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SYFY WIRE Features

'Quantum Leap' star Ernie Hudson talks midseason finale reveals, Magic's strict moral code, & more

Mr. Hudson has gone from Ghost-busting to Quantum-leaping.

By Josh Weiss
Quantum Leap Season 1 Episode 6

Ernie Hudson has gone from busting ghosts to... leaping quantums. Hmm... that intro sounded a lot better in our heads.

Let's try that again, shall we? Ernie Hudson has gone from busting ghosts to quantum leaping. There, much better! Everyone deserves a second chance in NBC's Quantum Leap revival, which closed out the first half of its debut season last night with an explosive episode full of mind-blowing reveals, including an explanation of why Dr. Ben Seong (Raymond Lee) jumped into the past without telling anyone. 

To make sense of it all, SYFY WIRE recently caught up over the phone with Mr. Hudson, who plays Seong's benefactor in the present — the Quantum Leap project patriarch Herbert "Magic" Williams.

Let's start off with the revelations in the midseason finale. How will Magic take the news that Ben leaped to save Addison?

Well, I think it kind of derails, or potentially derails, everything he's been working so hard on. It’s been a real challenge to just get the program back up. And now that we have, and now we're making progress and getting close to where we can really launch it, [Ben] decides — for reasons we don't know — to take this leap. The program wasn’t completely set to go and he leaps without a destination [or] a purpose. The team that Magic assembled, it's kind of like family; it’s very close and everybody is very trusting of each other.

And so, this really feels like a straight-up betrayal. I also think it adds to that sense of responsibility — that even though [Ben] put himself out there, it's still my responsibility to make sure that he gets back safe. It just overcomplicates everything and it also throws me into a sea of lies, because I gotta cover. I can’t be honest, because that would really shut things down for a lot of people who aren't all that enthused about what it's costing and why it's necessary.

Can you talk a bit about playing the moral quandary Magic is in, trying to keep Ben's leap a secret, and stringing along the government, but not going so far as blackmail to keep it secret? What's it like threading that needle as an actor?

Because he was military, I just really wanted to be clear with him... I didn't want to get into barking orders. We see them a lot, this hard-ass, threatening [kind of character]. I don't want to play that. I think the character has to be a human being, he has to be a little complex, there has to be a reason why he's there. I wanted to make sure that his humanity was there and intact and that he's really invested …

I think he considers himself an honest man. He has good intentions. Sometimes, you’ve got to thread that needle very carefully when you're trying to get people to do what you want them to do, which is what he's done at the Pentagon. And so, what Ben does just really jeopardizes everything that he's worked for. If we can pull this together, then we can move on. [Magic's] ultimate goal is to get Sam back. Sam saved his life. He's really aware of that now, he can't sort of deny that anymore. He’s very clear and yet, he feels that the government sort of betrayed Sam by leaving him out there and not doing everything possible to get him back.

Scott Bakula sadly wasn’t able to be a part of this new iteration, but Sam and his legacy very much loom large in the background. How do you acknowledge what's happened before in this universe while not having that character present?

I would be thrilled if Scott decided to participate in any way. I watched this show with my kids back in the ‘90s and so much of [it] was his personality. He was a charming character, funny, but it really was those two guys [Sam and Al] … They talked about Ziggy, the computer, but we really didn't see much behind-the-scenes. I felt the same way with the original three Star Wars movies. Those guys bring to it, as actors, their personalities and so infused [themselves into the material], that that is the show.

I was happy that when they came back at it, they didn't try to do something totally different … We're not trying to do another version of it and I don’t think it would be possible, anyway. But I met Raymond Lee, he's one of those kinds of universal [guys]. His humanity is just right there and I can't imagine anybody not wanting to go on a journey with him. I think if anybody empathizes "walks in someone else's shoes," I think he sort of projects that.

Once I met him, I knew that what we were doing would work because he is that guy who can see from a lot of different perspectives. Once I met him, I really got excited because not anybody could do what Scott Bakula did. He's not doing what Scott did, but definitely has his own iteration of being out there and believing. I think people will like him and want to want to follow his journey.

What can we expect from the back half of Season 1?

The writing just gets better and better … There’s all this other drama that's happening now with Sam Beckett's daughter. She's connected to Ben in a way and knows something [we don’t] and so, it just makes it [more] interesting. We know there's another Leaper out there. Where, how — all of that — is just a real challenge to figure out for the character. And, hopefully, the audience may be one step ahead of his own, but I don't know what the answers are, being on the show. I'm curious to see where we go. And, as always, I think [Ben is] always sort of in danger of not just being stuck out there, but also potentially losing his life. It's not a guarantee that he's going to make it.

The first eight episodes of NBC's Quantum Leap revival are now streaming on Peacock. The show will return for the latter half of its debut season Monday, Jan. 2.