ED-We would like to introduce to our readers probably one of the most talented actors that we have introduced to date. We have with us actor Ernest Harden Jr. who has starred in many Movie roles and has been a regular in many popular television shows. Ernest before I reveal to our readers the splendid career that you have had, please tell us how you started you career.
EH-I grew up in a tough neighborhood in Detroit Michigan. I saw a lot of trouble all around me but inside I never felt that I wanted to take part. I loved sports and played a lot of basketball. You had to be good at some sport or be looked upon as weak. Even though it wasn’t wise to be caught in the wrong area at the wrong time or walk home from school in a nice new coat that your mother just brought you, down the wrong street, a lot of the people were good people. Many of them were great people. I was in a unique situation there. My mother and father were both college graduates. They were from Atlanta Georgia. Father finished Morehouse College and my mother finished Spellman. They moved to Detroit up north like so many others to get away from the then races south and to find a better way. But the neighborhood later went down and became a ghetto, and that is where me and my younger sister Cheryl were born and had to grow up in. At home my parents preached education to blast our selves out of the ghetto my father would say. My mother loves the arts and pushed us both into them. She taught English and art for a Detroit high school herself. My sister went on to get her PHD in music from Northwestern. She has since done some conducting for both the Chicago and Detroit symphonies. I wasn’t quite as good as my sister was in music but loved theatre. In grade school one day the teacher asked who wanted to be in the school Christmas play. Some of the kids raised their hands including a girl that I liked at the time very much. Even though I wanted to raise my hand I was afraid not to look cool in front of the fellas. For the rest of the semester the teachers left us in the dark while I watched my girl and the rest of the kids work on the Christmas play. I then vowed to myself that I would never miss another one and I never did. I went on to later get a BA in theatre from Michigan State University. As soon as I graduated, armed with a hundred dollars in my pocket and round trip ticked back home to Detroit I left for New York City to realize my dream of becoming a great and successful actor. When I got there I stayed with my uncle and his family for a little while. Just long enough to get my bearings. His wife was pressuring me to go back home saying if I hadn’t made it big in two weeks I needed to forget it, go home and try something else. Obviously I didn’t pay her any attention. I had a friend there named Kim Sullivan who I met while I was still in school. He was a actor touring in Detroit with a play called the River Niger which had been on Broadway. I looked him up while in New York City. He showed me the ropes of the business. We became best friends. I was blessed to have known him. I remember on one of my first auditions in the city, as I arrived the people were waiting in a line wrapped around the building. To my amazement they were all going to the same audition that I was going to. As I got to the back of the line I said to myself “Ok, no one ever said that this was going to be easy.” Hours later when I finally got to see the casting directors, I found out that what they were casting was a off, off Broadway play and there was no money involved. I couldn’t believe all of these actors had stood in that line to do a play for free. That is how bad the actors wanted to work in that town. It was a rude awakening. Toto I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. This was the real deal. Yet it made me stronger and I wouldn’t have traded my experience for the world. Every morning, after that, I would get up and follow every lead. I tried to leave no stone unturned. One day while making my rounds and looking for an agent to represent me, I walked into the wrong office. A casting director was reading actors and putting them on film for some movie. When he saw me he waved for me to come in. He gave me a script to read cold and put me on camera. After my reading he hired me on the spot. The movie was called ‘Three Days of the Condor”, directed by Sidney Pollack and starring Robert Redford and Fay Dunnaway. That was a major break for me. It was my first speaking role in a major motion picture. My name was the last name in the credits. Ernest Harden Jr., as the Teenager. It also enabled me to become a Screen Actor Guild member. With that card I was now able to later get into movies like Martin Scorsese, “Taxi Driver” and Woody Allen’s “The Front” and “Dog Day Afternoon” with Al Pachino. 3:30am one morning I met Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese on the set of Taxi driver. I thought that I died and gone to heaven being directed by and working with people that only a year before I was watching in the movies and reading about in school. I had no idea at the time how big that these movie were going to become. I feel so blessed to have been a small part of them.
