In Transformers: Prime, which airs the penultimate episode of its second season tomorrow, Ernie Hudson plays government man Agent William Fowler, a human liaison between Federal authorities and the Autobots. A regular on the series since it began, Hudson’s character is a gruff, career tough guy who, over the course of Transformers: Prime’s two seasons has developed a tentative trust with those alien mechanical visitors. The Ghostbusters and The Crow actor was kind enough to chat with MTV Geek about his experiences lending his voice to Transformers: Prime while giving us the inside scoop on Agent Fowler.
Now this came Mr. Hudson’s way while he was on vacation visiting his in-laws, and while he was taken with the character, didn’t have any kind of studio to record his audition reel, necessitating some quick thinking involving his in-laws’ car. “So I got in their car and took the microphone and did the audition thinking ’This will never work, but I should send it in anyway,’ and luckily the people at Transformers responded to it and I got the part.” Hudson has been doing a bit of VO over the years—one of his most notable roles was as Cyborg/Victor Stone in DC’s The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians.
Hudson says that his Transformers: Prime character is different from any other that he’s played in the past, describing him as a “genuine, patriotic guy,” (Hudson jokes about the character bragging about his star-spangled boxer shorts). The actor was looking to broadening his already substantial resume which already includes over 100 roles in his 30-year-plus career, but he says the deal was sealed (for him, at least) when he got into the room to see some of the long-time voice actors he’d be acting alongside like Peter Cullen and Frank Welker. “When I went to the first session and saw who all the cast was—and these are people my kids tell me about, you know, guys who are legends—it was just the coolest thing watching them do their stuff. And I feel that having been on the show, I’ve grown a lot as it comes to my own competence.”
The voiceover booth with Cullen, Welker, Kevin Michael Richardson, and the rest of the cast sounds like an extremely inviting place to hear Hudson describe it—in fact, he tells me that it’s the only show in his long career where he feels like the regular trip to the studio is like “going home to family.” I asked if some of the vets offered any kind of guidance when he got into the room: “Well, when you walk into a situation like this, no one says ’Welcome, let me show you [laughs],'” and besides, he tells me that he’s “not that dude,” when it comes to soliciting advice like that. Still, Hudson credits the other actors with boosting his confidence, providing complements to his work along the way. “I’m seeing them do this and I’m thinking, ’You know, I’m pretty good at this, too.'”
Hudson says the youngest of his four sons loves the show—all of his sons do, actually—and he’s accompanied the actor to a couple of VO sessions. “He’s very happy to see Dad doing something cool,” Hudson tells me. “Every once in a while as an actor, you do something that the kids really like,” he says, telling me that his grandchildren are also fans of the show and his work on it.
Hudson says that the role of Agent Fowler was different from most of his other one-off voice over stints in animation and as a consequence, this allowed him the chance to get to know and develop the character. “You do have the time to find [and] discover little nuances,” he explains, saying that with guest spots, you kind of have to guess at it while with recurring roles “it’s great to have time to grow into it.”
I asked him about the contrast between his own seemingly laid-back, easygoing personality (Hudson said he wasn’t so sure how laid back he was personally) and the stiff-necked G-man he plays in Prime. While he says his own demeanor simply keeps him from stressing over the small things, Agent Fowler is a man who finds that the world around him in changing—what his job is and how he does it is different from when he started, something Hudson says he can identify with. “He’s coming to a point where the world is changing around him and he’s sort of being phased out in a way and then he finds his purpose with these Transformers.” In his own life, Hudson says he still getting regular film work, but the landscape for an actor is changing. He says that in spite of their differences, he feels a lot of himself in the character.
I joked that for all of the changes around him, he’s still a hardworking man, with numerous credits to his name. He says he’s simply found what he loves to do and just keeps doing it while trying to avoid the pitfalls of cynicism about the business. “I think it’s important to find the joy in your work and the things that sort of renew that.” For him, his Transformers role was a respite from a low spot for him and being embraced by the cast and the fans and seeing their enthusiasm has reignited his own—He’s often amazed when he travels or heads to conventions and finds fans reacting to roles in smaller productions that he doubted anyone had seen. “It makes me want to give more and be a part of it… What an amazing adventure this is and what a gift it is to be able to contribute.”
Looking at the character’s design, Hudson likes the way Fowler turned out under the hands of the Transformers: Prime animators, although he jokes that Fowler’s gut is something the actor could never imagine having. He says the gut is actually fitting for Fowler, who’s maybe not had the time to get to the gym while Hudson remains fastidious about avoiding a gut of his own (He laughs and tells me, “The one thing, I’m not going to have a gut!”). On a slightly more serious note, Hudson says that he was pleased to find that Fowler was a character of color.
I noted that above all else, over their nearly 30 year history, the Transformers have consistently remained unambiguous good guys—you rarely if ever have stories where the Autobots meet, have a misunderstanding, and fight or have too much in the way of moral ambiguity about their purpose on Earth. I wondered to what degree this helped with the continued popularity of the franchise and Hudson agreed that it’s the heart of the show and that fans react to the optimism of the series. “We have this kind of nightmare… this fantasy [about] the the bad guys, the thing from outer space eating us up and we kind of go there, but at the heart of [the Autobots] we’re just good guys.” He says that there’s something reassuring about the fact that no matter how evil the bad guys are, the good guys will be looking out for us, citing something his mother used to tell him: “We’re here because of the prayers of the saints.”
The “Triage” episode of Transformers: Prime airs Saturday at 8:30 PM on the Hub.