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LOLLY PALOOKA : Ernie Hudson Puts Ghostbusting Behind

March 13, 1994|ROBERT LEVINE

For someone whose name remains virtually unknown to the moviegoing public, Ernie Hudson is one of the busiest actors around. Starting with the current "Sugar Hill," as Wesley Snipes' nemesis, Hudson will be in five films over the next few months.

Though he has garnered decent reviews in supporting roles in hits like "Ghostbusters" and "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," Hudson, 48, hasn't enjoyed as much name recognition as his best-known films.

"The only time I feel relaxed," says Hudson, "is when I'm working."

Hudson should be plenty relaxed. After finishing "Sugar Hill," he will play either a policeman or a security guard in four more films due out over the next several months: "The Crow," "The Prison Colony," "Airheads" and "The Cowboy Way"--twice starting work on a film the day after finishing another.

"All of a sudden this policeman thing came up," Hudson says. "I tried really hard to get into the 'nice guy' category. I assumed that being the nice guy would lead to leading man. I got into being best friends and nice guys, which I enjoy, but I also enjoy a good villain."

They don't make them more villainous than "Sugar Hill's" chilling Lolly, an ex-boxer turned drug dealer who challenges Snipes' Roemello Skuggs for control of Harlem's streets.

So convincingly brutal is Hudson in "Sugar Hill" that his soft-spoken manner in person comes as something of a shock. Dressed in black boots, jeans and a blue shirt, Hudson talks about his hard-earned time off at his home in the San Bernardino mountains to "reconnect with the kids." Hudson and his wife, Linda, who married in 1985, have two young children, Andrew and Ross. Hudson also has two grown children from his first marriage.

"It's always been a steady build," Hudson says of his career. "You go out and you do your best work and maybe someone will tune in. Any of these films have that potential."

Hudson, it seems, has built a career on potential. Born in Benton Harbor, Mich., he served as the resident playwright for Concept East, an African American theater company in Detroit, and won a scholarship to the Yale School of Drama at 28. There he shifted his focus to acting, scoring his first major movie role as ghostbuster Winston Zeddemore in 1984. He hoped the movie's phenomenal success would help get him more good parts. It didn't.

"Sometimes you do a film like 'Ghostbusters,' and because it's going to be such a big movie, (you think) you're gonna get this out of it," Hudson says. "But it doesn't necessarily work that way."

He reprised that role in "Ghostbusters II," and then decided on the role as the disabled handyman in "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," for which he did a lot of research talking with mentally handicapped people.

Though Hudson plays a cop or guard in four of his five upcoming films, the movies themselves have little in common. "The Crow"--the Miramax film probably best known for the accident that killed actor Brandon Lee--is a supernatural thriller; "The Prison Colony" is a futuristic action movie from Savoy starring Ray Liotta; "Airheads" is a light comedy from 20th Century Fox starring Adam Sandler, and "The Cowboy Way" is an action comedy from Universal co-starring Woody Harrelson and Kiefer Sutherland.

In "Sugar Hill," his first movie with a mostly black cast, Hudson's Lolly makes it difficult for gangster brothers in Harlem to escape their past. In preparation for his role, Hudson walked through Harlem with an ex-drug dealer to learn more about criminal life.

"I was fascinated by the character," Hudson says. "Here is a guy who has a gym, who's a former fighter--he was a contender--and he's here in the community, supposedly helping build up young guys, and he's selling drugs.

"I think there is a place you can't go, and I've always been very clear on that. There are things you cannot do--the tragedy of the character I play in 'Sugar Hill' is that he violated that--and when you do you can never be the same person again. You've stepped over the line."

Hudson enjoyed "Sugar Hill," and especially liked working with Snipes, whose work and career he admires.

"There was a time when there was one black actor and everybody else had to sort of wait in line until something happened to him so they could possibly be the next in line," says Hudson, who is encouraged by the mainstream success of Snipes and Denzel Washington. "Now there's a number of guys." And Hudson is ready to join them.

"I know there's an audience who's very much aware of me and my work, and I'd like to have a chance to carry a film."

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