Ernie Hudson remembers the mechanic who had a tattoo of him on his leg. He was buying a car, and the guy — a conservative-looking type — went up to him, pulled up his pantleg and there, from his knee to his ankle, was Hudson as Winston Zeddemore, his character in “Ghostbusters.”
“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s different,’” Hudson recalls.
Still, the memories he has are not only fond. Looking back on the film, which turned 30 in June and is now being reissued in theaters, Hudson repeatedly calls the film "a mixed blessing." He's by turns grateful for its legacy, his fans and his costars — comedy guys welcoming a character actor into the mix — and still hurt at what the studios did to him and what was once a larger role.
“I’ll say ‘Ghostbusters’ is probably the most difficult role I’ve ever had,” he says. “It’s the most fun I had. The reason the movie works is everyone was in a groove. The studio, however, kept throwing curveballs that made it emotionally difficult to adjust to. I learned more about survival from working on ‘Ghosbusters’ than anywhere else.”
For starters, there’s the pesky fact that he doesn’t enter the film until past the halfway mark, on page 68 of the script. It wasn’t always that way.
“Originally Winston came in at the very beginning and was very involved throughout the whole film,” he recalls. “Winston was the guy who got slimed at the hotel. Winston was the guy who thought of the marshmallow man at the end.” When Hudson showed up for the first day, he was shocked by a new script revision that took out half of his screentime. He wonders if the reason was that the studio couldn’t get a big name for the part. Rumor has it Winston was originally supposed to go to Eddie Murphy, though director Ivan Reitman has denied that.
The snubbing didn't stop with the shoot. “I remember driving down Sunset Boulevard and seeing the big billboard for the first time. There were only three guys on there, and Winston wasn’t included,” he remembers. He was missing from the film's trailer and was often booted from the frames of the pan-and-scan VHS and TV airings.When everyone regrouped for 1989’s “Ghosbusters II,” his role was halved again.
“The movie was hugely successful and I signed a lot of autographs in supermarkets,” he says. “But I can’t honestly say I’ve gotten a job because of ‘Ghostbusters.’” He almost didn’t get the part he had in “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” he says, because they thought he was a comedian.
He does admit that being made by the studio to feel like an outsider did, in a sense, help with the role. Winston is an outsider, and that’s part of his appeal: “Winston is a guy a lot of people, especially average people related to. He was the guy who wasn’t a scientist. He wasn’t zany; he was laidback and gets the job done.” Of course, he was supposed to have more to him. “He had a lot of backstory in the original script: He was an air force pilot, he was a demolition expert, he was a guy who took harge. That all disappeared with the rewrite.”
Hudson is careful to talk about the perks of being in the film, especially working with his three main co-stars. The late Harold Ramis, who played Dr. Egon Spengler, he says was his “go-to-guy, the guy who talked me through it. And for that I’ll be eternally grateful to him.”
No amount of coaching could prepare anyone for some of the effects scenes, notably being bathed in marshmallow goo that was really sticky shaving cream. “We had to wear that crap all day for a couple days,” he recalls. “After awhile it dries, so they had to keep piling it on. Danny [Aykroyd] and Harold got a rash. Bill didn’t have much on him.” Still, better that than the slime from the second one, which “really got into your underclothes.”
Hudson still loves the film and has still had a steady career (among plenty of other credits, he was on “Oz” for six seasons), and notes he can’t go anywhere without people shouting out "Ghostbusters" lines. (He also arguably scored the film's best: "When someone asks you if you're a god, you say YES.") In terms of "Ghostbusters" lore Hudson tries to play it pretty cool. “I called Ray Parker not too long ago,” he says. “I got his machine and he had the ‘Ghostbusters’ song at the start of the message.”
And he doesn’t believe in ghosts — or at least he isn’t into the paranormal scene, the way Aykroyd is. On the subject of ghost hunting, he says, “Winston has a line that fits me perfectly: ‘If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you want.’” That hasn’t stopped paranormal enthusiasts from bugging him. “I got invited to a ghost hunt in Mississippi that was supposed to take place at midnight. I was like, ‘I’m not going to Mississippi at midnight. I don’t think so.’”
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