Ernie Hudson (aka the 'Yam Man') Gets Romantic on Grace and Frankie

Michael Logan
Grace and Frankie
Melissa Moseley/Netflix

Ernie Hudson always seems to be cast as the cop or the perp or the ghostbuster. But now, at age 70, he’s the romantic heartthrob. In the Netflix comedy series Grace and Frankie, Hudson plays Jacob, a Lockheed engineer turned vegetable farmer who woos freshly divorced Frankie (Lily Tomlin) with his delicious—and phallic-looking—yams. But will they actually ever hit the sack? Hudson gave us the lowdown.

Look at you scoring a love story after all these years!
Finally! I did several episodes as Epatha Merkerson’s boyfriend on Law & Order but there wasn’t much for me to do there. But this is terrific! Now people are coming up and saying, “Hey, it’s the Yam Man!” And I’ll take it. When the show first called, they wanted me to be Jane Fonda’s love interest. Then they called back a week later and said, “We want you to be with Lily.” Either way, I couldn’t lose.

Poor Frankie needs stability after finding out her husband of 40 years is gay. Will she get it from Jacob?
He’s exactly what she needs, if only she’d trust it. Jacob is calm, grounded, patient, totally together. Look what he does for a living! But so far Frankie’s not ready to go to bed with him—or, as she puts it, “have sex in the vagina”—much less get married.

Yet she’s using Jacob’s yams to make and market her female lubricant. Mixed message?
Yeah, explain that! [Laughs] But hey, I’m coming back next season, so it’s looking good. There’s hope!

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Staying relevant as one ages is a big theme of the series, yet Jacob isn’t all caught up in that stuff.
I love playing a guy who’s comfortable in his own skin. When you’re young you think it’s the best time, the fun time, the only time. And it’s just not true. I am having so much more fun now, with my family, my wife, my life, my work, because a lot of the stress just isn’t there anymore. You’re no longer worried about how, or if, your life is going to work itself out. Sure, there are still real struggles, but you also develop a great sense of humor about them. Jacob has made peace with all that. He understands that life is all about the now.

How are you dealing with the physical aspects of this aging thing?
Somehow I’ve gone from being the new kid on the block to being the senior citizen and I’m like, “Whaaat? How did this happen?” Physically, I feel better than ever, so in my mind I’m still young and just getting started. But then I go to the airport and the TSA lady takes one look at me and says, “Do you have any artificial hips or knees?” [Laughs] It’s devastating!

Well, Lily Tomlin and your other cast mates—Jane Fonda, Sam Waterston, Martin Sheen and Sam Elliott—are all older than you. Is there any comfort in that?
Yes, I’m the baby of the group! It’s so weird. Maybe it’s this business, maybe it’s life in California, but you start to see people disappear when they hit 40. I’m talking about talented actors, especially women, but I’m also talking about older people in general. You just don’t see them on the streets in L.A. It’s like they’ve somehow vanished. Maybe we’re all in some sort of denial about getting older. It’s not that way in the rest of the country. My wife and I have a home in Minnesota, so she can be near her dad, who is 95, and there you see so many older people—on the streets, in stores and restaurants, living life fully and wonderfully. My father-in-law was married for 70 years when his wife passed. They had a wonderful marriage and I thought, “Oh, my God, he’ll be in mourning for the rest of his days.” But he’s back with energy and his sense of humor and any woman within 20 yards of him is not safe. I’m, like, “Dude, settle down!” That’s what old age can be like.

What’s the best thing about being part of the “Netflix and Chill” phenomenon?
Well, the money could be a lot better but I do love these shorter seasons. It means more time for other opportunities. I’m also in the new Epix series Graves with Nick Nolte, which we shot down in New Mexico, and I just finished a Fox pilot called A.P.B. in Chicago. So it’s all good. And I love hanging around the Grace and Frankie set, even when I’m not working. Just watching these fantastic pros going through the process is a very cool thing. [Laughs] But best of all? They just handed me the role. I had worked with [series co-creator] Marta Kauffman on the Jennifer Aniston movie Call Me Crazy, so I didn’t have to do that dance. And it’s a good thing. [Laughs] When I have to audition for a job, I usually don’t get it!

Grace and Frankie, Season 2 now streaming, Netflix