Ernie Hudson on the minimization of his 'Ghostbusters' character and race: 'You can't be a victim in this stuff'

ATLANTIC CITY, NJ - MARCH 30:  Ernie Hudson attends the 2019 New Jersey Horror Con And Film Festival at Showboat Atlantic City on March 30, 2019 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images)
ATLANTIC CITY, NJ - MARCH 30: Ernie Hudson attends the 2019 New Jersey Horror Con And Film Festival at Showboat Atlantic City on March 30, 2019 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images)

In 2014, Ernie Hudson penned a candid editorial for Entertainment Weekly in which he discussed his complicated relationship with the Ghostbusters movies — the popular series that both helped jumpstart the actor’s fledgling career and left him wondering what could have been if his role as Winston Zeddemore hadn’t been dramatically scaled down before production began on the 1984 hit.

Hudson figured co-starring with Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis in the Ivan Reitman-directed paranormal comedies would lead to “that one great role,” but 30 years later he confessed he was still seeking it.

Perhaps that part is in The Family Business, the BET+ drama in which Hudson headlines as LC Duncan, the patriarch of a New York City crime family that its network has dubbed “the Black Sopranos.” Originally planned as independent film, the adaptation of Carl Weber’s bestseller then became a limited series, and has since expanded yet again with the debut of Season 2 on Thursday. It’s certainly one of the most prominent roles the affable Hudson, playing against type as a sometimes ruthless gangster, has had recently.

“Most of the characters I’ve played have been pretty nice guys,” says Hudson, whose other recent credits include Modern Family, Gracie and Frankie and L.A.’s Finest, in a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment. “And I think LC is one of those guys who would not consider himself a nice guy. I do what I gotta do.”

Still from "The Family Business" (Photo: Family Business LLC/BET)
Still from "The Family Business" (Photo: Family Business LLC/BET)

But of course Hudson is still best known for Ghostbusters, despite as he described in 2014, how Winston’s role was drastically diminished after the actor had signed the dotted line to play him. “When I originally got the script, the character of Winston was amazing and I thought it would be career-changing. The character came in right at the very beginning of the movie and had an elaborate background: he was an Air Force major something, a demolitions guy. It was great,” wrote Hudson, who also revealed he was paid only half his asking price for the part.

In the final cut, Winston doesn’t arrive until 41 minutes into the movie, and his noble background has been erased. He’s merely an opportunist. “If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything,” he famously says.

It’s why Hudson six years ago described his relationship with the series as “a love/hate thing,” though that stance softened when speaking to us last week.“It's never really been a hate [thing]. I've had some issues in terms of the production company,” Hudson says now. “But I always liked Winston. He’s one of those cautious guys. ‘I’m here, I do my job, I’m loyal. But I don’t know what the hell this is all about.’ I love the take that a lot of fans came away with, just Winston being the normal guy who so many kids, especially little kids, related to. I was a little surprised by that. But now 35 years-plus later, I am just grateful to have been a part of this franchise.”

Hudson says he was never informed by Winston’s role was sized down. “I never did [get a reason]. I think they said for the story, you know, we got three guys who are really established in the industry and I was really just getting started. But I have no idea, honestly.”

A publicity still from "Ghostbusters" (Sony)
A publicity still from "Ghostbusters" (Sony)

Beyond screen time, Hudson’s general visibility (or lack thereof) as one-quarter of the original Ghostbuster gang has also irked fans over the years. He was left out of publicity photos and other IP like video games and comic books. (He also had to audition to voice his own character in the animated The Real Ghostbustersa role he lost out on to Arsenio Hall.)

In 2020, as Americans engage in a more open and honest dialogue about social inequalities and as many arenas of culture face a reckoning in the wake of George Floyd’s death and widespread #BlackLivesMatter protests, particularly entertainment, it’s worth wondering how much of it had to do with race. Hudson wasn’t just the fourth or most under-appreciated Ghostbuster, he was also quite obviously the Black Ghostbuster.

“I think when you're Black in America, any issue that you have, you can blame it on race,” says Hudson, who cameoed in the 2016 all-female reboot Ghostbusters and will also appear in next year’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife. “And I think that's [true] for a lot of people, but what I realized and what became really important to me to do early on is just to not attribute it to things outside of myself, because I can't control that. And so I'm gonna give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they were trying to sell a movie and this was how they felt they should sell it. Now, maybe the fact that I was Black. … For years they said you couldn't sell a movie if it was starring an African American actor. But you can't be a victim in this stuff. Obviously had it been Eddie Murphy, who's Black, that wouldn't have been the case.”

Ramis, Hudson, Murray and Aykroyd in "Ghostbusters" (Sony)
Ramis, Hudson, Murray and Aykroyd in "Ghostbusters" (Sony)

In his EW editorial, Hudson wrote that for years he heard that the role was originally written for Murphy — a red-hot comedy sensation at the time after breaking out on Saturday Night Live and in films like 48 Hrs. (1982) and Trading Places (1983). Aykroyd has said that’s the case (he also wanted fellow Blues Brother John Belushi before he died), though Reitman denies Murphy’s name ever came up in the casting process, which Hudson acknowledges in the first-person piece. Murphy has said he simply wasn’t available at the time because he was making the star vehicle Beverly Hills Cop instead; though Murphy did recall telling Aykroyd on the set of Trading Places that the idea of Ghostbusters “sounds like a crock to me,” so that might explain if/why he wasn’t discussed during casting.

“So there are a lot of factors,” Hudson continues. “Like I said, I think you just try to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially if it’s something you don't understand. I know what I believe I can do, but not everyone knows that.”

Hudson shows and proves that as the lead character in The Family Business, which he also takes pride in because of its predominantly Black cast.

“I hadn’t really seen an African American family like this [in television]. A family that actually has power and is not feeling like victims,” he says. “Especially in the African American community, fans love the fact that these are people who seem to be able to move things around the way they want. And I think that's empowering.”

The Family Business: Season 2 premieres July 1 on BET+.

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