Home TVInterviews Interview: The Family Business’ Ernie Hudson

Interview: The Family Business’ Ernie Hudson

by Charles Trapunski

Hey, it’s screen legend Ernie Hudson! Receiving the invitation to speak with Mr. Hudson in support of Season 2 of BET+ series The Family Business was an opportunity that was not to be missed. As a bonus, Hudson phoned us up directly and we had to be sure to Answer The Call. The Family Business is a phenomenal series, and Hudson shines as head of a car dealership by day, crime family by night L.C. Duncan, and he executive produces the show as well. But of course, this being Ernie Hudson, we had to ask about the Ghostbusters Zoom reunion which took place a couple of days prior, as well as his role in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. He spoke at length about why he enjoys being a part of the Netflix series Grace & Frankie, we addressed rumours Hudson had been in talks to play T’Challa’s father in Marvel’s Black Panther, and a whole lot more.

The following is a condensed and edited version of a meditative chat with the delightful Ernie Hudson of The Family Business.

Brief Take: Hey Ernie, how are you? I can see that you’re calling from an L.A. phone number. I thought that it might be Minnesota?

Ernie Hudson: I have a house in Minnesota, which is where I’ve been quarantined, or where I’ve been in lockdown, or whatever we’re going through since we shut down in Hollywood, but I have a place in Los Angeles, because I am out there a lot as well.

BT: What do you like most about playing L.C. Duncan, the head of this family?

EH: For me, growing up as a kid, I didn’t have a Mom or a Dad. Family has always been that dynamic by which I have been fascinated, having sons of my own, and how do we do a better job…it raises as many questions as it does answers. I’m always fascinated by the family dynamic and this was a chance to portray a black family that wasn’t victimized or at least not in obvious ways and who walked around feeling empowered. I don’t agree with the choices, but I’m impressed with what happens to him and his children, that to me it’s really about family, more than the circumstances that surround it and the relationships. Because a lot of the stuff that I’ve done, you are sort of in someone else’s story and you come in and this is really about my family and it’s great.

BT: Why was producing this project of great importance?

EH: It was important to produce it because I felt like unless I—rightly or wrongly—unless I got actively involved to try to move it forward, it might not have had a chance. My job, and I still feel like my job is to do whatever I can to get it out there, hopefully in a place that people can see it and discover it. You know, if I’m going to do it, then you want people to see it. I think that if they had come to me and simply offered the job that would have been fine, but this way, I had the chance to…I think having a seat at the table, I have a say in it. I think that a lot of times it’s not as important to me, I do my job and let them do what they want to do, it’s okay. Because I’m an actor, I’ve got a family, I go home. But in this case, I wanted to say: “Okay, no, we have to do this”, we have to make sure that there are certain things that we have to do correctly.

BT: While L.C. Duncan kind of wants to slow down his role in the business, this isn’t you in real life, right? You are simply getting started!

EH: Well, I’m excited about what I am doing. I guess that I have always been excited, but there’s always a little bit of a fear that this won’t happen, that that won’t happen, that I’m going to have to hurry up and do this, or I have to manipulate things in a way to keep it going. Whereas I’ve reached the point in life in which I love doing it. I don’t necessarily have to force it. I don’t worry about it, just enjoy it. So that the auditioning or making calls, or doing all this? No, I don’t do that. But I love working with people who want to work and like my work, but trying to do things and hope that it will turn something else and maybe I will get this? No. That’s a different time.

And also, in the old days, there was a lot of…you’d go in and you’d think it’s your job to convince someone to do it, as opposed to someone else doing it. Whereas, now, say with Arrow, I got a call from the producers and they said: “We love your work and we wrote this and we’d love you to be part of this”. It’s people that want to work with you and that’s simply a huge difference.

BT: What was it like to come back together with the cast and Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman for Ghostbusters Reunited Apart, which leads into Ghostbusters: Afterlife?

EH: Yeah, you know I—36 years later—I had no idea that I’d still be talking about…but it’s really had a huge impact on my life overall, and to get a chance to reunite with people who shared that experience was pretty amazing. I mean it was almost spiritual. Yeah, I love that franchise, I love the fans, I’ve grown to really appreciate it. And everybody, I consider them all friends and it was nice to come back together, Jason Reitman directing and producing. I just love Jason, he was a great kid when he was a little guy on set, now he’s kind of taken over and I’m really glad. To me, it’s a dream, and we talked about getting together again and I never assumed it was going to happen, so the fact that we got a chance to reconnect, that was really, really special. I think it’s what the fans have been wanting and this pushes into…there’s a new generation, this pushes it to a new place. It’s all great and I’m really glad to be a part of it.

