Even if you don't know Ernie Hudson's name, you know his face and his resume. Currently starring as a detective in the NBC series "Heroes," Hudson is known for his many film and TV roles, including "Ghostbusters," "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," "Oz," "Desperate Housewives" and others.
Hudson comes from a family of ministers and credits his Christian faith with having guided him throughout his life. Now, he's participating in an all-star line up of celebrities who've helped create the just-released audio Bible series, "Word of Promise," voicing the apostle Peter. Hudson recently spoke to Beliefnet Entertainment Editor Dena Ross about the spiritual roles he's played and how the good in people inspires him.
Your grandfather and great grandfather were both ministers. How did they shape your faith?
In my family--my cousins, uncles--they've all been very spiritual and religious. They were very involved in the early formation of the Church of God in Christ. And so, religion has always been a part of my family. I think some people practice more than others, but it's always been a part of our life.
I don't say I was born in the church, but I was born and from the earliest [years] I was always involved in church activities, much more so up until I left home. I tend not to do it as much now, but, I've always been there, sang in the choir, was involved in the youth activities. There was usually something going on at the church, certainly, six out of seven days. Sunday was an all-day event.
And so, the concepts, the principles, the basic tenets of Christianity was always a part of what we considered a normal life, and certainly we've built our lives on [it]. And certainly in our house, because my grandmother raised me, and she was the matriarch.
I had aunts and uncles who were not necessarily people who went to church a lot, but I think once it's a part of your life, it's a part of who you are. The truths that are found in the Bible are universal truths. And it shapes who you are and guides you throughout your life.
What was it like portraying Peter in the "Word of Promise" audio Bible project? Was there a pressure to perform a biblical character?
It was interesting, because the first part of the year I was doing a play on Broadway and the president came to see it and someone said, "Is there an added pressure?" I don't kind of feel that kind of pressure like "what if something goes wrong?" I think it felt more like a responsibility to bring whatever I believed, whatever honesty that I felt. I just felt it was to be aware and accept the responsibility that you're doing something that has significance greater than if it was just doing some book on tape. And it was that--but, I mean, it's the Bible.
I think I always really related to Paul. So, I was very thankful that I was asked to do that particular character.
What kind of characteristics about him do you see in yourself?
I felt that he was a genuine seeker and a true friend of Christ, and loyal, and well-meaning even though sometimes he had those human frailties.
I think that's what I find, certainly, in myself and in a lot of people. There are certain things that we aspire to and we really believe that we can step up. But, then, life happens and we sometimes [we] don't measure up to all that we think we can, but we try.
It's the human element of the character that I really liked. And yet, he loved Christ and Christ loved him, and that relationship was just very special.
Do you think this dramatization of the Bible is going to affect people different than when or if they just read it?
Yeah, I think there's an upside and a downside. The downside is when you read a book—any book, not just the Bible—you have these characters already in your mind. It sort of plays out. And then, when you hear them being portrayed by certain voices, it may change. It's almost like seeing a video of a song. When you had your own image going, then you see the video....
But, I think it helps some people to bring it to life. There are certain people who maybe have difficulties with the language, reading or writing. It's very hard sometimes to take these characters and give them the human quality. And so, when you hear the characters being portrayed by the different voices, the sound effects, I think it gives another dimension to the Bible that a lot of people have never really experienced. So it would be very helpful.
For some people who do have a really strong imagination, they may find they like their own image better. But, for a lot of people, to be able to, in their car or to be able to sit and listen and hear the different voices, I think it'll bring it to life in a very different way.
And the fact that they're probably familiar with the voices of their favorite celebrities, I think that's going to help, too.
What celebrities hope is that people identify not so much that they're particularly special or different, but they identify with them. We represent life in general, the guy who does whatever. So, hearing the voices, it helps put them in context of modern day. These were people just like we're people.
Did playing the role of Peter give you a new perspective on your own faith?
Every day sort of helps bring that into more clarity. Every time you think you reach a certain point, life unfolds in a way and you kind of go, wow, I see it from a broader perspective, there's a little more light that sort of comes in.
Playing the character and just being involved in this project sort of deepened or opened it up in a even more revealing way and just brought more awareness to his commitment to Christ and his commitment to his faith and to his fellow man. It made me more aware of just my commitment to Christ, to my fellow man, to all that we are as human beings living this experience.
You recently joined the cast of "Heroes." Can you tell us a little bit about your new role? Were you familiar with the show before you signed on?
I wasn't before I signed on. After they asked me to come and do it they weren't very clear in terms of what my involvement would be. They have this secrecy surrounding [the show], so I can't really tell you a whole lot, but I knew that I'd be playing a detective and investigating some strange events.
I went and got the video of the first season and watched the show, and thought it was an interesting perspective. It helped me sort of understand what I'm dealing with. Except for being a detective, they told me absolutely nothing about the character.
It turned out to be fun to do. The people who do the show are very creative, nice people. So, I had a great time on it. But, it's a different perspective.
Do you find the show spiritual at all? Do you think God is a character on that show or is God absent?
The guys who are putting the show together are probably just trying to put the show together. And sometimes I think they want to bring a faith element into it, and other times they don't care. They're just trying to make a show and to make some money. That's the reality of the television that we see.
