In what is essentially an "open letter" published on the Entertainment Weekly website, Ernie Hudson gets personal, as he looks back on the movie that I think most likely remember him for – Winston Zeddemore, in "Ghostbusters" (1984). Reading the piece, it’s clear that, while he appreciated the opportunity 30 years ago, he doesn’t feel that the acting career that taking the role promised, ever fully materialized. Why? As he states in the article, the role he was initially offered isn’t the role that he ended up playing.
In short, in the original script, the character, Winston Zeddemore, was far meatier than the character he ended up playing, and that you see in the film that was released 30 years ago. As he states: "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 had just worked with Columbia on ‘Spacehunter,’ and my quote was pretty decent. For Ghostbusters, they came in at only half of my quote, because they said this role was going to make my career. I said to my agent, “I don’t care. Just take it, because I believe that.” So we go to New York and we rehearse for three weeks or whatever and I’m ready to roll. 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 sure it was! Frankly, I actually wasn’t even aware that the part was much more involved, and the character initially had an "elaborate" backstory, as he states in the quote above, which was eventually all reduced to, as he’s come to be known, "the 4th Ghostbuster" – almost like an extra limb you don’t quite need, but is there, just in case.
I’d be frustrated too, if my part got cut down like that. But, such is the nature of the movie business. You roll with the punches. It’s still work and a paycheck after all. All Hudson can do now is wonder what could’ve been, if he played the role as it was originally written, which would’ve meant he’d have been a more integral part of the action, pre- and post-release of the film – specifically, the marketing of it. As he states, he wasn’t even include in the film’s original poster, and barely in the trailer: "Winston wasn’t included in the movie poster or the trailer and all that stuff. I felt, had the original character been in play at the beginning, that would’ve been different because it would’ve clearly been four guys. It would’ve sent a signal to the studios and very likely impacted my career in a different way. I think the fans see the Ghostbusters as four characters. I do some of the conventions, and I’ve met thousands of people, and I deputize kids as Little Ghostbusters. And the question I always used to get was, “Where does Winston go?” That’s the thing with Winston: He will pop up and then disappear."
Man, it’s been so long since I watched that movie, I barely remember the character actually. I need to revisit "Ghostbusters."
As for why his character was gutted, Hudson says, after he read the final draft of the script: "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."
He says he holds no grudge towards the movie’s decision-makers; it’s been 30 years after all. Time has a way of healing wounds. However, it’s quite obvious that he still wonders what kind of career would have followed, if only he’d played the character as originally written: "I see this differently now – and I don’t mean any kind of animosity or anything towards anyone, certainly not towards Ivan or the guys. I was a single dad, and we were struggling to kind of hold on and pay the rent. I still needed to do this job. 30 years later, I look back at the movie and it works very well the way it is. I think the character works with what he has to work with. But I’ve always felt like, “Man, if I could’ve played that original character… 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?"
He then adds that the experience taught him a few lessons about how the business works – lessons we can assume he’s applied throughout his career since then, stating: "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’m sure there are many actors out there who work within the Hollywood "star system," for whom this story would be intimately familiar.
You can read the full piece on EW’s website here, which comes as a reboot of "Ghostbusters," but with an all-woman cast, is in development. Co-star of the original franchise, Dan Aykroyd, also recently shared that he’d like to see an expanded "Ghostbusters"-style universe, similar to what Marvel Studios has done with its comic book universe film and TV adaptations.