Ernie Hudson pulls a badge from his tan sheriff’s uniform. He’s in costume for ABC’s new police drama “10-8,” but the badge is real. Hudson, who plays Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy John Henry Barnes on the series, is a reserve San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputy.
Some 14 years ago, the actor was brought down by a group of police officers as he entered a hotel garage following a speaking engagement in Pasadena.
“A case of mistaken identity, I guess,” says Hudson, none too convincingly. When one of the officers recognized Hudson from the popular “Ghostbusters” movies, attitudes changed.
“They kind of picked me up, dusted me off, told me how much their kids loved me, and asked if I would sign autographs,” says Hudson, who nonetheless was humiliated and upset.
As an antidote, a friend suggested Hudson take some police training. He did, and has served as a reserve deputy ever since.
“It gave me a real strong sense of what they go through, which I had never had before,” says Hudson. “Coming out of the black community, police weren’t the first people I’d turn to, but it really gave me a good sense of both sides.”
A similar sensibility underscores Hudson’s choice to play Barnes, the tough but fair training officer for rookie Rico Amonte (Danny Nucci), a former New York City street tough trying to turn his life around.
“It’s nice to show officers who are doing what they do — obviously dealing with some potentially very violent situations, but, for the most part, trying to protect and serve,” says Hudson. (”10-8” is the radio code deputies use to indicate they’re “in service and ready to respond.”)
PART WRITTEN FOR HIM
Creator Jorge Zamacona says Hudson was his first choice for Barnes, whom he describes as “a seasoned cop who has seen a lot of bad stuff and will see more in the future,” but has kept his integrity.
“When I wrote the part, it was his voice in my head,” Zamacona says, noting “there is probably no nicer gentleman with a SAG card than Ernie.”
The actor, in turn, is very pleased with his role as Barnes.
“One of the most difficult things for me as a black actor is getting characters that are well rounded,” he says, adding that it’s great to be “one of the guys who is chasing the bad guy down, rather than just the guy in the suit, sitting in an office, always angry and yelling.”
Zamacona says he’d prefer a later time slot, but “I’ll take eight o’clock as opposed to not being on the air.” He says the network has allowed him “to keep an edge” and tackle complex issues.
Hudson, who played warden Leo Glynn on HBO’s violently explicit prison drama “Oz,” says, “I did ‘Oz,’ and loved doing that show, but it was a little hard to show my kids.”
The father of four sons, Hudson says “it’s nice to have family shows ... still be an eight o’clock show, but still be incredibly honest and funny about these guys who are the first to show up at the scene of the crime.”
The 57-year-old Hudson, whose film credits also include “The Main Event,” “The Jazz Singer,” “Penitentiary II” and “Going Berserk,” has dropped 25 pounds since filming the pilot.
He got winded during the pilot’s action sequences, “but I couldn’t complain because I didn’t want them thinking I’m too old for the job,” he said with a laugh. So he cut the carbs and can now “run full out.”
On this day of filming, the cast and crew move swiftly among a number of locations in a gang-infested neighborhood just west of downtown.
Barnes and Amonte drive their black-and-white down a street full of potholes. Then, on a nearby boulevard — where the pedestrians are impossible to tell from the hired extras — the patrol car gets a flat tire. Barnes is not amused that Amonte hadn’t checked to make sure there was a spare in the trunk. Now they’ll have to wait for a tow truck.
“We’re on Crenshaw with a flat. What does that make us?” Barnes barks.
“Vulnerable, sir,” the rookie responds.