I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Tonight commences the 45th annual USA Film Festival in Dallas, TX. One of the three films holding its premiere tonight is GALLOWS ROADS, starring Ernie Hudson.
As storied a career as Hudson has had – whether you know him best for GHOSTBUSTERS, OZ, or THE CROW – he has forever been a gift to follow.
In GALLOWS ROAD, Hudson portrays a shop owner and a devoted family man named Bob Collins. After a night of racially motivated violence, Collin finds his faith tested when he loses his family and finds his home destroyed.
Fresh Fiction had the chance to sit down and talk with Hudson this morning while in town for the GALLOWS ROAD premiere. We discussed the spiritual journey within the film, what he took away from it, and even went back to the time he worked with Brandon Lee on THE CROW.
Welcome back to Dallas, Mr. Hudson. You were here not too long ago for Dallas Comic Con.
Ernie Hudson: “Yeah. I did a Comic Con here. There’s another one coming up in May. And we shot the movie here. I’ve done more stuff in Austin— maybe three or four films there. And we shot a movie in Smithville, TX, a few years ago.”
Oh, very cool. So I guess that makes the USA Film Festival the perfect setting to hold the premiere for this film.
Hudson: “Why I think it’s a great setting is the director, Billy McAdams, is from Dallas. His sister, MJ, is from here as well; she produced the film. But Billy wrote it, directed it and stars in the movie. Well, actually, they both have parts in the movie.
The film gives a very unique perspective on a lot of things, so it’s great that it’s going to get a premiere here. I love film festivals; it’s a great way for communities to come together. So I’m glad they chose to show our film, too.”
Yeah. Because Billy is an actor as well, do you feel like he better gets on your level as a director?
Hudson: “Well, I think it probably helps sometimes when communicating. It’s very hard when you’re both writing and directing. Writers are everything until they turn it over. I always prefer for a writer to turn his work over to a director opposed to the directing it as well— just to bring a different dimension and perspective to it, and then the actors are allowed to bring their stuff.
So when someone says they’re going to write, direct and star in the film, I kind of just cloud over. But I will say that Billy did a really great job. I realized why he wanted to take on all those roles, because it was a very particular story to him.
But yeah, him being an actor, we can communicate a little better. He wears a lot of hats, you know? And a lot of times, depending on the story, you end up having to trust their vision, even when it ends up going against your own.”
Yeah. I was going to ask about that, because I know before you got your career started in acting in films you wrote poetry and things of that nature.
And I was wondering because you did that – thinking creatively – have your own ideas ever intruded on projects where you’re working strictly as an actor?
Hudson: “Yeah. The script is sort of the Bible; it’s the basis of everything. You can always change it and adjust it or whatever, but at least you start with something. I do like words and literature, and it’s hard when it all doesn’t come together.
This particular story was very difficult. I’m anxious to see it tonight, because it’s Billy’s perspective. I think he’s deals with a lot of current issues. He covers a lot. For me as an actor, that’s not much of my concern. My concern is my character, Bob Collins. And this is a real jump that my character has to go through. So how do I reconcile this in a realistic way? You can’t just say I’m going to do it, because there’s no integrity there. So it wasn’t an easy movie.”
I can imagine. Your character endures so much in this film. Losing your family and home to an act of violence— it’s a pain that no one wants to imagine.
When life throws challenges your way, how to you deal with them?
Hudson: “Well, the first thing to understand is that you can’t understand. You always ask, ‘Why me?’ And I don’t know if there’s an answer. Maybe on some spiritual level deep, deep down. I did a movie called TO HELL AND BACK, and it was the story of Joe Patterson and TVOne. In playing the Joe character, he goes through hell, basically. But he retains his faith and comes out on the other side. I think this movie, GALLOWS ROAD, kind of says the same thing: that somehow we can still find our spirituality in spite of the things that life throws at us. If we hold onto that, we’ll be OK. There’s a rebirth. There’s a new beginning, and the movie is about that— and not just for him but the community.
I think one of the things that I really liked about the movie is it’s not just what happens to this man; it’s also how it impacts the community. You know, old ways not wanting to let go, but at some point we need to move to a better place. We can’t really move to a better place by covering up. We have to genuinely move to a better place.
So my character, at some point, has to make peace with everything. If I were to go through something like this, and I don’t even want to imagine, I would like to say that I would be able to. Personally, I would have a really hard time.
But at some point you just have to trust God. And I’m not a very religious man; I consider myself a spiritual man. I believe in God or something higher, because I have enough sense to know that I did not make myself. But I think at some point you have to trust in that greater intelligence, that greater knowing. You have to know that it has some deeper meaning. It helps us to become who we were meant to be.”
So this movie did kind of effect you spiritually?
Hudson: “I think when you go with a character, any character you play, and you really try to get into the character, it forces you to ask questions. It really forces you to sit down and think about what it’s about. You take a movie and it’s very specific. I mean, this happens and he does this thing. He says these things— it’s very specific. It may not be what I would say. You have to figure out what that is. How does he get to that place? How does he come to that conclusion? And when you find all that, you find the character. And I think when you find a character, it’s almost like finding empathy with someone. You begin to see into that person, and then maybe, ultimately, you begin to see a part of yourself. You go, ‘Oh, OK. I can understand that now.’ You may not agree with what’s happening but you understand. And I can make peace with it.”
One of the things that I really liked about the film, theme wise, is this idea of new beginnings, as you were talking about. Second chances. Like we mentioned, he endures so much but he has to find the path to forgiveness.
Is there anything in your life that you wish you could have a new beginning with? Are you a man that lives with regrets?
