Ernie Hudson stars as Sgt Ed Conrad and Justin Kirk as Gideon Reed in APB | © 2017 Fox/Adrian Burrows

Ernie Hudson stars as Sgt Ed Conrad and Justin Kirk as Gideon Reed in APB | © 2017 Fox/Adrian Burrows

Ernie Hudson is currently on three series. In Netflix’s GRACE AND FRANKIE, renewed for a third season, he’s Jacob, the new love interest of Frankie, whose husband Saul (Sam Waterston) left to marry his longtime business partner Robert (Martin Sheen), formerly married to Jane Fonda’s Grace. In Epix’s political satire GRAVES, Hudson plays another Jacob, Jacob Mann, who is an adviser to former U.S. president Richard Graves (Nick Nolte), whose wife Margaret (Sela Ward) has ambitions of her own.

Now Hudson is a regular on Fox Network’s new Monday-night series APB. In APB, Justin Kirk plays Gideon Reed, a technological genius and billionaire who purchases a Chicago police precinct where he can apply his ingenuity and fortune to solving crimes. Hudson’s character, Sergeant Ed Conrad, soon winds up as the most experienced officer remaining under Reed’s leadership.

Hudson’s career has spanned fifty years, including everything from the glee of the GHOSTBUSTERS films (and a cameo in the reboot) to the darkness of HBO’s OZ, so switching up genres isn’t new to him, though his present schedule seems intense.

ERNIE HUDSON: GRAVES got picked up for another season, I’m also in GRACE AND FRANKIE. But [APB] is kind of the main gig. I love the show. But I’m very excited, because it’s three shows, three very different characters. And as an actor, it gives me a chance to have fun. I’m not sure how all of this is going to play out, but it’s a nice problem to have.

ASSIGNMENT X: How does it work geographically?

HUDSON: Well, APB is shot in Chicago. We’re shooting outside in twelve-degree weather [laughs]. GRACE AND FRANKIE shoots here in Los Angeles, and GRAVES shoots in New Mexico.

AX: It seems like Sergeant Conrad doesn’t get to do a lot in the first episode of APB …

HUDSON: Right. When I signed on for the show, I read the script, and wrote back and said, “What am I doing here?” Well, that all changed. As we move forward in the series, I don’t think it’s any secret, he’ll become the captain – there’s a big shakeout with this billionaire coming in, and a lot of people aren’t happy, and for my character, it’s a chance to finally do something that could make a difference. So he’s very much more a part of the show. But the first couple episodes, it’s establishing him.

AX: What’s Conrad’s feeling about a tech billionaire taking over the precinct?

HUDSON: My guy is one of those guys who works very hard. He’s been passed over for a promotion that he’s actually very qualified for. He wouldn’t like to say it’s because of color, but for whatever reason, he hasn’t moved up in the chain. A lot of it has to do, I think, with the way he sees the department. But he also is part of that community that is really under-served, not just working in a district, but he actually lives in that district. And so the old system he knows doesn’t work, so when this billionaire comes in with all these ideas and all this money, for him, he knows the importance of protocol, but he also knows there’s a need to try something else. So unlike my colleagues, who just put up a wall and just refuse, he’s saying, “Well, wait a minute. Let’s try something …” I’m the guy who reminds people that there is procedure, but I’m also the guy who really hopes that before I move on into my golden years of retirement, maybe we can do something that can make a difference. Because it’s a community, like Chicago in real life is, that desperately needs to find some answers. So I think he’s very excited about being in a position now to be the guy where the buck stops, to be the guy who makes the call, as opposed to following somebody else’s orders.

AX: In APB, you’ve got a billionaire coming in and taking over what is normally the public sector, and it doesn’t completely go to Hell and disenfranchise everybody. Do you think this is an endorsement of something going on in the real world, or do you think this is just completely to be taken on its own terms?

