It’s been 30 years since Ernie Hudson starred in Ghostbusters and even today, he’s still working non-stop. After all, he has the tools and he has the talent, right? He’s also got a heart as big as Texas and Hudson’s latest role finds him starring in Gallows Road. Bill McAdams Jr.’s film is a modest effort, but one filled with a lot of heavy issues. Religion, anger, abuse, etc. it’s all in there, but it’s ultimately about compassion and acceptance. As the tag line says, God forgives…Can you?
In the film, Bob Collins (Ernie Hudson) finds his faith tested when a night of racially motivated violence takes the lives of his wife and children and destroys his home. While one of the perpetrators, Jake (Bill McAdams Jr.) struggles with guilt and the desire to do the right thing, Bob’s brother Seth (Marcus M. Maldin) tries to help his sibling find the strength to forgive those responsible, while local thug Snake Cain (Rett Terrell) terrorizes his cohorts to keep them silent, and Jake’s boss (Kevin Sorbo) tries to help these broken souls reconnect with God.
We got to speak with Hudson in advance of the 45th Annual USA Film Festival where Gallows Road will be making its World Premiere in Dallas, TX this Wednesday April 22. Enjoy our time with Ernie Hudson.
GoSeeTalk: Thrilled to be speaking with you Ernie, and so glad you’ll be making your way to Dallas for the festival next week. Gallows Road touches on a lot of issues that are universal, timeless and very personal. Is there anything specifically that really grabbed your attention either before or during the production?
Ernie Hudson: The themes in the plot have really been on my mind for a year at least, and maybe it’s just a matter of getting older, but as people we go through a lot of things, good and bad, and we always wonder what it means. Forgiveness is a big theme in the film and really, it’s about letting go. I did a movie called To Hell and Back and it was basically the story of Job, and that story touched me deeply because it was about a man who had lived his life and went through a lot but still held on to his faith.
In Gallows Road, Billy’s story was about that too. It was about a man who had done nothing wrong and how in society we live in this human condition where we all have these ideas about ourselves and our place in the world. Sometimes our morals collide, but in spite of that, we still have to find a way to love and move on. So the story was about something that was beyond anything I could imagine. I would never have wished this upon anybody to experience. Losing your family in that way is worse than death.
Talk about devastating. It’s almost like you have to ask what “would you do with that?”.
Yeah, I really had to get my head around a hard story like this. I talked to Billy about this years ago, and he told me he was working on it. Well, he pulled it together and I was glad to be there for him and help him tell his story. I’m not sure that if it were me personally, I would handle that devastation the way that my character did, but I found the story compelling and it was intriguing to me. Aside from that, I have been doing this for so long that I was happy to support him as he was working on his filmmaking career.
Now there are a lot of things going on in the movie, like alcoholism and race and other big themes and stories, but for me it was really hard to make peace with a guy who loses his family to this violent incident. I think as an actor, in any story, you are thinking of it on a personal level and wondering “if I were this character what would I do?” *laughs*, and I don’t believe I would go to the woods and just sit.
I imagine a great many people would like to think they would have gotten right to that climax at the end, right?
*laughs* Yeah, that was little hard for me, I was like “Billy, this is a good man if he chooses isolation instead of retaliation”. We say we believe in God’s goodness, and His mercy, but when you are that violated, it is too much for anyone to wrap their head around. But there were a lot of things happening in this film that, in a lot of ways, felt like this was the story of Job again.
At the end of it, you just have to make peace because so many things aren’t give to us to understand. It’s like my grandmother used to say, I was thinking in terms of time and God deals in things eternal. We are given one lifetime, but really we are eternal beings in spirit. All things are brought into light eventually, but not in this lifetime. She would say “don’t worry about it, there is a balance and an order”. So I remember when I was a kid and I would tell her I don’t like this, or I don’t like these people and she would say, “well it’s all part of God, so what part of God don’t you like?”. *laughs*
I think the thing for me being in Texas and making the movie is that it also brought up something else that was happening in my life. Again, forgiveness is the main theme, but it’s also about letting go. But what I figured out was that it’s not about letting go of the past…but letting go of the future. That is the reality that my character faced. It’s not that his past was taken away – he had great memories with them – it’s that he’ll never have a future with them. All the plans they had, everything he was expecting to do, and watch, and see with them. All of those things were taken away. Your future is something, at least for me, you have been building from when you were a little kid.
We keep trying to realize this perfect thing, and I have learned that it’s not real, and it drives us insane because it’ll never actually be that perfect, no matter what you do or try to do. So you almost have to let it go because it doesn’t exist. Sometimes life will snatch it from us and we’re forced to deal with it right here and right now. So there were a lot of things at work, it was not an easy thing to deal with. Not that it was a hard film to make as far as learning lines and shooting, but it was hard to make the character make sense but also be human and real for the audience on screen.
What really speaks volumes is what you said about having your future taken away. A lot of what Bill McAdams did was offer up this buffet of issues and things that are relevant to us as humans and I see this as an opportunity for people to take what they want from it. From the very beginning, for a film that has a handmade quality to it, that opening scene where you lose your family is brutal. It hits you on nearly every level possible and is tough to take.
Yeah, this is touched upon in a lot of so-called faith-based films, but even recently we’re seeing a lot of issues with race and violence and it shows that whatever happens to one of us really happens to all of us. People might see the so-called bad guy and say “well that is just one type of person” but looking at this, it’s clear to see we’re all in the same mix together. It’s kind of like when people try to minimize atrocities and injustice and say that terrorists don’t really feel pain when their families are blown up.
