With 247 screen credits under his belt amassed over more than 45 years of acting in Hollywood, Ernie Hudson has averaged nearly five-and-a-half projects per each year of his professional career. Perhaps most well-known for his role as Winston Zeddemore in Ivan Reitman’s hit Ghostbusters series, Hudson is also lauded for his work in film and television, including The Crow, The Basketball Diaries, The Miss Congeniality franchise, Oz, Law & Order, and Grace and Frankie, bridging genres with seaming ease. On top of his tireless work ethic as an actor, Hudson has raised children since 1964, and has been a presence in law enforcement as a reserve deputy sheriff in San Bernardino County since 2003. A man of many hats, Hudson strives for truth and integrity throughout his work.
Hudson’s latest film, Redemption Day, co-written and directed by Hicham Hajji, tells the story of a Marine Corps veteran who embarks upon a rogue mission when his wife is kidnapped and held for ransom by ISIS, and the loving, torn father who must act as a foundation of support as his world is turned upside down. Shot on location in Morocco, Redemption Day is a production that aptly employs a diverse group of cast and crew for its international setting.
On the cusp of the release of Redemption Day, I had an opportunity to speak with Hudson about the making of the film, his impressive career, his insights on the shifting landscape of the industry, why the Ghostbusters reboot didn’t get the love it deserved, his excitement for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and Rick Moranis’ Louis Tully’s up-in-the-air, pardon the pun, fate, in the upcoming sequel.
Your character in Redemption Day is a boxing trainer and a father, and through those two roles, you’re a mentor to Brad. How did you flesh out and relate to this character?
He’s a dad who holds things down while his son goes on this mission that is very, very necessary. I just felt, after reading the script and working with Gary – Gary played my nephew on a show I do called The Family Business – we’ve known each other for a little while, and I really like his work. But, for me, being a dad – I have four sons, who are all grown up – but having a son who is having issues [in the film], trying to find some kind of normalcy, struggling with this PTSD and everything he’s been through, there’s always a chance of losing your kid. There’s a lot of things going on with the military now, including suicides and on and on and on. [Brad] has a great family, but he’s struggling. And then for this to happen to his wife. That was what I was sort of drawing out, “How do you be there for support? How do you not step in? He’s very proud. How do you be there?” And once he goes off on this mission, that I would really have loved to go with, but, “How do you create a space that he knows there is a place to come back to? Where there is a normal place to get to?” That reminds me of, in a lot of ways, what we’ve been going through this past year: “Where is the place that we get to once we go through everything we’re going through?” That’s what me and Gary talked about.
You mentioned PTSD. I think films like this are very important to destigmatize mental illness. Especially, like you’re talking about, in trying times like these, where our collective mental health is tried. Do you think themes like these are important to explore more in films to spread awareness?
Yeah, because we live our stories out. You know what I mean? I don’t think we realize how important our stories are, just in terms of how we see the world, in terms of growing up, in terms of how we even relate to something that you see, and then you can apply it to your own personal life. A lot of people are left, I feel, right now, hanging out without the support of a dad like the guy I play in the movie. And understanding, “How we can be there for people who are struggling, people who are very proud, people who have a lot to offer, who are very talented? But how do they find their way back?” And so when we see the movies, we draw from those things. And it can be positive and negative, but hopefully it’s positive. But we have to find a way to deal with a lot of the issues that we’re struggling with now. And this movie is very current in a lot of ways. It says nothing about the issues going on between the West and the Middle East and Arab countries. What’s happening with Iran, now, and all these things, we’ve got to find another way. We are what we are with technology because of, maybe, what Star Trek did. Somebody had the idea of Dick Tracy his watch phone. But we do draw from these stories, and they’re really important. And especially important right now.
We draw from these stories. And actors often draw from their personal lives to tell the stories. You briefly served in the Marine Corps, and you’ve been a reserve deputy sheriff in San Bernardino County for almost two decades. Did you utilize your own experiences from those parts of your life for this role?
Well, it was easy, because as a guy who is former military, me working with the people and the San Bernardino Sheriff Department – because I wasn’t in the military that long – but me having friends who were in there for a long time – career people – knowing what those experiences are, it’s easier to draw on. As an actor, being able to understand a certain mindset that a guy would have, it’s a little easier to draw on what motivates him. I may do the same thing. But me, personally, I might do it a different way. But how does this character process, and how does he deal with this, is all very helpful, in terms of bringing integrity, if it’s honest. If it doesn’t have integrity, then people don’t connect to it.
This film has a very diverse cast and crew. It’s amazing what the director, Hicham Hajji, has done in bringing films and, subsequently, jobs to Morocco. It reminds me of the work you did earlier in your career for Black creatives when you established the Actors’ Ensemble Theatre. What was the on set atmosphere like for Redemption Day?
