Ernie Hudson says he wasn’t properly compensated for ‘Ghostbusters’: ‘They couldn’t have paid me less money’

Ernie Hudson ain’t scared of talking candidly about Ghostbusters. For years now, the 77-year-old actor has spoken his truth in regards to how Ivan Reitman’s 1984 comedy — and its long afterlife — has impacted his career in both positive and negative ways. So Hudson was as surprised as anyone when he went viral following a recent appearance on The Howard Stern Wrap Up Show where he called Ghostbusters “the most difficult movie I ever did” and spoke of being “pushed aside” amid its remarkable success.

“It got picked up and ran all over the place,” the Hollywood veteran marvels to Yahoo Entertainment during a retrospective interview about his decades-long career in the industry. “There are certain things in this business that you don’t talk about, but I’ve mentioned before that was a difficult job. Most of the time, you accept those things and move on, because you’re afraid — you don’t want to do anything or say anything, because you’re happy to be working. The last thing you want to do is stop that.”

In fact, Hudson previously opened up to Yahoo Entertainment about his Ghostbusters experience in 2020, three years before his Howard Stern appearance went viral. In that interview, he recounted how Reitman initially hired him to be an equal part of a ghostbusting team that included established comedy stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, only to see his character, Winston Zeddemore, diminished as the movie commenced its famously chaotic production. “I never did [get a reason],” he said then. “I think they said for the story, you know, we got three guys who are really established in the industry and I was really just getting started.”

From l to r: Hudson, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in the climax of the comedy favorite, Ghostbusters. (Photo: ©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
From l to r: Hudson, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in the climax of the comedy favorite, Ghostbusters. (Photo: ©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Besides reduced screen time, Hudson now says that his compensation was substantially smaller than his co-stars, both in terms of upfront salary and the lucrative merchandising deals that fell into place after Ghostbusters became the biggest hit of 1984. “They couldn’t have paid me less money,” Hudson says of Columbia Pictures, which owns the franchise. (Columbia is now owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment.)

“I know so much of this business is about how you’re perceived, and [the perception is that] certain people deserve to make outrageous amounts of money. Whereas other people who work just as hard and may have more credits are not thought of as deserving in that way and the studios are insulted they would even ask for it.”

At the same time, Hudson acknowledges that his own lack of industry savvy — coupled with representatives that may not have had his best interests at heart — contributed to his lack of leverage as Ghostbusters fever kicked in.

“When you go into negotiate thinking people are going to do the right thing, you sign a contract without really being able to read and understand it,” he explains. “And you rely on agents who don’t really about whether or not you understand it. A lot of times, they’re just happy to have a client get a job and aren’t looking out for your best interests. Then you look around and say, ‘Why don’t I get any royalties from all this stuff that has my face on it?’ And they go, ‘Oh, that’s not part of your deal.’ That was a really hard awakening. I was a single dad then, too, and I was focused on getting the job. You think that people are protecting you, and they aren’t.”

It didn’t help that Columbia continued to treat Winston as a fourth wheel, even though it quickly became clear that the character had his own passionate fanbase. “The fans embraced Winston in a way that the studio was surprised by,” Hudson recalls. “I spoke to one executive who said, ‘Ernie, to the fans Winston is just part of the Ghostbusters.’ And I thought, ‘Isn’t that what I was always meant to be?’ I didn’t realize they thought of me as something else.”

Hudson says that Columbia even prevented him from reprising his role as Winston in The Real Ghostbusters, the animated spin-off that ran from 1986 to 1991. (Arsenio Hall voiced Winston for the first three seasons, followed by Buster Jones.) “I’d done a lot of animated work by then, but for whatever reason it seemed they didn’t want me, and that would have a made a huge difference at the time in my life. I didn’t make much money on the movie, so it would have been nice to at least do my voice in the animated series.”

As in his Howard Stern interview, Hudson credits his co-stars — particularly Murray — with making sure he’s included whenever the studio wanted to trot out the original team for promotional events or new ventures like sequels (1989’s Ghostbusters II and the recent Ghostbusters: Afterlife) and video games (2009’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game and last year’s Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed). “A lot of have things have been said about Bill Murray,” he says, alluding to the recent headlines about the actor’s controversial on-set behavior. “But from day one he’s been like, ‘Ernie, I got your back.’ He’s the one who always says, ‘I will not do another Ghostbusters movie unless Ernie’s involved.’ That’s unusual in this business.”

Hudson also says that Jason Reitman — who wrote and directed Afterlife and is likely steering the franchise’s future following his father’s death last year — has made an effort to right past wrongs. The climax of the 2021 revival featured the three surviving O.G. Ghostbusters (Ramis died in 2014) suiting up for another close encounter of the paranormal kind. Meanwhile, a post-credits sequence showed Winston returning to the Manhattan firehouse where the franchise started… and where it will continue. Shooting just commenced on the Afterlife follow-up — which is reportedly filming under the working title Ghostbusters: Firehouse — and Hudson indicates he’ll be part of that film in some way.

Who you gonna call? The Ghostbusters, of course. (Photo: Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
The O.G. Ghostbusters make a point of keeping your home ghost free. (Photo: Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

“I’m still a part of the franchise, and we’re getting ready to do the next one,” he says. “Jason gave me that scene in the Afterlife credits that included Winston, and he’s tried to acknowledge some of the things that have been done [in the past] and correct those things. I’m very appreciative of him.”

But Hudson is also thankful that his career isn’t only defined by the Ghostbusters franchise. Although he experienced lean times in the wake of the first movie, he hasn’t lacked for work in decades, balancing supporting and star turns in a wide variety of movies and TV shows. He’s currently part of the main cast on two high-profile series — NBC’s Quantum Leap reboot and BET’s The Family Business — and appears on the big screen alongside Woody Harrelson in Bobby Farrelly’s latest comedy, Champions.

“Thankfully my career is not dependent on Ghostbusters,” Hudson says. “I’ve been able to keep working almost in spite of it — I can’t think of any other movie I’ve gotten because I was in Ghostbusters. I’m still happy to be part of the franchise and over the years the fans have made the difference.”

At the same time, those fans are often also the first to be surprised when he publicly acknowledges his mixed feelings about the movie’s legacy in his own life. “People are like, ‘Was it fun for you? Because it’s so much fun for us!’ And at a certain point, I have to say, ‘Hold it,'” Hudson says. “I’m thankful to be a part of it and I don’t regret anything. But it wasn’t a barrel of laughs — it was a real challenge to keep my balance while I was doing that. I’m so thankful I didn’t follow my impulses and punch somebody! That experience forced me to be a little more responsible and look at this industry from a realistic perspective.”

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