EH-I told my mother when I got casted for White Men Can’t Jump, that I had finally made the pro’s as a basketball player. I am getting paid for playing basketball. She laughed and said it is about time. When that movie was released it was the number one movie in America and was also number one when it was released on video. When Kadeem Harderson and I talked about each others mother in the movie, we started a trend. Everyday we came to the set with new jokes. No one knew what we going to say until we said it. Every day the camera people were rolling with laughter on the ground. To me they cut the best jokes out.
Every one in this little movie ”The Final Terror” later became red hot. Rachel Ward became a major star. Darrell Hanna became a big star. Adrian Zmed later got his own series. Akosua Busia later starred in the Color Purple, Joe Pantleiono started to work all the time. Andrew Davis became a huge director, (The Fugitive), Joe Roth became the head of 20th century fox for awhile and I didn’t do to badly.
ED-There are many more films that you played in, but your television career has also been most notable. To start with you were a regular for four seasons on ‘The Jeffersons’. How did you like working with such a notable cast?
EH-The cast became my family. When I was first casted on the show it was for a guest star role, as Jason King. That show went over so well it gave them the idea to make me a regular character on the show named Marcus Henderson. That show made me famous. It has been seen by 62 countries around the world for years. It is a part of the fabric of America. Some of the cast has now passed away, but even today I am still in contact with the others. They will always be special to me.
ED-What great memories can you share with us about the show?
EH-Roxie Rooker’s young son use to come up to me and play tapes of his music during my lunch time while we were on the set. I thought his music was good, but no big deal. I guess it was because I personally liked Jazz and R & B. He later got hot and became Lenie Kravitz. That shows you what I know about music (smile). Another great memory was watching and being a part of the celebration for Isabel Sanford getting her star on the walk of fame. It was well deserved.
ED-You were also a regular in The Buffalo Soldiers, V, The Insiders and the Robert Guillame Show. How do you compare your experiences between your acting on television and the cinema?
EH-Television is done a lot faster than most movies are done. In television you get less chances to get that special take on film. Just like anything else, the more time that you have to do something the better it should be. Robert Guillame was a mentor to me. He is a great and talented man.
ED-You have also racked up starring roles in such films as ‘White Mama’, with Bette Davis, ‘Roots -The Gift’, and ‘The Atlanta Child Murders’. Your are truly an amazing actor, and my hat is off to you. How does it feel to have so many accomplishments under your belt?
EH- ‘White Mama’ was the role of a life time with the legendary Bette Davis. I am the only African-American who has ever had her as his leading lady. I am so proud of that. ‘White Mama’ was one of the last movies that she ever did. She fought for that title. I am sure that starring in a movie with me was a kind of a statement that she was making. We got hate mail. Jackie Cooper who directed it, and Ms. Davis, both got hate mail. Yet that is how she was, always standing strong in what she believed in. We remained friends until she died. I loved her very much.
About my accomplishments… you are only as good as your last movie in this business. I am believing for the best is yet to come.
ED- Last but not least, you have also appeared on stage. How do you compare this as opposed to acting in front of the camera?
EH-On stage you have to be broad so the person in the top row of the theatre can hear you. Film is a more intimate medium. The camera will do a lot of the work. The trick to me in doing stage is finding the balance with being more broad, and keeping your performance real and believable. Some actors can’t cross over very well. They either can’t tone it down for film or can’t bring it up and still come from a real place for stage. I am a life time member of the Actors Studio where we work on a lot of theatre. I guess that’s why it takes years of practice to be good at this craft.
ED-What does the future hold for your now and where do you see yourself five years down the road?
EH-I am currently shooting a movie called ‘The Preachers Son’. I also just finished shooting a film called ‘More Than Friends’, and I am one of the stars of this new web series called ‘Death Interrupted’. To be honest, I still have a dream that will not die in me that one day that I will be holding that Oscar in my hand, and be recognized by my peers, and fans, as one of the greats. Why not dream high? Why not dream big? It all starts from there.
ED-Ernest, you are truly the most experienced actor that we have had the pleasure to interview to date. I know that I speak for our readers when I ask you to let us know of your future endeavors. We wish you much luck and hope to have more interviews with you in the years to come. Thank you for sharing your splendid career with us.