a lot of sacrifices for your career?
I was a single dad, and as actors, we never know where the next paycheck is going to come from. It was important for me to give the kids the message that this is America and anything is possible. I felt that if I didn’t pursue acting, it would send the wrong message. I can’t tell them anything is possible when I haven’t followed my dreams. My kids were always my biggest motivator.
What are you most proud of?
I don’t ever remember trying to get even with somebody or trying to deliberately hurt somebody. I never had to go through life looking over my shoulder because of something I did. I really try to see the best in people and managed to not get caught up in a lot of bad things.
What’s next for you?
Maybe a podcast. I don’t know! Maybe I will write a book. I think it would be great for the kids and the grandkids to have.