But people, even at their worst, are all human and that means they’re all in God, so to speak. So a lot of the concepts we think are real just aren’t real. The film also shows what anger does and how we can justify it. I was hoping that I could help bring that out even though what Billy wrote was a hard act to reconcile.
It’s also tough to believe or accept that no matter how far we think we’ve come as a culture or human beings, we haven’t at all. Being human, we still run into the same trappings of aggression or fear and hatred, and it really is just needless isn’t it?
It really is needless, and like you said, we think we’ve come far, but really none of us are free if one of us is in chains. I love the part at the end of the film where the mayor comes out and says “we’re a town”. We can come together for one reason. I’d like to think that about 80% of us are real good people. It’s idiots out there who want to hold on to one crazy idea and they can make everyone suffer because of it. We think we can move past something and leave the others behind, but leaving someone behind actually causes us all to be dragged back…and then it’s plain to see that we haven’t come very far at all. We as a culture really have but we keep ignoring the fact that a lot of people who are seeing things in a very negative way are suffering, and their suffering spreads to the rest of us.
Snake Cain’s (Rett Terrell) hardships changed him negatively and your character suffered. That negativity can also feel a lot greater than just one person.
Exactly. It creates this illusion that if one person feels this way, then so does everybody else. One man’s hatred can feel like a whole town of hate when, really, that’s not the case. If I go to a town and experience some really extreme racism, insult, or injury, it feels like the whole town, but its not. The town for the most part are really good people, and I get that wherever I go. But when one or two feel and act a certain way it brings us all backwards. As a society, or even a town, we have the responsibility to the one or two. Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes, on a certain level, we really are, and it’s our job to help create and establish a civil society where people feel, and then can move on and move past things they harbor.
I travel a lot, I’ve been to every state, and I feel the warmth of towns and people and see that almost everyone has been overwhelmingly accepting and kind. But I’ve also met people who haven’t been that way, and I think they may have even been capable of doing an acting in the way Rett Terrell’s character did. But I find if you get to somebody where they let their guard down, there’s a humanity and a kindness that’s there. But people, when they’re afraid, will do some extreme things.
I know that you do public and motivational speaking, so is there anything in the movie that raised your awareness about certain issues enough to help you get your message out? Or was there anything you went into the movie thinking “yes, this would be something I would like to tackle afterwards”?
I think for me that one of the benefits of being an actor is that so much of our lives deal with self-perception – how we interpret things that happen to us. My brother and I lived the same childhood, but when I hear him talk about it, it’s a different experience. *laughs* I don’t even know what he’s talking about because that’s not what I went through. I feel like I’ve lived a very charmed life and so a lot of times, when someone asks if I would speak at a drug rehabilitation center or a prison, I think a lot about the request because I never went through that. I spoke at the National Association of Prisons a bunch of times, but I’ve never been to prison, it’s not my experience. When we act, we play a character, like the warden in Oz. When you talk to enough people about something, it gives you a chance to explore things that haven’t personally happened to you. You may have known somebody it happened to, and you kind of base your performance on what other people went through, and so you try to give them a voice so to speak.
I think it forces you as an actor to be honest about looking at certain issues or ideas when you’re telling a story. When I hear stories about people’s experiences, I never want to make light of what they went through, so even when I do public speaking, I try to identify with the individual or cause even if I don’t share their experiences. It’s important to show sensitivity because whether it’s myself, you, or anyone else, it’s really important to remember some people don’t recover or come out of something, and we never really recover from anything – we just live with it and move on. How you do that is as important as how you dealt with your experience. Having something to hold onto is important, and I think for me that’s what is imperative about having faith in God because it is something that you can have trust in. Without that faith, I don’t know how you would get through it.
Sometimes people want me to speak and tell funny stories about Hollywood, but that’s not always the situation. Sometimes people really want to look for some inspiration, and advice, and I believe that my life is an example of what God can do. I’m almost 70, I will be this year, and as far as I know I’m in good health. I’ve been blessed with an amazing wife of 40 years, and I have four amazing sons. I am blessed and I also want to be an example of what’s positive as opposed to all the bad things that can happen. We certainly have enough examples of that in the world. Man, you really got me thinking about that one *laughs*, but the movie was a really interesting experience for me and it was interesting hearing the views of the cast – both the white cast and the black cast. We certainly have different experiences, but I think once we are able to start and continue to live as one, things will be different. We will want the best for ourselves, but we’ll also want the same for our neighbors and our brothers.
I kind of equate this movie to an iceberg – it may seem small on the surface, but the level of emotion and depth and things Gallows Road touches on go deeper than you could expect or imagine. Thank you for sharing thoughts and experiences on this. Glad that you got to work on something that lets you get this personal side of yourself out there.
I really appreciate you saying that. I know there’s a lot of Hollywood stuff out there that could be a lot slicker, but Billy just told something that was important to him and from his heart. He wrote it, edited it, and I knew that the themes were there. He maybe didn’t have the money to tell it on a certain Hollywood level, but there’s a lot going on in the movie and I think if people can look at it from that perspective and get what his intentions were I think it’s very powerful.
The 45th Annual USA Film Festival runs April 22 – 26, 2015. Click over to their official page to read the program and get tickets to the screenings.