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Call Me Crazy: A Five Film
Lifetime
Release Date: April 20
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The Identical
Release Date: Fall 2013

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Compulsively gracious Ashley Judd gives a guided tour of her house, her wardrobe, her woods, her loves, her work, her dreams, her peeves, her backhand – and that’s just one day. Bob Morris tries to keep up.



Her red brick house, which sites on a thousand rolling acres in Tennessee, was built in 1819 and is just down the road from her mother’s and around the bend from her sister’s. There’s a flag hanging over the front porch, which looks out beyond the picket fence at th eold barn where sheep were just sheared for summer. Ella Fitzgerald’s voice is blasting from insie the house and out over the garden. It feels very down-home and monied at the same time-Tara redux.



I walk up the steps to the screen door and see her in the kitchen in a white terrycloth bathrobe, hair in pigtails. I blow my nose (hay fever) and clear my throat and yell “Hello!” but she doesnt hear me because she’s singing along with the music. I yell again, louder.



“Ashley? Hello! Ashley?”



With the spunk of Scarlett O’Hara she runs over, flings open the door, and welcomes me into her home. Immediately, she can’t do enough. She wants to be friends and it throws me off.



“Sing me a song,” says Ashley Judd, who plays a vengeful ex-con this fall in Double Jeopardy opposite Tommy Lee Jones, and a stylish serial murderer pursued by Ewan McGregor in Eye of the Beholder. “That’s the rule of this house. Guests have to either sing or do a chore.”



All I can squeak back is, “Really?” She senses that I’m thrown, takes my arm, and walks me over to a ceramic jug in the airy room looking out over a sea of grass and a sugarhouse, and pours me a glass of the sweetest water I’ve ever tasted. “It’s from our own spring,” she says as she watched me drink. “There’s no better water in the world.” She introduces me to her cockapoo, Buttermilk, and her tabby cat, Buttercup. She has tied bows around both in honor of my visit. Buttercup isn’t pleased. “She cant keep her clothes on for very long,” Judd says with the same flirtatious tone that encourages gossip on all her movie sets, ” so you better enjoy the show while you can.”



After leading me to a seat and making sure I’m comfortable, she goes upstairs to her massive walk-in closet filled with designer outfits, only to emerge, moments later in a state of almost undress, wearing an unabashedly revealing tube top with tiny tennis skirt. She had warned me about this outfit the night before, whe she called my bed-and-breakfast to welcome me. We get into her Jeep and head off to her tennis lesson.



The tiny Tennessee village where she lives is outside the town of Franklin, which lies along the historic Natchez Trace Parkway far enough south of Nashville to be rural. Her mother, country music singer-turned-inspirational-speaker Naomi Judd, has lived here for twenty years. So has older sister, Wynonna, the other half of the award winning singing duo. Ashley left after tenth grade and returned about ten years later as a movie star. Although the area is home to many other well-to-do people in the country music industry (some even call it Nashville 90210), many plain country folk live here, too. It is the kind of place where people call little valleys hollers. It is the kind of place where low-fat is low-priority and barbeque, cornbread, and sweet tea are standard fare. It is the kind of place where a suitor might bring a female cashier bouquet of daisies wrapped in a piece of paper with “1 corinthians 3:9″ or some such thing written on it. It is also the kind of place where everyone knows everyone’s business, especially the Judds.’



One night, not so long ago, for instance, Ashley was seen going into the movie theatre in Franklin with gary Chapman, the host of a successful Christian country music show. It was a purely innocent evening, but since Chapman was married to the singer Amy grant at the time, it got into the gossip column of the local paper. Judd, who had to endure sniping gossip columns a few years ago for dating Matthew McConaughey while on the set of A Time to Kill
with him, was so angry she considered putting up posters on the phone poles to defend herself. “I mean, I’m from here. I should be able to move with impunity.”



When we arrive for the tennis lesson, Chapman, the man in question, is standing, tanned and shirtless, in the driveway of his posh gated home on endless acres. He’s lending Judd his court for a lesson with a local tennis pro. He’s also lending a right-to-life group (“It’s an organization for prolife people who don’t want to be jerks,” Chapman says)is property for a big benefit party that is in the process of being set up under a nearby tent. Off from his lucrative TV job (“It’s fun to get paid to be an idiot”) and recently divored he’s able to admire the thirty-one-year-old Judd openly: “She is one beautiful woman and she has the will to do anything she wants,” he tells me. Just by watching her take a lesson, I can see what he means. She pounds the ball with the same unrestrained vigor she has lent to her roles, from cerebral ingenue of Ruby in Paradise to the kick-boxing medical intern in Kiss the Girls. But when she makes mistakes she doesn’t curse. Instead, she says “I whiffed it” or “Shucks” as the sweat drips down her nose and she lifts her tennis skirt (revealing ruffled panties) to wipe her brow.



“All the Judd women are pleasantly edgy,” Chapman tells me as she aces a shot, then turns and spits like a hillbilly. “You dont find many actresses spitting like that in Manhattan, do you?”



