Ashley Judd – when she was once Hollywood royalty

      July 2004 By Philip Berk

Ashley Judd has been called  Diane Lane light, not a gallant thing to say, but not far from the truth.

The half sister of Wynonna and the daughter of Naomi — both country music legends — she’s carved a name for herself without their help.

And for the obvious reason —  she doesn’t sing!

And she fairly proves it in her latest, De-Lovely, in which she plays (famed composer) Cole Porter’s non singing wife.

She may not have Naomi’s voice, but she makes up for it in beauty.

And she’s a good actress as well.

She started out as a hostess for Hollywood’s most fashionable restaurant, the Ivy, where she made the right connections

Soon she was cast in a TV series (Sisters) but quit because it wasn’t what she wanted.

Instead she accepted small roles in movies

Which didn’t satisfy her either;  so she made the wise decision to accept the lead in an independent film, Ruby in Paradise, which won her the Independent Spirit award as best actress.

And the approval of important directors (Oliver Stone, Michael Mann, and Joel Schumacher) who cast her in small roles in Natural Born killers, Heat, and Time to Kill.

Eventually she found a niche for herself as the woman in distress who assists cops in solving crimes.

Kiss the Girls and High Crimes (both with Morgan Freeman) did extremely well at  the box office.

But she fared less well when she played opposite hunks like Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor.

She found time to do a small role in Frida, as a favor to her friend her friend Salma Hayek.

Then last year she made her Broadway debut playing  Maggie in an eagerly anticipated revival of Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

At her press conference for De-Lovely,  where she’s lovely,  gracious, articulate, and charming, I naively ask her about that experience unaware that her costar Ned Beatty in an interview in the New York Times had called her “a sweetie but doesn’t have much tools.”

Ingenuously she replies, “I loved doing the play. It was really special. The first day I showed up for rehearsal, I was pretty overcome. It was definitely a red letter day. I walked in so excited, so overcome, and the experience maintained that level of excitement and interest for me throughout the run. It’s a beautiful thing to do,  theatre, very different from film. But they complement each other and I look forward to doing more theatre.”

De-Lovely no doubt was a far happier experience.

Did she know much about Cole Porter before she read the script?

“I’ve always loved his music. I didn’t always know it was Cole Porter I was listening to. But once I got the part, I started reading a lot of biographies especially ones that involved my character, Linda. She was a very interesting person, much ahead of her time. “

In what way?

“She divorced her first husband in an era when divorce wasn’t an option, and in fact was considered scandalous particularly if it was initiated by the woman.  Fortunately she knew when to get out of an abusive marriage. She also moved to Paris during World War I, which was considered dangerous.  She lived comfortably as a divorcee and then chose to marry a man seven years her junior,  knowing that he was gay. So she really did what she wanted her entire life.”

Would she be able to endure a sexless marriage?

“You have to remember, the key thing about Linda was, her first marriage had been so abusive, the act of sex had become abhorrent to her, so she was relieved to be with someone who loved her on many levels and in  many ways but didn’t want sex from her. At one point in the film she says to Cole, ‘You like them more than I do,’  which can be taken to mean she was a lesbian. But for me it meant. ‘I am just not interested.”

And for herself?

Proudly she proclaims, “I am devotedly heterosexual. Remember I kissed Salma in a movie, and if I were gay that would have been it for me.”

She’s happily married to the race car driver Dario Franchitti.

What’s it like being married to an Italian? I ask her.

“Actually he’s Scottish with Italian heritage, which makes for a good combination — the passion of an Italian and the intelligence of a Scot.”

How are they able to sustain a marriage?

“I fight for every day,” she replies. “and  am very careful how I schedule things particularly because during the season my husband’s dates aren’t flexible. He really can’t call the Dallas Speedway and ask them to change a date. So I’m the one who tries to accommodate him. But we just love each other and enjoy each other’s company so much, somehow it always seems to work out.”

What do they have in common?

“We’re very comfortable together, just as delighted to lie around in hammocks and read books as we are lying in bed reading books. We live a very quiet life, and that’s the key thing, I think. We travel a lot, visit the great cities of the world, stay in nice hotels, but our primary choice is being in a rural atmosphere.”

