Ernie Hudson has had a respectable career since the release of Ghostbusters, including a sequel, video game, and possible third entry into the film series. He also had a major role on OZ, helping to kick off this current “golden age” of television with a violent bang while bringing a certain visibility to the show. He was in Ghostbusters, after all. Still, it would seem that Hudson has never truly gotten that big break and according to him, he’s still looking.
When you read his recent essay in the reunion issue of Entertainment Weekly, you get a little insight into the perils of acting. There’s a bit of a gamble that goes with it, complete with those soaring highs and crushing lows you can achieve with every bet. For Hudson, Ghostbusters was that gamble, that chance at stardom:
I look back on Ghostbusters in a very fun way, but it’s got so many mixed feelings and emotions attached to it. 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.
Now I’ve heard, over the years, that the part had been written for Eddie Murphy—all of which Ivan Reitman says is not true. But it was a bigger part, and Winston was there all the way through the movie. After a long audition process, I finally got the part and made the awful mistake of letting it be known that I really, really wanted it. In Hollywood in those days, you set your quote—so if anybody calls about wanting to work with you, they had to meet your quote.
I think we all make those kind of mistakes when we’re taking a risk. I know I’ve done it quite a bit already in my life, with middling results. For Hudson, his initial mistake didn’t turn out to be the worst one. Leave that to studio meddling and the folly of trust:
The night before filming begins, however, I get this new script and it was shocking. The character was gone. Instead of coming in at the very beginning of the movie, like page 8, the character came in on page 68 after the Ghostbusters were established. His elaborate background was all gone, replaced by me walking in and saying, “If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.” So that was pretty devastating.
I’m panicked. I don’t sleep that night. It was like my worst nightmare is happening. The next morning, I rush to the set and plead my case. And Ivan basically says, “The studio felt that they had Bill Murray, so they wanted to give him more stuff to do.” I go, “Okay, I understand that, but can I even be there when they’re established?” And of course, he said no, there’s nothing to do about it. It was kind of awkward, and it became sort of the elephant in the room.
I can’t blame Eddie Murphy for turning down the role of Winston. He was pretty much gold at the time and Beverly Hills Cop placed the spotlight on him and he didn’t have to share it with anyone (sorry, Judge Reinhold). The unfortunate thing is that Hudson was the victim at the end of that deal.
From a business perspective, you can’t blame the studio for focusing their efforts on the big draws at the box office. It is their money being spent and that gives them the right to dictate what is going to happen. Bill Murray is going to pull in more audience members than Ernie Hudson, especially at the time. It might make story sense to have Winston there in the beginning, but the business sense probably isn’t as sound. Luckily, the experience didn’t deter Hudson from still seeking that shining goal:
I credit Ghostbusters, actually, for lessons I learned—how you deal with stuff when it doesn’t work out the way you want and you still got to keep doing it, how you keep a career going when it doesn’t turn to be all these things you dreamed of doing. I’ve been blessed, and I don’t want to make it a negative. I’ve survived this 30 years because of what I learned on Ghostbusters; you learn to adjust. What I did was I turned to TV. I literally did a different television show almost every week, going from show to show. I was a single dad and I had to survive.
The sad part is the thing that I thought that Ghostbusters would do, which is really kickstart my career into high gear, it never really materialized. I’ve never been told that I’ve gotten a job because of Ghostbusters; I think there have been a few jobs that I’ve lost [because of it]. Since [the movie], I’ve been given and taken advantage of the opportunity to perform a myriad of challenging roles, so what am I complaining about?
The entire piece is a great read, especially if you like that sort of oral history, behind the scenes material that usually takes on a life of its own away from the stories being told on the screen. It’s a nice point of view on one of the greatest movies of all time.