HUDSON: Well, I think it’s based on some incident [with a police precinct] that happened in New Orleans, not quite directly this way, but I think there was someone who came in and the same situation happened. And I think he was very effective. I think a lot of it has to do with this particular billionaire in our show at least comes in with good intentions. I think the problem – I don’t know, I’ve never had a billion dollars – but it’s very difficult for some people not to see things as an opportunity to make more money. And so if you get people coming in wielding their influence for the profit incentive, then I think you’d have a real problem. But I think if you get people who are now in a position to really bring about some change and with the right intention, it could really transform a lot of things. The problem is to fight the urge to own it, and to own everything. But I think there are a lot of things, a lot of people in positions to bring about some great changes without permission or necessarily to have to get government approval, to have to go before a Senate committee, that they’re in a position just via the nature of them having that kind of money. In the show, this is a guy who, at least at his heart – of course, as the show goes on, you see that there are consequences and complications – he’s coming from a good place.

AX: He’s coming from a place of wanting the police to be able to do what they’re set up to do?

HUDSON: What they’re set up to do, and to make a positive difference in people’s lives, as opposed to making a positive difference in his bank account. And willing to sacrifice a little bit of what he has for that result, as opposed to what seems to have happened with the [real-world] prison system, they’re beginning to privatize things, and it’s just a nightmare. It certainly is not there to help the prisoners Without getting political, my wife, I’m concerned she’s going to have a stroke after this last election [laughs]. I keep telling her, “Let it go, breathe.” I think what we know is that the old way wasn’t really working as effectively as it could have. So be open to change and see where it goes.

But you know, the universe works, as my grandmother said, in mysterious ways. The hardest time, and I think for my character as well, is to not feel like I have to take care of the masses, that we are all individually quite capable of taking care of ourselves. The unfortunate thing is that a lot of us don’t realize it and know it. But I have to back up and go, “Wait a minute.” Yes, I have to do what I can do, but I also have to trust that they’ll be able to figure things out. And as a dad, I definitely have that problem with kids, because I want to step in there, because I watch anybody trying to take advantage, but I have to trust that they’ll be fine, and I have to trust that we as a society, when we realize how stupid we can be [laughs], will make better choices, because it’s all about choices.

AX: Speaking of families, does Conrad have a family?

HUDSON: I think he’s had a long marriage that has ended, he has children that are now adults, and so hopefully, if we get picked up and we get back and are doing more, we’ll find out more about Conrad. But I think also, when this change happens, he’s at a little bit of a crisis in his own life. I keep doing the job, what does he want to do, the marriage has ended, all those things, how do I work out things with my kids, how do I reconcile …? This change gives him purpose and it inspires him.

AX: How is playing love scenes with Lily Tomlin on GRACE AND FRANKIE?

HUDSON: I love Lily. I hadn’t met her before we did the show, so I wasn’t sure – you know, those things are always kind of awkward. I haven’t had as many opportunities to play leading love interests in my fifty years of acting, so I’m always excited at the possibility [laughs], but I told her she’s the best kisser I think I’ve ever worked with. We get alone great. She’s just a nice person and a very sweet lady. I get why my character would fall in love with her and why she’s so important. She’s genuine, and there’s a certain integrity that she just adds as a human being that comes through in her work. I admire her, and I’ve always been a big fan of hers and Jane [Fonda] and Sam [Waterston]. These people are at the top of their game. So for me, the opportunity to work with them is really, really cool. Most of the stuff I’m doing is with a lot of newer people, which is good, but when you get old pros doing their stuff, it’s a whole other level of playing, and I’m excited, very, very happy to be on that show.

AX: On GRAVES, do you get to be a little more Machiavellian?

