Hot Streets: Ernie Hudson on Playing the Show’s New Boss – A Talking Jet

We talk with the legendary Ernie Hudson on his new role as the bonkers new boss on Hot Streets and his prolific career.

Adult Swim’s Hot Streets mashes together the formula of police procedurals with the unexpected insanity of sci-fi serials and existentialist fiction. The result is a cop show unlike no other and one of the most unusual and fun programs to air on Adult Swim in a long time. Hot Streets’ Season 2 returns with even more ridiculous crimes to solve and some absurd characters to add to the already eclectic Hot Streets team.

One of the most significant changes in Hot Streets Season 2 is that the crime division gets a new boss, John Wayne Jet Wayne Jr., who is a 700 year-old talking jet that can also turn people into crystals. If all of this wasn’t enough, Hot Streets enlists Ernie Hudson to provide the confident, collected voice to such an unusual new character. With the show’s second season about to hit, we chat with Ernie about his role on Hot Streets, some touchstones from his career, and if we can expect to see him in that upcoming Ghostbusters sequel.

DEN OF GEEK: This is a very crazy show, but you kind of get the honor of playing what’s perhaps the craziest character of the lot. How did they pitch this role to you and that you would be playing a talking jet?

ERNIE HUDSON: What sort of drew me to the role was just the fact that I was trying to wrap my head around what the role was. I hadn’t done anything quite like this before and at this stage in my life it’s nice to find things that I haven’t had a chance to do before. I wanted to try to make it all cohesive and have fun with it. So it didn’t take much convincing to get me on board. I don’t do a lot of animated voice over work, but when I do it’s just fun to find roles that are a little more irreverent and can keep you guessing.

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On that note, was this always the voice that you did for the character, or did they ask you to try some options and do something different? 

Most of the time when I read roles I typically get a sense of what the part is and how to play it. So I don’t think we really tried any alternative takes. It was always that authoritative, in control performance. Then once I settled into that, I’d get a little looser with it when it made sense.

I’ve got to say, you’re a real natural fit for a jet, but now the problem becomes to just not get typecast as air carriers.

I’ll take all the jet roles! Let me have them. But really, it was all just so much fun.

Your character is the boss and briefs the team on the missions, but would you like to see Jet Jr. get out in the field and be on more missions?

Yeah, well I love the fact that he’s kind of the guy in charge. Obviously he’s not the most balanced character though and he’s certainly quite out there. So with all of his craziness I’d love to see him sort of get challenged by the assignments, too, but I’m sure that’s something that the writers thought about. At least for this season he’s just the guy that’s in charge.

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In the first few episodes there are some hints dropped that there’s something sinister afoot with Jet Jr. Can you elaborate on that at all? Do you think he’s bad or not?

Well the role was perfect for me because I think these days it’s very difficult to draw the line between who’s good and bad. He’s definitely flawed, and yet he’s kind of perfect at what he is. There are other things out there that he does—some of which he’s aware of and others that he’s not—but that’s just how people are. 

further reading: Hot Streets Season 1 Review

All of that is fun stuff to play because people are just so complicated. We might think we know why we’re doing something, but that’s actually not the case. So Jet Jr.’s pulling the strings for sure, but there are definitely other people beyond him that are doing the same thing, which is sort of just what’s going on now in life.

I think so, too. And it’s just so ridiculous that you’re finding such depth here, but it’s all through the filter of this talking jet. This is such a tightly scripted show, but do you get any leeway with scripts or opportunities for improv at all?

I did most of my recording—except for one instance—on my own since I live in Minneapolis. Everybody else was kind of on location. I was open to trying different things, but I’m an actor from a certain generation that believes that the writer have taken a lot of time to come up with these words, so I want to honor that. 

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Now if the words aren’t coming out right or there’s something that I’m not finding, that’s another issue, but it all comes down to characters. The writing here is so specific that I wouldn’t dream to try and change it up. These characters are saying these specific things for a reason.

Do you have a favorite episode, even if it’s just from the stuff that you recorded? 

The other characters are all so fascinating to me, too. The show just takes authority and pushes it to the place where it makes no sense at all. So perhaps not specific episodes, but just all the stuff with my character morphing and turning into other things was such a mind trip. The whole thing was just such a surreal experience. Thirty years ago when I used to smoke weed, I might have gotten even more out of it, but it was such a fun mind trip.

Would you like to see the show do some kind of riff on Ghostbusters or cheekily touch on that piece of your career in some way? Ghosts are definitely in the show’s wheelhouse.

