Mr. Hudson comes to Greensboro
Ernie Hudson has been described as a character actor, but perhaps he’s best described as an actor of character, one who imbues each role with a distinctive presence and personality.
Perhaps best known as Winston Zeddemore, the most grounded of the gang in Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989), or more recently as Lily Tomlin’s boyfriend on the hit series Grace and Frankie, his versatility is evident in his dramatic roles, including the child-like but heroic handyman Solomon in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1991), the tough and complicated prison warden Leo Glynn on HBO’s award-winning series Oz (1997-2003), and the forceful patriarch L.C. Duncan in BET’s crime series The Family Business, based on Carl Weber’s best-selling novels.
And, just for good measure, he’s got some cult classics to his name. Topping the list is The Crow (1994), a film that nearly wasn’t completed because of the tragic death of lead Brandon Lee on the set, the 3-D sci-fi farrago Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1982), and the underwater monster mash Leviathan (1989).
Hudson will be in Greensboro on May 20 as the inspirational keynote speaker for the United Way of Greater Greensboro’s 2019 Community Speaker Series, hosted by African American Leadership, at the Joseph S. Koury Convention Center, in which he will share his story of overcoming adversity to become the success he is today. The lessons he’s learned that he applies to his work just as easily apply to his life.
“I don’t really look for speaking engagements, but I do like for ways to connect to the community – to find ways to connect and share my perspective,” he said. “I’ve been very blessed over my entire career. I think I’ve had a very charmed life.”
Born in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Hudson was raised by his grandmother, who remains a dominant influence in his life. “She was a very religious woman – what we would now call ‘spiritual,’” he explained. “There was never a time in my life when I didn’t feel I was loved. She had a very personal view of the world. She believed, as I do, that there’s a presence that surrounds you, and I carry that belief with me.”
“Whether you want to call it God or conscience or an innate sense of right and wrong, it’s very personal to each one of us, and it can guide you, if you let go of the distractions and outside influences, to direct your life. I truly believe we are guided by that inner presence; it’s part of who were are. There’s a lot of fear and doubt out there, but you’ve got to have faith and trust. You’ve got to trust the universe to unfold and to follow that path. Know you have a place.”
When Hudson first made the Westward trek to California, he was a single father with two young sons. “It wasn’t like people were expecting me, or I’d been invited, I wasn’t in demand,” he said with a laugh, “but I knew that if I wanted to be an actor, I had to go. I had to do my part and do the work, and trust that people would show up. I had to have the belief and faith that dreams come to us.
“Being a little older, I don’t need to do everything, but I seem to be working more than ever,” he noted with amusement.
When the opportunity to do Grace and Frankie came up, it was simply too good to pass up, he said, having been an admirer of Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston for many years.
“When I was starting out, Jane Fonda was just about the biggest female star in the world,” he noted. “Lily Tomlin was already a comedy legend. Martin Sheen was already established. I’ve known Martin but never had the opportunity to work with him. Sam Waterston, I’d worked with on Law & Order. To be on the set, watching the process of how each one works is just a real joy for me.”
Oz was a highlight both professionally and personally, as his son Ernie Hudson Jr. had a recurring role during the 1999-2000 season. “Oz was really a great cast,” he said. “J.K. Simmons, Eamonn Walker – they’ve gone on to great things and done wonderful work – and it was great to be part of something that was reaching to be something more. This was before The Sopranos and The Wire, so we were breaking some new ground.”
That actual prison inmates and ex-convicts appeared on the series and acted as technical consultants added an extra level of realism, and even tension.
“I’d come to work some days, and some inmates would get right in your face, and I’d think ‘Well, this is interesting,’” he laughed, “but that brought a reality to it. You had to step up.”
Indeed, that’s something that Hudson finds irresistible. “I just like to really commit to a role. It’s all about the work, and when you’re allowed to put yourself in a space to reach for your best, I love that.”
The United Way of Greater Greensboro’s Community Speaking Series featuring inspirational keynote speaker Ernie Hudson will take place 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. May 20 at the Koury Convention Center, 3121 W. Gate City Blvd., Greensboro. Tickets are $100 and $75 (for college students), including lunch. For tickets or more information, call (336)378-6600 or visit the website.