HUDSON: Yeah. It’s nice to be the guy who’s looking and maneuvering and pulling strings a little bit. That character still hasn’t been totally developed. We got picked up for a new season and hopefully we’ll find out more about him. It’s a very different character, and I’m waiting to see how that unfolds and we know where we go with it, where we go with him. The whole political thing is very interesting. I think reality is even stranger than fiction, so the possibilities – I thought some of the stuff we did then was crazy, but in light of what’s happened, this is a whole other level of crazy [laughs]. Josh Stern, the creator, is a wonderful writer, so I can’t imagine what they’ll come up with. At this stage of my life and career, the only point in doing it is to have fun, so that there are more possibilities. I will say my characters are probably more exciting than my life is, even though I think I’ve got a pretty cool life.

AX: You are often cast as the voice of reason, at least in comparison to the people around you. Would you say that’s something that all three characters have in common?

HUDSON: Yeah [laughs], maybe so. I wonder why that is. Maybe it has to do with my voice, maybe it has to do with me – I don’t know. But yeah. They’re very different characters. One is a political maneuverer – he’s one of those guys who gets in, knows all the players, kind of works that compromise very well on GRAVES. On GRACE AND FRANKIE, he’s the guy who really comes to a good understanding about life and just wants to be happy. And in APB, he’s a guy who knows that no matter what we do in this department, no matter how many changes we bring about, we’ve got to work with the community that we’re a part of. So yeah, certainly in APB, he’s that senior voice. I’m – I don’t want to say “the dad,” but sometimes it feels like that, because you’ve got a lot of young people with a lot of bright ideas, a guy with a lot of money who doesn’t understand, or at least I think he doesn’t understand, the full implications of that, no matter what you do, there are always consequences and complications, because everything affects everything else. So I become the guy who sometimes has to draw the line, and it’s not very popular, but my character’s never had that problem directly. And now being the captain, and running this department, he has that. But I think there’s a little kid in I think all the characters that I play that’s excited about the possibilities.

AX: When you’re playing a character like Conrad, who at least starts out in a place where he’s a little depressed and resigned, how do you play that and yet keep your energy up so that you don’t get sleepy on set?

HUDSON: You know, even when a person is going through depression, we’re still analyzing and doing stuff and you’re trying to make decisions. You’re in your head too much. We all go there at some point. I know I certainly do. And so when you have a character who is just resigned to, I have no control over my life, even that’s interesting when you’re playing it from a distance. It’s a lot harder when it’s you [laughs]. But when you’re seeing a character and you understand where he is, it’s interesting to [explore that], and how other people play off of him. Acting is something you can do from an extension – you want to step into it, but there’s always that part of you that’s not you. So it really hasn’t been a problem. And also, very early on, I think in the second episode, third episode, his life changes. We kick the show off with a big change – and I’ve got to tell you, the writing – every episode gets stronger and stronger. It’s very exciting. I think it’s a great show.

AX: How is it working with APB’s lead, Justin Kirk?

HUDSON: I’ve worked with a lot of people – I’m working with a lot of really, really good people – but I’ve gained so much respect for him. I think he’s a wonderful actor. The lead actor sets the pace, he sets the vibe. And this guy is just such a generous human being. He’s on point. I watch how people deal with the crew and deal with the extras, and I just think he’s an amazing man. I don’t know if I’ve ever said that to him, but I admire him. I did FANTASY ISLAND years ago with Ricardo Montalban. Ricardo was so amazing, how he dealt with the guest cast, and he just was a gracious man. And he owned that set. And I find the same thing in Justin, just a wonderful man to work with.

AX: Do you have any other projects that we should know about?

HUDSON: There’s some talk about some feature stuff. I was trying to develop something, but maybe about a year ago, I just thought, “You know what? Let me just enjoy this time.” I lost so many friends last year. It’s natural, it’s life. We all know coming in that it’s not a forever thing [laughs]. But I was telling my wife, “Have a good time – I think we should do it now.” Waiting until you get more money is probably not a good idea, so I’m just trying to enjoy life and, for the first time since I became an actor, fifty years ago, not worry about what’s coming next.

This interview was conducted during Fox Network’s portion of the Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter 2017 press tour.

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Article: APB: Actor Ernie Hudson chats about new Fox series – exclusive interview

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