It was a great set. There were some cultural differences that I found, certainly, working on location. Morocco is not just different in terms of the geography, but the culture is different. And it’s hard, sometimes, to understand something that is foreign to what you’re used to. And so shooting there was a little bit different. But the set is a controlled environment. And so being on the set, and working with the crew, it was pretty much like it is anywhere. But once you were outside of the set – the environment – that took a little bit of getting used to. I found the country very masculine, in a sense. Very different when working in the West. That took an adjustment. But, by bringing film to these places, like Morocco, they also get a sense of how to work with us. It becomes a rural community. So being able to go to places and bring all that the film industry brings with it, not just in terms of money, we began to share. That only benefits everybody. And so I feel very, very good about being a part of that. And I know the director was very proud to be able to shoot this film in his country. It’s starting to happen in a lot of places. Film is a universal art. So it’s great to see other countries embracing it and doing it for the international community, as opposed to some countries, [where] they have their own little film industry, but it’s not meant to be international. So I was very happy that he was able to pull this together. I think it was important.
You’ve been acting for nearly half a century. And I don’t think there’s a better person to ask this: In your opinion, how has the film landscape changed since you first became an actor?
It’s become more open, universal, diverse. Some people say, “Oh, there’s been no changes.” Trust me. There’s been a lot of changes. When we compare it to what the ideal is, yeah, it doesn’t seem like a lot. But when you compare it to what it was, it’s huge. Certainly a lot more diverse. Not just in terms of a different kind of people coming into it, but also allowing different stories, because it really comes down to the story. The fact that [the director] could make this movie, shoot it in the country that he’s from, and enroll people in this community to be part of the crew, to be part of all of it, that’s a very, very different time, and in another time it was very exclusive. And even if you were African American, you weren’t a part of that. You were one of the exceptions that were allowed to be in somebody else’s world. So it’s changed a lot. And we need that universal environment where everybody can contribute because it’s going to take all of us and all of our imaginations and creativity to bring about the change that’s really, really necessary. Because what’s happened in the past was people would tell us stories, and they really had no clue. It would be about Morocco, but not by anybody who’s from Morocco who really knows. So I was really excited about that, that he was able to do this and encourage other people. Hopefully, there’ll be more of this: diverse cast, crews, and storytelling. We’ll all benefit from that.
I agree. You have a full circle career moment coming soon with the upcoming Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Are you excited to be reprising your role?
Yeah, I am. I say this to people, and I know they look at me like I’m a little bit off, but honestly, it was almost a spiritual coming together. Not a religious [one], but I just felt almost emotional by it. I mean, to see Bill [Murray], and Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, and then to see this new group of people coming in, it was something that had such an impact on my life. To be able to come back together again, that was very, very special. And the fact that Jason Reitman – who, when we did the first one, was just a little kid running around the set. And then, the second one, he actually had a little part in the movie. But now [he’s] grown up and well-established in the industry – to have him at the helm, it was amazing. And without diminishing the quality. He’s a wonderful director. It was a great script. It was just very, very incredible. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m sure it’s going to live up to what fans have been hoping for. I’m just very excited about it. I’m always excited about a lot of things that I do, but I’m really excited about the new Ghostbusters. I’m happy that they decided to wait until it could be shown in a theater. Audiences should have the opportunity to see it that way. Ultimately, everything ends up on TV. But I’d love for people to have that sort of group experience.
And it’s great that, with Jason, there was a familiarity on set. Did he try to emulate his father, Ivan Reitman’s style for this sequel, or did he bring his own style into the Ghostbusters universe?
It was interesting, because I was trying to put my finger on the difference. No, Jason is definitely, in his own right – even though his dad was around, and he was very respectful, as a son should be – but very, very different in his approach. And Ivan might be offended if he heard me say this. Honestly, you work for Ivan because you respect his filmography and his craft. And he demands out of you because of his work, your respect for what he does. You know what I’m saying? Jason is so lovable. You commit to Jason because you really love Jason. And he’s inclusive. He just has a way of making everyone feel a part of; “We’re doing this thing.” But you want him to succeed. Not that you don’t want Ivan to succeed. But [with] Ivan, we’re working. It’s the business. Whereas, Jason is just very personal. And I saw that in everybody. We’re doing Ghostbusters. So I’m sure everybody came in with a sense of what they feel is Ghostbusters, which is a direct correlation to Ivan Reitman, who created it. But Jason has that way of just making you feel that we’re doing this thing together and we’re having fun with it.
Is this a direct sequel, a reboot, or a combination of both?
It’s not a reboot. Because when you say reboot, which is the third movie, the one with the ladies – that I actually liked a lot. I definitely loved everybody who was in it. Paul Feig, I’m still fans of theirs – they tried to do a reboot. And a reboot, to me, means you’re trying to do the movie over. Another version of what we already did. And I think that was a mistake. It wasn’t a continuation or an extension of. It was somehow a different universe there. You know what I mean? It’s kind of like us, but it’s us but not us. In that universe, they’re women. I don’t know. That was a choice that was made. This is Ghostbusters. As we move on through the world, 20, 30 years later, it’s still within the same universe. And the other was Ghostbusters. But like I said, it just felt like a retelling of the same story, which automatically causes comparisons that you really don’t need to be doing. I’m saying this is how I feel like. But this is Ghostbusters later. It’s been 30-35 years since we did the Ghostbusters’. And so this is years later. But definitely, it’s the same universe.
Will Rick Moranis be making an appearance?
I think the studios probably want to hold that one. I love Rick. But yeah, I’ll let them share that.
Saban Films will release Redemption Day in theaters January 8, 2021 and on VOD on January 12, 2021.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.