Hudson: “I’ve had what I consider a very charmed life. I’ve been blessed. I don’t think there’s been a day in my life where I didn’t know deep within myself that I was loved. From my grandmother who raised me to my wife— I’ve always had that insurance, I suppose.
I try to do what I consider is right. I mean, we’ve all had our moments where we’ve slipped, but I try. My grandmother would say that the most important thing is to know who you are and know that you are not the creator. She would say, in her words, ‘we’re human beings. On a human level we have our earthly dads and moms, but in the being world and the spirit, we have source and God.’ It’s what appears to be nothing but it’s everything.
Sure, I’ve should have made a right turn when I made a left, but I don’t look back at the past. In fact, the hardest thing for me, that I came to recently – maybe it was doing this movie or another movie – is that it’s not so much regrets. I’ve caused events to happen and now I have to get through them—it’s as much as letting go of the future.
I think what happened to this guy in this movie— it wasn’t so much that he lost his family. He didn’t lose his past; he lost his future. He lost that hope that his kids are going to grow up, that he was going to have this life and grow old together. All that idea of what you assume is going to be is just gone, and that’s what so hard to reconcile with. Even personally, I’ve had to let go of this ideal future. And you kind of go one day, ‘that’s not even real.’ Ultimately, you cannot hang onto it. But so many years I’ve lived in hope of that future. It’s hard to let go because when things happens to you, even good things, it kind of pales in comparison to what it’s really going to be, when I really get this thing. So maybe the movie reflects that for me. My grandmother would say, ‘don’t focus on the crucifixion; it’s about the resurrection. It’s about coming through that depth and being born again.’”
That’s very deep and well said. We’re almost about out of time, but I had to tell you that I grew up on THE CROW.
Hudson: “Oh yeah? THE CROW?”
Oh, yeah. I watched a lot of movies I probably shouldn’t have been watching.
Hudson: “Yeah. THE CROW is the one film – my kids went through the GHOSTBUSTERS phase, the CONGO phase, and other things I’ve done – but THE CROW is the one movie that they still love. I knew Brandon [Lee] for about eight years before we did the movie.”
How was he?
Hudson: “He was such a sweet guy. Yeah, like I said, there are just some things you can’t understand. Why that happened to him just doesn’t make sense. I remember having dinner with him a couple nights before he died. He was there telling me— actually kind of encouraging me, because I hadn’t been working for a lot of years, and this was after GHOSTBUSTERS stuff— he was telling me to hang in there. I was working but I wasn’t happy with a lot of the work. He used himself as an example and he said, ‘look at me. I got a three-picture deal now. When this movie comes out I can finally show people what I can do. I’m getting married. My fiancée and I just bought a house. Life is great, you know? And you’re going to be fine, too.’ And two days later he was gone.
There’s an old joke I heard a few years ago: ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.’ We have to take these moments and enjoy them. I don’t want to get too philosophical here, but yeah, so you try to live but life happens.”
Absolutely. You’ve been probably asked to death about the reboot for GHOSTBUSTERS, but how do you feel about THE CROW getting a reboot as well?
Hudson: “Well, I gave up on THE CROW a long time ago. After Brandon died that was it for me. When the studio came back and wanted to do more movies, and they have, I was like, ‘really?’”
Yeah. They used different actors for all of the sequels.
Hudson: “Yeah. They called me about doing a television show for it once and I said no. Brandon was The Crow to me. I haven’t even seen the other movies, so I can’t say if they were good or bad.”
You’re not missing much.
Hudson: “Yeah, and now I hear they’re going to do another reboot. I am happy for James O’Barr and his reboot; he’s a friend. I hope things go well for them. I wish them well. But for me, personally, Brandon was The Crow, and that was it.
As far as GHOSTBUSTERS goes— Well, you can’t tell jokes with the press. When they were talking about the idea of an all-female GHOSTBUSTERS, I said, ‘well, if it’s all female, then it doesn’t sound like there is a job in it for me.’ I don’t think that’s what the fans were expecting or were hoping for. That somehow got interpreted as I was not in favor of the movie and I didn’t like women [Laughs]. I was like, ‘no!’ So when they announced the cast, and it’s a funny cast— it really just depends what they do with it. I am just happy they are doing something with the franchise. I think the fans have been wanting more.
I wish it could have been done while Harold [Ramis] was with us, because I know he wanted to do another movie. I would have liked to have done another movie for a variety of reasons. But the fans are amazing. Everywhere I go, anywhere in the world, if the people find that I’m there, they’ll show up with their backpacks. So yeah, good luck to them and more power to them. I’m very grateful to have been in the first two.”
And my last question, because I know you got to get going— if you could teach a class of your creation, what would you teach?
Hudson: “It’s interesting because Glenn Morshower— you know Glenn?”
Yes. Great guy. He’s from here.
Hudson: “Yeah. He’s from here. He teaches at a school here, something called ‘The Extra Mile’ or something like that. He teaches an acting class. I was telling him that I probably wouldn’t be the best teacher. It’s very hard for me to be critical. I see people struggling— I work with people and you want to help in a way, but it’s very hard for me to do that.
But if I were to teach a course I would teach an introductory course to Hollywood. I see so many talented people come out and after a few years and they get angry and disillusioned. I think they have unreasonable expectations. How do you survive? I’ve been acting for over 50 years. Sometimes people approach things and they’re just not reasonable. Maybe they’re meant to be a challenge. So how you deal with that challenge is either a big set back or an opportunity to grow from it. So maybe I could talk about that.”
GALLOWS ROAD premieres tonight at the USA Film Festival at 7:00 p.m. at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas.
The full lineup and information on screenings and tickets can be found on usafilmfestival.com.