Quantum Leap's Ernie Hudson on the "Magic" of NBC's New Series

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Ernie Hudson is a man who needs no introduction. Perhaps best known as O.G. Ghostbuster Winston Zeddmore, his career spans nearly five decades and over 250 acting and voice-acting credits.

His newest role is Herbert "Magic" Williams on NBC's new Quantum Leap series, a continuation of the original 90s series starring Scott Bakula.

Speaking with TV Fanatic by phone from Los Angeles, where the series is currently filming, Hudson speaks to both the nostalgia and the novelty of working on this exciting time-travel adventure.

Ernie Hudson Lead - Quantum Leap

It's been over thirty years since Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished. The series followed his seemingly haphazard journey through time, living the lives of people throughout history as he tried to "leap" back to himself in his own time.

Hudson remembers the original series with fondness, although life before streaming or PVRs sometimes thwarted his viewing schedule.

Magic Knows - Quantum Leap Season 1 Episode 1

"Y'know back then, if you happened to not be there Thursday night or whatever night… I wasn't able to watch it every single week, but I watched enough of the episodes.

"Me and my older boys, it was one of the shows that we would watch together and talk about. They were huge fans. They were really excited to hear that the show is coming back. It's something that was really close to all of us.

"Just like [Ghostbusters], I think it's something that crosses generations and certainly something that people can come together on and have some really interesting discussions about."

While he knows many people will come to the show because they were fans of the original, he believes newcomers won't have any problem leaping into this refreshed narrative.

Taking the Call - Quantum Leap Season 1 Episode 1

"I think for the fans who love the original series … The heart of that was the leaps. Y'know, Sam Beckett, he would leap into different people who are going through crises and experiences and help them resolve [the situation].

"This is thirty years later, and a lot has changed. Every week, there's [still] a different leap. A different situation that is exciting to see how it resolves, a chance to see someone walk in someone else's shoes and circumstances. A chance for us to see the past in a realistic way -- past events that we may have thought of a certain way -- to get a different perspective.

"But what we didn't see in the original was Ziggy, the computer, and the team behind it and all the elements that go into making this possible.

"It's a military project, and there's a lot of pressure, so we also get to watch that unfold and see where that goes. So it's not the original, but for those who do [love the original], they won't be disappointed. For someone coming new to it, there's a lot to be excited about."

How Will We Save Ben? - Quantum Leap Season 1 Episode 1

As Hudson points out, the original series was really Sam's show, with only Dean Stockwell's cigar-chomping hologram character, Al, to guide him through his leaps.

This time around, there's a whole team supporting Raymond Lee's Dr. Ben Song. Hudson heads that team as the project leader, Herbert "Magic" Williams.

"Magic is a very intuitive guy. Spiritual. Wouldn't say religious but certainly spiritually intuitive, which is where he gets his name, Magic.

"He found out about this project somehow, recognized the importance of it, and has worked hard to get it back up and running.

Jenn and Magic - Quantum Leap Season 1 Episode 1

"He's been given the opportunity and responsibility of making sure that it comes off the way it should.

"Then, of course, we end up in the very beginning having a situation where our primary doctor decides to leap without permission, and that creates tons of chaos.

"Magic runs the project, but he has to answer to the Pentagon. He also has the responsibility of all these people working under his command. He looks at his team as family.

"He's a guy who certainly has his issues with life, but this is the one area that he – I don't want to say feels safe in, but the one area where he's at home. That's the work, and that's his team, but it's a lot of stress, a lot of pressure.

The Quantum Leap Team

With the project falling under military jurisdiction but run by scientists like Dr. Song, Magic is in a unique position of coordinating both groups without belonging to either.

"We have some brilliant people doing the tech. [Magic] has an understanding but not a complete understanding of what Ben Song and what the other team members do.

"He's a leader, but he's not a scientist. He just knows what the potential is and the capability, but he couldn't sit there and run Ziggy himself.

As much as Magic sees the Quantum Leap team as his family on-screen, Hudson is enthusiastic about the cast and crew that has come together to make the show. Having never worked with them before, he praises their work ethic and talent.

Magic Williams - Quantum Leap Season 1 Episode 1

"I met them on this [project], and now that I've had a chance to work with them, it's a great group. I'm so impressed.

"Actually, it's funny after Friday night – we put some long hours in on Friday – but I really wanted to send them a text and just say thanks for showing up and bringing their best and not complaining, just really being on point.

"I've worked with a lot of people over fifty-plus years I've been acting, and this is a great group of actors. I totally trust each one, and I'm excited about that. So many times, I've been in situations [where] that wasn't the case."

Making a show during pandemic times has been challenging for everyone in the industry, but Hudson conveys a sense of trust in the system.

Herbert "Magic" Williams - Quantum Leap

"Y'know, COVID has impacted everything, but I will say for NBC/Universal, the protocols have been amazing. Every effort is made to make sure we stay safe.

"Obviously, if we have an outbreak, everything shuts down, but I'm confident that's not going to happen. I've had a test every single day for the last five days.

"I appreciate the precautions because, like I said, we have a timeframe, and it's so important that we all be responsible and try to take care of ourselves. But NBC has really stepped up and been supportive."

At the time of the interview, Quantum Leap was about to begin shooting on the third episode of a twelve-episode initial order. Hudson is hopeful the audience response will be positive enough to warrant a "back nine" to be added.

The Team  - Quantum Leap Season 1 Episode 1

However, he's not letting the grass grow under his feet in the meanwhile. He keeps very busy, working on projects he loves and enjoying the life he has built.

"Well, I'm at a point now where I'm not looking for a job. I'm happy the kids are grown up and healthy, and the mortgage is paid. My wife and I have been together forty-six years, and I can't imagine my life without her.

"So life is good right now, but work has also been really good. I just finished a movie called Champions coming out in November with Woody Harrelson.

"And I did a movie with Brian Cox called The Prisoner's Daughter. Brian [Cox] and Kate Beckinsale.

Ernie Hudson as Herbert "Magic" Williams - Quantum Leap

"And then I shot a film last year in the Caymans with Nicholas Cage called Retirement Plan, and I executive produce a television show called The Family Business for BET+ that'll start airing its fourth season in September. So I've been working. [laughs]

"I feel very grateful at this stage of my life. And to be able to do a project like Quantum Leap, it's just a blessing. And I give thanks every day."

Quantum Leap premieres Monday, September 19 at 10/9c on NBC and will stream on Peacock once new episodes air.

Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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Quantum Leap Quotes

Ben: Some people assume that because I’m a physicist, I can’t be romantic. What they don’t realize is science is romance.
Jenn: Yeah, I’m sorry I asked for that speech now.
Ben: I’m serious. Take the law of entanglement. Once two particles experience a shared state, they’re no longer separate entities. They exist as one, even when separated by great distances.

Look, I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job. I’m just merely offering a counterpoint from someone who has impeccable taste in music.

Ian