What I get from my study of the Bible is that we're all in Christ, that we're all the same in God's eyes.
And this is a show that's dedicated to saying certain people are special and God--or whatever you believe in--chooses to give them special powers. Not just intuitive special powers, but literally special powers that they can do all these things. And that separates them from everyone else.
I, for one, don't believe in separation, because then it gets into God playing favorites and who's more special. We try to figure it out, and then it doesn't become very Christian to me. That's the problem I have with the show. It's very entertaining, but it's very hard for me to make the connection, because the whole concept is a separation of these special people with special abilities. God either is playing a game with them or there's something else going on. I don't know. That's just my take.
This is going back a few years, but religion played such a big role on your other big TV series, "Oz," where you played the prison warden. What was the significance of religion on the show? Was that just trying to portray how jail really is like with different religious groups? Or was it something else?
I had heard that Tom Fontana, who created that show, had studied to be a priest. I don't know if that's true or not, but I know that he certainly came from a very religious background.
The struggle that we all have with who are, and our relationship to God, our relationship to each other, is always the conflict-- good versus evil, who's guilty, who gets punished, who goes unpunished--those are all issues that we struggle with every day in life. We live in a world where things happen, and how do we judge that? The Bible says, "Judge not lest you be not judged."
Tom wrote [about] it from a more realistic level. I played a warden, and the struggle with him was who gets punished, who goes unpunished? How do I reconcile this? I'm angry, I want to take revenge. Is that the right thing to do?
Struggling with the right thing to do was really a part of my character on that show. And I think all the characters, who's really good, who's really bad, are human questions that we all work through.
The problem I have with "Heroes" is these are things that separates people, so it's not everyone that's going through that. I related to "Oz" a lot more and related to the characters. I thought they were honest characters.
I had read about a guy once, the first black warden of Leavenworth. His father was a minister and he called his work as the wardenhis ministry. And I thought that was interesting, his commitment to do this very difficult job.
When we find our place, when we find the occupation or whatever it is that we do, that is our ministry, and that's how we do Gods will and how we demonstrate truth through our work. But there's a struggle, especially when you're dealing with people where the lines aren't really clear. And in the case of "Oz," being a warden, all of those things came to play.
I just felt it was much more complex, and I certainly enjoyed working on that show a lot more. Tom Fontana was very clear about his vision of the show, whereas you get a show like "Heroes," they've had a number of changes in terms of producers. They're trying to find a show that works,that appeals, and they're willing to make whatever changes are necessary, whereas I know the creators of "Oz" would not make those changes. They really had a vision that they want to be true to. That doesn't happen a lot in TV.
Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
John 3:16 is kind of a reminder that God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son. That's always the first thing that comes to mind.
The Lord's Prayer is something I do every day, every night, every morning. Psalm 23 is something that whenever I'm stressed it relieves tension and calms me down.
What inspires you in your life and career?
My kids--I have four sons and they're all adults now. And my marriage, which is now 33 years [old]. And just people in general. I find that the more I begin to look around, I see so much good that people do that goes unnoticed. So many wonderful things. I'm just inspired by life in general. I see the difficulty and all of that. I see even my own sons, my family struggling with certain things. But then I see, on the other side, so much good, overwhelmingly so—just enormous kindness, people really going above and beyond for each other, but we don't notice it.
I go to the store and people just, for no reason, are really nice. I'm standing on the elevator, and someone would do things that just amazes me. We don't give our credit enough for just how good--how much faith--we have in ourselves and each other.
And [if] one person did an awful thing, for the rest of the day, I'm focused on that one awful thing. I missed the hundred acts of kindness that people didn't have to do. And now, I'm more aware of it, and it just inspires me to just want to be an example.
We drive up and down the freeway every day and nothing happens, and we hear about one accident, and suddenly the freeway is this dangerous place of accidents. It's really important for us to just see this earth, this better place that we live in. It's there if you're willing to see it.
I think the vision of Christ for me is seeing the truth that is always there. It's in all of us. And Christ could see that. And we have to have faith that it's there. And when he would heal he'd say, "By your faith," so I think having the faith to see beyond sight, to see what is true about each other even though we're angry or we're going through some difficulties, know that the truth about us is that we are greater than we even give ourselves credit for.
I was out the other morning walking my dog. The birds were chirping in the trees, and all of this life was just everywhere. I'm like, wow, in the middle of all this creation, God took time to create me. It's just beyond comprehension.
I read there's going to be a Ghostbusters III coming out in 2012. Are you looking forward to reuniting with the old cast?
I love the old cast. It was a real experience doing the first two. The first one was very difficult but I love them dearly, every one. I talk to them from time to time. And the fans, 25 years later, really love the movie. The kids who grew up with it who are now in their 20s and 30 and they're introducing it to their children. And so, it'll be great to get together. I look forward to the opportunity.
But, I haven't heard anything official from anyone. I saw [writer/producer] Harold Ramis a couple of months ago and he was talking about it. I know the guys would love to see it happen. If it happens, that'd be great— if I'm invited to come and do it. I never take anything for granted. I would love to do it.