Oh, for sure. I would never push that sort of thing. I think the show certainly stands on its own. But yeah, there are ghosts out there. It wouldn’t be crazy.

This isn’t your first time doing voice work. You’ve been plenty of cartoons and video games throughout your career. Do you approach your voice acting roles any differently than the roles where you’re on camera? 

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To me, it’s just nice. When I started acting I had such survival instincts in terms of taking work, whatever it may be, and that that’s your job as an actor. Animation is so interesting though because the performance is all in the voice and you’re so dependent on other people to take that voice and create some image that matches it. It’s so collaborative instead of when I’m acting on screen I have all of myself to work with, but in animation my voice is just one of the many elements. I enjoy it.

You got to show up in David Lynch’s revival of Twin Peaks! I’m such a huge fan of his and just love hearing stories about the curious ways in which he directs. Do you have any memorable scene notes or experiences from working on that?

Yeah, well he called me up and asked me to do it! I was so flattered that he actually called me and was a fan of my work. Then when I got on the show I had no idea what was going on, but it was just nice to be apart of that. In my case I only had two small scenes, so he was kind of in another room at the time and they wouldn’t give up any information about what happened before or after my scenes. So it was a little difficult to just get put in the middle of that stream and then pulled out of it. When I finished though, it was very nice and he made this big announcement. He made me feel like I had done something brilliant, but I really didn’t do anything at all! 

further reading: The Rick and Morty Influences of Adult Swim’s Hot Streets

It was lots of fun to work with him, but it would have even been more fun to meet Miguel Ferrer, for instance. It would have been nice to have more time there, but it was nice to still be a small part of that franchise. I didn’t have to drive very far to get to where we were shooting, but I would have driven as far as possible to just hang out and be there. I got a call afterwards telling me to not tell anyone what had happened and I was like, “I don’t even know what happened!”

You’ve said that you’ve let Jason Reitman know that you’re interested in returning for Ghostbusters 3, but with the new news that it’s projected to shoot in May, have you seen a script or anything that you can say here?

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No, it was really just a general conversation. Every now and then I’ll hear from Ivan Reitman or Jason, so when I heard that Jason was doing the movie I gave him a call. They just said that it would be more in the tradition of the original Ghostbusters, whatever that may mean. Obviously it would be a great job if I was included, but they didn’t exclude the possibility that it could happen either. So, so far nothing’s come across my desk. The fans are just so amazing though. 

further reading: Ghostbusters: Ernie Hudson Talks the Possibility of Seeing Winston Again

A lot of franchises see the studios really pushing them, but with Ghostbusters it feels like the fans just found it and kept it alive themselves. I’m just happy to see something new being done with the property, and that it’s Jason at the helm. I remember Jason, as a little kid, on the set of the second movie, so if anyone was going to do this, I’m glad that it’s him. The fact that Ivan’s producing with him is also really nice. But I’ve always let them and the studio know that I’m open to appearing!

I mean, it was just cool to see you pop up in Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters in a small cameo! 

Yeah, and I really appreciate Paul. I love that they asked me to do a cameo in it. I totally got that Paul wanted to do his whole take on that world. I never really understood the whole reboot thing, but I know that Paul was eager to bring his new take to all of it. I think the fact that Ivan and Jason are involved with this new one means that it will be a lot more in spirit with the first two movies. So that excites me, whether I’m in it or not.

I love that you’ve done some guest spots where you’ve played an exaggerated version of yourself, like in Hot in Cleveland or How I Met Your Mother. What is that experience like? It must be a little strangely flattering.

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I guess, right? It’s kind of weird for me. I’ve been acting for over 50 years. You do a lot of film and TV through the years and you’re lucky if there’s just one or two roles that people really remember fondly. A lot of the producers and directors of shows that are on now were fans of those older movies from back in the day. I’m a working actor and I’ll do what’s needed, but it’s funny to get roles like this where I’m myself, but sometimes I don’t know what to make out of it all. Sometimes they’ll ask if certain things are okay in this fictionalized version of myself. But yes, I think it’s flattering on some level and it’s great that they not only connect with some movie, but with me, myself.

Finally Ernie, let me ask you something that your character on Hot Streets very elegantly wants to learn the answer to as well: Why are things the way they are?

Things are the way they are because we willingly put them there. Annoyingly, we’ve arranged all of this. So however things are is kind of on us. You know?

Season two of Hot Streets premieres Sunday, February 24that midnight, on Adult Swim.

Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.