BT: As a producer of The Family Business, I assume you get to work with people with whom you enjoy working. Is this something that matters to you?

EH: Yeah. I mean if I’ve got to go to a set and somebody’s unhappy and they’re throwing tantrums, walking off, and people aren’t being treated fairly or kindly or honestly, I have the hardest time. [chuckles] If I’m watching a show and it’s going to be nasty and mean-spirited, I’m like: “I don’t want to…it’s not where I want to be right now”. I want to be with people who love what they do, they come to work, that’s why I love working on Grace & Frankie. Lily Tomlin, Jane (Fonda), Sam (Waterston), I mean, they come on point and they’re there to work and I love that. I don’t have to coerce you into doing what you’re already paid to do, nobody has to plead with you to come out of your dressing room. These people, they come to work and I really appreciate that. And for me on The Family Business, because it is a big production, I get to set the tone and I think that we demand from the other actors that they show up. In order to do that, I have to show up and that means a lot, because that’s not always the case. And I want to be with people who want to do the work, but without all the extra stuff which I don’t have time for.

BT: Can you also tell when you are watching a show that is an integrated unit instead of people who aren’t there for the right reasons? 

EH: Yeah, yeah, and I think that it’s about being inclusive. I did Fantasy Island with Ricardo Montalban years ago and I was just starting, I mean nobody knew my name and that show would bring in a lot of guest celebrities. I remember Howard Duff was on the show and they would have on a bunch of old TV actors on that episode. But Ricardo, he came and knocked on my dressing room door and welcomed me to the set and took me around and introduced me to the other cast members and sat and had lunch with me and I thought that was so gracious to be included. And sometimes, I see actors and they’re playing the lead and they don’t want to talk to people or they want everyone to know that it’s their show and I think that’s a difficult way to work because if people aren’t invested in it, they are simply there for their moment. That’s the one thing about being executive producer on the show, that, yeah, I want to be there. It’s our show. We’re all making this. It’s not about one person and that’s the fun of it. But like I said, I don’t always see that. Sometimes there’s some people…not everyone sees it that way.

BT: You were in talks about possibly playing a role in Black Panther. Would this be something that would be of interest to you to play a mentor or a father or a father figure type?

EH: Yeah, I love these kind of Marvel and DC…these characters I think as you get older, and I’ve got kids, grandkids and great-grandkids…how do we participate? A lot of the young kids were out on the street protesting and doing all that I admire, but how do you contribute, how do you? And movies teach us that you want to be involved but you also want to nurture and support those who are coming through. Even though I understand a lot of their complaints, I respect the fact that they care enough to speak out and I want to be supportive in this way and I also want to share my position, even though it might be different than theirs, but it’s all valid. I think that voice, we have to put in what we can put in.

BT: Is there someone with whom you’ve worked that you’ve taken under your wing?

EH: I’ve worked with a lot of people. It’s wonderful for me when someone comes up and says: “Hey, I’ve worked with you and I only had a small part but you were nice to me, you took the time to talk to me” or whatever. And I get that a lot. There are many amazing, talented young people with so much to offer. I’m limited in a way. I came into this business 50 years ago, and we felt, or I felt, that they’re not going to let me do this or that, and they’re going to have these limitations. And I’m just…I’m in awe of the creative energy of young people, the diversity that didn’t exist not that long ago. Yeah, there are a lot of really, really impressive people out there with great films and when you can, you help out.

BT: Are you excited to work with BET+ for the first time?

EH: All different platforms, it is such a new world. Usually on a press tour, I’d be travelling around. Of course, now with this COVID-19, we can’t do what we used to do. This whole Zoom from your home kind of technology has taken us to a new place, it’s a new time, and having it be on BET+ and I know that L.A.’s Finest (on which he also starred), which was originally on Spectrum, will now be airing on Fox. That’s really so exciting and it’s pretty amazing. We can go back and find stuff that was, in the old days, if you didn’t happen to see it, it’s gone, and now it’s a different world and that’s really exciting.

BT: You must have felt the same for Netflix when Grace & Frankie was a success for that streaming service.

EH: Yeah, and Grace & Frankie, honestly that’s one of those things that comes along and you say: “Thank you”. You know, I love everybody on the show, it’s been pretty extraordinary, and the fact that the fans, to my surprise, not the older fans who I think would naturally enjoy watching the show, but a lot of younger people…I mean, it’s really been a cross-section of people—black, white—who will come up to me and really, really relate to the character. I think seeing older people actually having a life is a little surprising to people, but it’s been great.

The Family Business season two premieres tonight on BET+

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Brief Take