With the first season of the Fox series APB winding down, I spoke to Ernie Hudson about his role as Sgt. Conrad and his personal use of technology. It was a real treat to talk to Hudson, who played Winston Zeddmore in both the 1984 comedy Ghostbusters and its sequel. Not only is Hudson doing APB, he also can be seen on the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, and the Epix series Graves. Needless to say, Hudson was nothing but gracious during our conversation.
One of the things I enjoy about this part of my job is the glimpse of the real person you get, not just the persona. I’m always fascinated by the responses whenever I ask who they see themselves as. I was especially surprised by Hudson’s answer to what character he wished he could revisit.
Keep reading for my questions and Hudson’s answers.
Tune into APB Monday nights on FOX, 9pm ET/PT.
Greg Staffa: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions today. What was it about APB and the character that drew you to the role?
Ernie Hudson: Well, you know, it actually wasn’t the role. I always say, as an actor there’s got to be three reasons for wanting to do a project. Either the role is something I really want to do, or the money is so amazing I can’t say no, or the project, the people involved. I liked the story in APB; I liked the possibilities. I also was looking at some of the current situations in our country and recognized that people are eager for change. And yet, what nobody can define was we just knew we had to do it differently. When I read APB, it felt like here’s another way of looking at something we’ve looked at for a long time. In this case, it was policing. The idea of technology being able to serve as a bridge between the police and the community was very exciting to me. Now, the character wasn’t there on the page so I’m like “OK guys, I’m here but where we going with this?” Once we started working on it with the cast and the writers, it became very clear. I like the idea of the show and hopefully people will look at things a little differently. We have a lot of cop shows but we’re still doing them under the old paradigm of this is how you do police work when now, we have so much technology we can change it up a bit.
GS: As APB progressed, did you have more influence on your character, or is that all up to the writers?
EH: As an actor, we have input but the writers write characters. Until you have actors to sort of embody it, you don’t really see who the guy is. Once we got involved and the actors got to meet each other and play together, we see the various relationships at play. It takes a while for a show to gel. I think in the case of APB, it took a couple of shows to really begin to know each other and for the writers to begin to know these words. Sometimes writers will write in a way like, ‘I can’t say quite say that like that. Somebody else maybe but I don’t think my character would.’ So, we all sorta began to learn each other and I think the show has gelled. By the time we got to episode number 12, we really were having fun and knowing who these characters were. In my case, I went into it knowing who the guy was and how he was represented in this situation with these people and trusting the writers, but also speaking up when it comes to going this way or that way. I’m hoping if we go forward that will be clearer. For me, the most exciting thing about watching the show is going on that journey with the different characters.
GS: Your character, Sgt. Conrad, isn’t initially a fan of Gideon, who takes over the precinct with all of his tech and toys. How tech savvy are you in real life, and what’s the one piece of tech you couldn’t live without?
EH: I remember the old days when my mother used to write letters. But the phone, the possibilities, and all the things we can do with the apps I couldn’t imagine 30 years ago. It’s just incredible. It would be very hard to do without email or texting. But beyond that, I’m like my character Conrad, I’d rather not have to deal with it. I’ll be honest with you, in terms of social media, I’m like ugh, please. But it’s a new world and we have to embrace it ‘cause it’s not going away. We also have to demand certain things from it, which is what I’m hoping the public does in terms of being able to use it for our benefit in terms of policing or medicine or education. For me and my character on APB, I’d rather do things the way I know how to do things but I’m also painfully aware that it’s not working anymore.
GS: You mentioned social media. You’re active on Twitter…
EH: Yeah, I know how to tweet. It reminds me of texting so I got that down. But Facebook and all that, the time it takes (sigh), it makes me tired and want to take a nap.
GS: I’m just wondering as an actor what it’s like to have that instant reaction where fans watch something that’s airing and provide immediate feedback. Do you see that as a blessing or a curse?
EH: It can be either. It all depends on what you need. Sometimes, I think as a young actor, it would’ve been great to get the immediate feedback because you’re really in it. I lived it 24/7 and I was like, ‘bring it on.’ I have an audition in three days and I’m living that audition for the next three days. At this stage of my life, I don’t have three days to give to that. If it’s work, that’s work, but everything else in between once a job is done I don’t want to be connected. I just want to be able to sit out and look at my yard or watch the bird feeder. When you’re young, you’re building so it’s a different stage. I think most older actors — I was talking to Craig T. Nelson, who also worked on Grace and Frankie, and most of the older ones — you become aware of how little time you have left. Do you really want to spend time looking at Facebook? I know why it’s necessary. I have younger friends who are really into it, and building the numbers and all that stuff. I think as you reach a certain point, it gets more difficult.
GS: Shows like Prison Break, Will and Grace, and others are making a comeback on television. You’ve brought to life some amazing characters throughout your career. Is there a character from something you’ve done you wish you could bring back?
EH: The character in Congo, this guy I got into and enjoyed. I would like to play that character again; that never happened but it was a fun character for me to do. And you see fans, I was in Sweden a couple days ago and people would come up with the DVD. I would have liked to have done more with that role and expand its depth.
GS: In 2005, long before I became a critic, I spent over a month as an extra on the set of Prairie Home Companion with Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin. It was an amazing experience to watch Lily work. What’s it been like working with her on your other show, Grace and Frankie?
EH: She’s an amazing woman, I love Lily. I hadn’t met her before and I wasn’t sure how receptive she’d be. She’s just very giving, but very down to earth. She doesn’t assume a lot, she’s just a very kind, loving person. It was easy for me to play her boyfriend and to just love her cause she’s just a genuine spirit. I just felt blessed to be able to act with her.
GS: Often, when it comes to celebrities, we associate them with the roles they’ve played. When people hear the name Ernie Hudson, the guy from Ghostbusters often follows. This, despite all the characters you’ve played, and the non-acting things you have done in life. When you look in the mirror, who do you see? Who is Ernie Hudson to you?
EH: I still see a little bit of the kid I grew up with, the kid who wanted to just be a good guy. Who had my issues with my dad and not knowing my dad and all that stuff. Who was determined to do it differently when I got the chance. Wanting to make my grandmother, who raised me, proud. She’s been gone for a long time but I’m still trying to live up to her standards. I’m still a guy who wants to have a good life. I still care about people and recognize my happiness is so dependent on their happiness. Whatever the average guy is and yet I don’t know what average is. Just a guy who appreciates that I’ve been able to live this amazing life. I think we all are but some of us don’t realize it and I do. I’m very grateful. I don’t see myself as some title like captain or actor or I’m this or that. I’m just a guy who’s very, very thankful to be laughing.
GS: Finally, what’s next for Ernie Hudson?
EH: Well, hopefully, there will be more APB. That’s the thing I’m most excited about. Hoping if fans haven’t seen the show, they will tune in for the next couple episodes. And I’m looking forward to seeing what comes up. I think the fans can look forward to the fact that I’m not going to work just to work. If it doesn’t make sense, if I can’t bring something to it, and have my own integrity. I don’t want to be an extra in somebody else’s fantasy. If I have something to offer fans, I want to make sure it’s my best. I’ve always done my best but I haven’t always been with people who give me the opportunity to do that. If it’s not the best I have to offer, I just don’t want to do it.
GS: Great, well, I sincerely appreciate your time and hope fans check out the next few episodes of APB, including the season finale on April 24. Thank you again for answering my questions.
EH: Yes, April 24. Thank you and good luck to you, Greg.
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