CULVER CITY, Calif. -- Life was easy for actor Oliver Hudson. He grew up in a show-biz family and didn't particularly want to be an actor. When he was 8 years old he and his pal, John, from across the street would conjure horror movies with buckets of fake blood, latex and firecrackers.
But his sister was Kate Hudson, his mom was Goldie Hawn and his father figure was Kurt Russell. Hey, the DNA was there.
" ... I went to college for a couple years and came home and saw that my sister was doing so well and figured, 'Well, let me give it a try.' And I got in acting class and started to really like it and went from there."
But he was in for an abrupt awakening. "Acting was an interesting thing because life had been very easy for me," says Hudson, seated on a couch in the green room at Sony Studios here.
"I was very likable. I was not part of a clique, I liked everyone and everyone liked me. I was good in sports. I wasn't a good academic, but I was a good charmer, so I was able to get through life on a few easy things," he smiles.
"I'd never done anything that posed any obstacle. And acting was it. The minute I started, 'This isn't a lifelong dream, but I'm doing this. How am I going to make money?' ... the rejection is enormous. So just dealing with that all the time, but I knew I could do it. You still learn all the time. I still think I can. I still think I can be much better than I am."
People have seen how good he is on CBS' "Rules of Engagement," where Hudson plays the easygoing Adam to Bianca Kajlich's Jennifer. He's also costarred on "Dawson's Creek," "My Guide to Becoming a Rock Star" and "The Mountain," as well as several low-budget movies.
"Before I wanted to be an actor, I thought, 'That's easy. I can do that. It's just saying lines so realistically.' Then I started to do it, and it was not that easy ... I would think that being a good actor was just being real. And I'd watch a scene that I did and thought, 'That is so boring. There's nothing behind it.' Then you try to figure out how to bring it to life a little bit, and for me it's been a longer road."
For the first few years he just went through the motions. "I had a fear of failure, that's what it was. The less I tried the easier it would be to fail. There would be no investment and the fall wouldn't be as far, and I'd bump myself a little bit but the end of the day, I could always rely on the excuse, 'Well, I didn't try very hard.'
After three years of this he left the comforts of his parents' home and faced his unknown future alone. That was not the only crisis he faced.
He and his childhood friend, John, were entering a restaurant when Hudson was suddenly stricken. "I felt I was having a heart attack. John had already walked into the restaurant. I wanted him there to catch me or call an ambulance. I went in and said, 'Something just happened to me.'
"That started a six- to nine-month run of heavy anxiety -- it was an anxiety attack and it just pummeled me. And for six months, maybe longer, I was dealing with this ... every day, not being able to breathe. I was trying to be an actor still so I was going on auditions and trying to make that work. But it was just horrible. I was a fighter. I didn't want this to affect my life, so I would still surf, still go play my sports. But I'd literally be in the water waiting for the wave and feel like I was dying, panicking, fighting this. 'I'm not going to let this rule me.'ââââ"
Already fearful of flight, he had an audition in New York. "I got to New York and threw up on the sidewalk. I'd been seeing a psychologist for 20 years before this all happened. I did a lot of meditating and writing daily in my journal. I was in my mid-20s. But I learned a lot about anxiety and the amount of people who've been through this situation."
Eventually he overcame it using some of the Buddhist principles his family embraces. The other event that prevented Hudson from being another Hollywood brat was the arrival of Kurt Russell in his life.
"He taught me how to be a man. I lived with mom for two years without a male figure. My real dad was around for weekends and things like that but after a while he sort of took off, got a little nutty. So my dad, Kurt, who we call 'Pa,' came into my life when I was about 6, Katie was 4.
"He really changed the dynamic of my life. I don't know who I would be or what I would be like without him in my life. I can't even imagine it. I was very quiet, sort of a mama's boy, very dependent on her, and he sort of came in there and he's a man's man, but he's gentle. He's got both sides. He's fierce, but then can be very gentle. And he was able to balance those two extremes very well and he whipped me into shape. He got me to do things on my own, taught me that it was safe to be alone and that I could care for myself."
Another strong influence has been his wife, Erinn, who stuck by him during his illness and with whom he has two sons. "I have a family now, a big house in Brentwood and two kids. I'm supporting my life as an actor. That's when it feels I'm doing a job but I never feel like an actor. It doesn't define me."