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Champions: Ernie Hudson On Farrelly, Harrelson & Inclusivity In Comedy

Ernie Hudson (Quantum Leap) talks to Bleeding Cool about the Bobby Farrelly sports comedy Champions, inclusivity, Woody Harrelson & more.

Ernie Hudson's been fortunate enough to have robust and diverse roles throughout his near-five-decade career. While he's been most synonymous with Ghostbusters, he's done so much more spanning over 250 titles that may include some of your favorite franchises over the years including most recently his ongoing role in NBC's legacy series Quantum Leap. The actor stars as Coach Ernie Phil Perretti in the Bobby Farrelly sports comedy Champions for Focus Features that follows Marcus (Woody Harrelson), a former minor-league basketball coach who, after a series of missteps, is ordered by the court to manage a team of players with intellectual disabilities. He soon realizes that despite his doubts, together, this team can go further than they ever imagined. Hudson spoke to Bleeding Cool about the representation of people with disabilities, Harrelson, co-stars, and more.

Champions: Ernie Hudson on Farrelly, Harrelson & Inclusivity in Comedy
Ernie Hudson in Champions (2023). Image courtesy of Focus Features

How Champions Became a Unique Opportunity for Hudson

BC: What intrigued you about Champions?

Hudson: I love the fact that it was addressing the disabled community that is hugely overlooked. I did a movie about 30 years ago called 'The Hand That Rocks the Cradle' (1992) and I played a character who was mentally disabled. In researching, I was surprised by the number of people I knew who had relatives, who they never talked about, who had been put away in different places and never mentioned. People assume that unless you can live a certain lifestyle a certain way, somehow it doesn't have value. What I loved about [Champions] was we got a chance to meet people who are uniquely different. Certainly, humanity was intact, with lights and all the things that we value in the present. That was exciting to see on film.

Bobby Farrelly has a track record of being more inclusive in raising awareness of people with disabilities in his projects. What was it like kind of working with him on set?
Bobby was great. I was thankful he thought of me. Woody [Harrelson] and I had worked on the film 25 or so years ago called 'The Cowboy Way' (1994), so I've known Woody for some time. I'm a fan. I consider him a friend, he's talented and has an amazing spirit. Bobby, I didn't know, but I knew of his work. To get a chance to work with him, I was impressed with how engaging Woody and Bobby were just in terms of being inclusive to everyone and because I tend to work on shows where you're on the set, you do your job, then people disperse and go on their different corners. It's not many directors who can pull the sort of people together and give them a sense of being a part of [this community where], "We're making this thing together." That was exciting for me because you never know how a movie will ultimately turn out, but I knew the spirit of the movie was fully intact and good.

Champions: Ernie Hudson on Farrelly, Harrelson & Inclusivity in Comedy
Ernie Hudson and Woody Harrelson in Champions (2023). Image courtesy of Focus Features

You're in a familiar position surrounded by a lot of comedic talent given your past like in the Ghostbusters franchise. Can you speak of the talent of your castmates like Kaitlin [Olson] and Cheech [Marin] since you brought up Woody?

Everybody was great. Their performances speak for themselves when you see the movie. Everybody brought their A-game. I was impressed with some of the young people. I say, "Young people." Someone corrected me recently but when you get to be my age, everybody is young people. The talented people who I suppose would be considered part of the disabled community who came, some had experience, but I guess few hadn't had a lot of opportunities to do much acting but were genuinely talented and good and it shows in the movie. That's the heart of the movie. Woody, Cheech, and everybody, we so-called professionals, are great, but the real heart of the movie is the young people who are part of that team. We get a glimpse into their lives and the spirit of that. That's outstanding I can't call them by their first name since it's been a while and I have my issues with names. I'll give credit to Bobby Farrelly because not all directors can do that, but he's able to pull together this team of people who are committed to working to bring their best game. Once you get there and you realize this is what we're doing, good people bring out the best in you. As an actor, sometimes you'll be undercast and you're working, but when you're working with good people, it forces you to up your game. Bobby has a way of making everyone feel, "This is special. Let's show up." Kaitlin Olson is wonderful and adorable in this movie.

Champions: Ernie Hudson on Farrelly, Harrelson & Inclusivity in Comedy
Focus Features

Did you find yourself imparting your acting wisdom by mentoring the younger talent, or did you find yourself learning more about yourself or learning more from them?

It's always a combination of both. I didn't spend time imparting any. I don't think anybody was asking for that. If you are going to impart anything, it's through your example and whenever I take on a project, whenever I go to work, you want to come with your best and be open to learning. You always learn if you're open to learning because everybody has their process, but you hope someone will pick up a few pointers from you. For example, in this movie, I loved how when we weren't shooting, Woody would hang out with those he was working with. So many actors, as I said, will come and do their part and then they disappear when they go to the dressing room or whatever. Woody was right there, and it allowed everyone to feel included, especially for some of the disabled community that might have felt in the beginning, not sure.
Woody involved everyone and that was beautiful. You have to show up ready to work. You can't kind of figure it out on the set. You're always reaching for your best but you're always learning and the learning comes from the most unexpected places. In this film, if you can get to the heart of being in the moment and being genuine and sincere, which this cast was, you got to learn something.

Written by Mark Rizzo, Javier Fesser, and David Marqués, Champions is available on digital on April 28th, and on Blu-Ray and DVD on May 2nd.

Champions: Ernie Hudson on Farrelly, Harrelson & Inclusivity in Comedy
Cr: Universal

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Tom ChangAbout Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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