How about children?

“We already have lots of children. We’ve got seven animals who live in the house with us, plus all our other farm critters.”

Has she ever had the urge to join Dario behind the wheel?

“There’s actually is a two seater they’ve developed. I have not had the opportunity to go in one, but I’m very excited about it. I had injured my leg doing Cat  and had a cast on my leg, so my doctor wouldn’t let me,  but I’m planning to do so soon.  And I have to add that Dario very courageously went in it himself on his birthday. This is a guy who has to be behind the wheel. He refuses to be a passenger in any car.  But he got in the car with Michael Andretti and let Mike take him around Indianapolis for four laps at 180 miles an hour. On his birthday. 

“He was very brave,” she adds with a naughty smile.

What’s so great about being married, I kid her 

“It’s nice to have a buddy, someone who supports you and gives you a lot of encouragement.”

Her sister has a well known weight problem. 

What’s her take on America’s obsession with being skinny?

Changing her mood, she becomes deathly serious.

“I think it’s absolutely dangerous and disgusting and I’m so distressed by my own inadvertent role in perpetuating it. I just dread to think about some young girl picking up a magazine and looking at me as an ideal of beauty. We’re all made in God’s image, and God is an infinite and powerful thing that’s refracted through all of us. We are all wonderful and perfect in our own way.”

So what advice would she give her?

“Love yourself for who you are. The more you have a relationship with spirit, the easier that’s going to be.”

Does she herself follow a strict regimen?

“I believe in balance. if I eat a bunch of junk one day, I try not to each junk the next day, I try to move around, walk or hike. I love to practice yoga.” 

How does she balance getting well paid for working on  studio movies and then making independents where she works for scale?

“You don’t make any money in the theatre. I don’t know how people afford to live in New York and do theatre. I just had to throw that in there so you’d feel sorry for me,” she jokes. “I just look for material that’s interesting to me.  I’ve made a few missteps for which I hold myself entirely accountable, but I try to learn from those mistakes. I’ve always done what I wanted to do,  even as a kid.”

Whenever Paul Newman races, (his wife) Joanne Woodward says she prays.for him. Does she do the same?

“I love what he does. He actually finished second yesterday, which was an exciting result. I get anxious because I want everything to go his way. I want his engine to last. I want the engineering set-up to be good. I want the team to give him good pit stops. There’s so much in a race that can go wrong. It’s almost a small miracle that someone can win much less be on the podium.”

And when he loses?

“He finished fourteenth in Indy because of a puncture, and he was so disappointed. I mean that’s a tough three weeks. Everything is about this one race, and he had such a good car and qualifying. After that happened,  my sister and I took  the opportunity to tell him how much we loved him and that he’s  the greatest . Any opportunity you get to spread the love, do it. Life can be very hard, and it’s often distressing and full of grief;  so that any chance you have to tell someone that you love him, take it.”

Did she get any special advice from her mother?

“Life is more important that show business. I hold that as true.”

Is she as smart as her mom claims?

“I don’t think I’m as smart as people think I am. There’s this myth about me being smart. I try to distance myself from it.” 

Describe a typical day for her?

“I wake up a little earlier, which is nice after having done the play. In New York i was sleeping till noon which kind of puts you out of sync with the rest of the world. Now I wake up, go down stairs,  and get tea or find someone to get tea for me. Sometimes I lie in bed and enjoy the morning, have all the curtains open, just be surrounded by trees.  Then I let the dog out. The cats come in one by one and say hello. Maybe I read a little bit, then Dario goes to his office where he works. Then we’ll have a snack and eventually a big breakfast , which I usually cook, or he helps me sometimes. He’s actually very good at a fry-up, as we call it. Then maybe I do a little work at my desk then go outdoors as soon as I can. I go out in the woods to read a book.  Later we have supper at our house. I love entertaining at home. I set the table. I love to set up the bar, light all the torches, and then have a great meal and watch the fireflies.”

For the record when asked about Ned Beatty, she excuses herself. “How about i take a pass on that one,” is her polite response.

Spoken like a Southern belle!