To explain the type of resistance he would be facing when he decided to become an entertainer, you have only to look at the history for that period. In 1955 Emmett Till, who was just a few years older than Hudson, was hung for whistling at a white woman. There were few Black role models around. Hudson said, “You had Ebony Magazine and they would have Sidney Poitier or Sammy Davis, Jr. but those people were so far removed from anything that I could relate to. The whole entertainment industry was just stepping out on a limb, but just believing and knowing in your heart that are things that were meant for you to do and stay true to that. You will be guided to where you need to be.”
His new movie Doonby mirrors his life and attitude. “Doonby is set in modern times in a town that is going through some economic changes. Everything is always in a balance if you took one of the basic elements, like your life, of the equation how would things be different. In life we never get the chance to see that. We have a huge impact and it takes all of us. It is about how the balance is always shifting. We are all an important part of it.”
Hudson left the safety of Benton Harbor, Michigan and The Black Arts Movement of the 60’s found Hudson working as a playwright at the historic Concept East Theater in Detroit, Michigan. Hudson said, “We thought we were the most important theatre on the planet. It was a great time to be in Detroit lots of exciting things going on, lots of theater.” Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson has said, “Detroit is to the Black Theater movement what New Orleans is to jazz. . .”
There were few openings for Black people in the entertainment industry during parts this time period and were primarily parts as criminals and caricatures. Concept East gave Hudson the opportunity to start acting in a variety of parts while he was there, “It was how I got my equity card” (Actors’ Equity Association) It was the late 60’s and a lot was going on in Detroit, the Black entertainment community made him feel he was really a part of something. “Unfortunately the race riots of 68 and other factors ended that moment in time.”
Growing up in a family where no one had a high school diploma. Young Black’s were funneled into classes for life skills and Hudson’s idea of going to college was met with resistance. He said, “I couldn’t tell you how many teachers told me I would never go to college, ‘don’t even try that isn’t for you’. Which made me want to go even more”. Hudson ignored the warnings of potential failure and enrolled at Wayne State University. After earning a BA from Wayne State, he was rewarded a full scholarship to the M.F.A. program at the prestigious Yale School of Drama. He then entered into the PHD program and completed the course work. After seeing that graduates were ending up teaching at the university on some level he realized, “I didn’t want to teach acting. I wanted to be an actor. I left Minnesota and went to LA. That’s where I have been fortunate enough to make a living as an actor.”
His grandmother never really understood the concept of entertainment. “It was about getting a job that was stable and a paycheck coming. She was always very support to me but couldn’t really understand what [being an entertainer] meant. The world that I grew up in was so far removed from anything like acting or musicals or anything that they just couldn’t comprehend it. In 1979 I had a film with Linda Lavin. I went back when my grandmother was in the hospital and watched the movie with her. The doctor and some of the staff came in to watch it with us. When it was over I signed autographs for the staff. I was very happy that my grandmother had gotten to see the movie. When they left she looked at me very confused and said, ‘That’s nice but when you gonna get a job.’” Some of the people who still live where he grew have trouble seeing the opportunities out their for them. With President Obama, Hudson is hoping that young people will use him and other positive models to realize their dreams.
Young performers can learn from fore runners like Hudson. At the time he grew up there were certain jobs Blacks were not allowed to have. Young people would have trouble relating to the limitations that were placed on Black’s in all walks of life. “You couldn’t get a motel room in Manhattan until 1955.Unfortunately, history has a short memory and young people don’t realize how much Black [entertainers] had to over come.” He thinks everyone is getting to a better place in time. “I don’t think it is a good idea to remember in terms of putting blame or whatever, but it is good to remember to understand and over come a difficult history. A history that wasn’t that long ago.”
Hudson said, “It has been an interesting 40 years.”
Hudson answered some questions about his latest film project, Doonby.
Doonby was filmed in Smithville, Tx what was Smithville like?
“It is a beautiful little town and I had a great time there. I stayed at a bed and breakfast across the street from where we were shooting. Little town with a main street. The people there are wonderful! Wonderful! I just had a great time there.”
Tell us about your character Leroy.
Leroy is a blues musician who’s spent most of his life on the road. He meets this jazz singer who he falls in love with. They marry and she really wants to settle down. He gives up the road, which he loves and opens a bar. The locals come and he gets the musicians that he used to play with to come through and play at his joint. He is a local businessman. Doonby who is played by John Schneider comes to town. Leroy gives him a job when most people probably wouldn’t and finds out Doonby is also a musician. Leroy gives Doonby a break. It is about their relationship and Leroy’s relationship with all the people around him. He sees himself as sort of a protector. Leroy’s wife is much more pragmatic and better able to deal with reality but Leroy is just one of those guys that really believes in life. It was great playing him.
Tell us about working with John Schneider?
John is a great guy. We did Dukes of Hazzard together. We became friends then. I really liked him a lot. We did a show together Secret Life of the American Teenager on ABC family. I have a reoccurring role as a psychiatrist Dr. Ken Fields on that show and Schneider played a doctor.” He is no longer on the show but I am. He has been a friend and I really enjoy working with him.
Schneider is a very giving actor and he is good at what he does. It is great to work with people who you trust sometimes. When you work with actors who aren’t really clear, I find myself sort of having to balance and help them. It is nice to be able to do what you do and know the other guy can do what he does.
We tend to think of you as a comedian because of Ghostbusters, is that how you see yourself?
As an actor you always want to be able to do it all comedy, drama whatever the role calls for. Ghostbusters being such a success people started seeing me just from that prospective. It wasn’t until I got “Hand That Rocks The Cradle” which was more dramatic that I was able to show the other side. I really loved working on that movie. In your career you want to do have a chance to a little bit of both. As an actor it is great if you can do a little of all of that.
Ghostbusters is a fun movie it will be around for your great grand children, how do you feel about that?
They came out with the new dolls (Don’t worry I corrected him. They are NOT dolls they are action figures.) In the 80’s they came out with toys but those toys were more based on the cartoon. The new toys are based on what we actually look like. It is really cool, my grandkids have them.
I have friends that have acted their entire career and never got a movie that opened in theaters. To be in a movie like Ghostbusters that people all over the world can relate is very special. I am very proud to have been in the movie. It has been a blessing to be a part of it.
Is your character in Doonby serious or dramatic?
My Doonby role is just more realistic. I think all good drama has a line of comedy running through it and all good comedy has a dramatic theme that runs through it. This is a guy that is really just comfortable with himself.
I always thought of Winston as a sort of outsider. He was with the guys but he really wasn’t, that is how I felt. When I did the movie these guys had been together on Sat Night Live and had a history together. It was me seeing the world from a different perspective than those guys were.
Doonby is a guy who really appreciates life and appreciates people and doesn’t second guess himself. Some people walk into a room and they will look around and second guess whether they should be there, who is going to like them who won’t like them and make assumptions some people they just come in they don’t think about who wouldn’t like them. The guy in Doonby is a guy that loves life.
Does Doonby have a release date?
We are shooting for a fall release. If they can get enough buzz about it should turn out to be an important film. It is a very positive movie with an up beat feeling. There are elements about it that you will go away. There will be with questions and any time a movie works well we get to see things from a different kind of angle. It it s a great story a great cast and I hope people will check it out.
Ghostbusters 3, which is totally off the subject. Is there really going to be a Ghostbusters 3?
Hudson has talked to Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Ivan Riteman (producer Ghostbusters), and they are onboard for a 3. Getting them to agree on what’s to be done is the problem. “If they ever all agree on that we can make it happen. Bill Murray is a perfectionist and he will have the final word. I would love to see it happen and I know the other guys want to see it happen.”