Well, um, no. Nor would I be likely to find any insisting that I get out there and play tennis with her teacher. It’s fun and also extremely unsettling to play while she watches and cheers me on like a long-lost sister, and after a few minutes. I insist that we stop so I can get on with the interview. Judd thanks Chapman for the use of his court. He pecks her glistening cheek.



“Your mother’s already introducing me as her new son-in-law,” he says.



Back in her Jeep, Judd tells me “My mother says that about every man she meets.”



IT COULD NOT HAVE BEEN EASY growing up with Naomi Judd: the daughter of a gas station owner fron Ashland, Kentucky, she spent years as a single mother (she had divorced Ashley’s father, Michael Ciminella, an aeronautics parts salesman, early in the marriage) trying to make a life for herself in Hollywood, and Marin County, among other places before she succeded at country music with her older daughter Wynonna. Somehow, young Ashley managed. She got lost in books and excelled at whatever school she attended. When the Judds hit the road, she cleaned their bus got pocket money. Given a chance to get into the act (her mother got her to take fiddle lessons), she opted for other activities.



Dispite the fact that she was often left behind, she never worked up much resentment. Instead she read assiduosly, socialized aggressively, dressed preppy (even though she didn’t have much money), and ended up graduating from the honors program at the University of Kentucky in 1990. Eventually, she moved to Hollywood, studied acting, and started making industry contacts by waitressing at the Ivy. When Ruby in Paradise took first prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1993, Judd was suddenly on everyone’s radar.



But like so many other young actresses who are treated like godesses, Judd is, perhaps, better known for being a glamorous symbol of young hollywood than for any one role. She has not found her There’s Something About Mary yet, and there have bee a few disappointments since Ruby through no fault of her own. Still, her enthusiasm and protean ability to play everything from the sexy Norma Jean in HBO’s Norma Jean & Marilyn (Mira Sorvino played Marilyn) to the sorority-girl wife in A Time to Kill prepared her to take on the leading role opposite Morgan Freeman in Kiss the Girls. And last year, when a pregnant Jodie Foster dropped out of Double Jeopardy, Paramount’s Sherry Lansing decided that Judd had the box-office clout to carry the role of a wel-to-do young mother who wrongly ends up in prison for murder, and then, while on parole, sets out on a breathtakingly ruthless vendetta.



“Ashley’s intensely interesting to watch,” says director Bruce Beresford. “And her soncentration is very goo. She latched onto things and does then very well. But I suppose that’s what actresses do.” What most actresses don’t do, however, is give dinners for the cast and crew where grace is said before eating. “She’d both well-read and devout, and it’s not an affectation,” Beresford says of Judd’s christianity.



While shooting Eye of the Beholder, a stylish thriller by The Adventures of Priscilla , Queen of the Desert director Stephan Elliot, Judd gave another dinner. At this one, she asked everyone at the table to talk about their favorite childhood birthday.



In Hollywood, young people are always trying to out cool each other,” says Jason Priestly, who plays a junkie in the movie. “But Ashey loves being ahost and bringing people together and getting everyone talking. She’s not one of those actresses who likes to sit in the corner and smoke. She’s outspoken and incredibly gracious. She liiked to grab life and squeeze every ounce out of it.”



INDEED, SHE SEEMS TO BE squeezing every ounce out of me on my visit. Asfter tennis, we are driving back to her house, and she wants me to notice everything: the yellow wax bean plant blossoming in the fields, the steam rising off the road, the stone “slave walls,” the historic signs, the buffalo on her sister’s land, the place where a boyfriend with “the most beautiful lips” kissed her in sixth grade, the field where she departs by helicopter for the Nashville airport. “In summer,” she says, “the lightning bugs go all the way up to the treetops, and it’s the best show on earth.”



Clearly, some artist from the South can go home again, regardless of what Thomas Wolfe wrote, adn it didn’t take Judd long to realize that. Around the time her house in Malibu burned down in 1993 (she was in New York, starring in Picnic on Broadway), she went to Tennessee and broke her foot while horseback riding. She stayed to heal, and because she had to sit still, she started to get a sense of what it was like to really be around her mother and stepfather, Larry Strickland. And it seemed right. “Having a broken foot was God’s way of telling me to stay home,” she says. Her sister was there, pregnant with her first child, and Hollywood was already giving Judd the creeps, and Franklin was as much a home as any she had known in life.



So she made the maverick decision to stay for good. In 1993, she renovated the house down the road from her mother and moved in. “It’s a half-mile from her driveway to mine,” Judd says as we drive past her mother’s suprisingly modest brick house. “The critical thing is that my house is beyond hers, so she doesn’t have to drive by me several times a day to fo to the main road.” It was her churchgoing, New Age-y mother who introduced Judd to Michael Bolton at a dinner party ageter the 1996 Country Music Association Awards. They became lover. Now they’re just friends. “He’s family and very sweet,” Judd says as she points out some trees in her yard. “he gave me those pink dogwoods for my birthday.”



INSIDE, SHE CHANGES INTO OUTFIT NUMBER THREE-VINTAGE white linen skirt and diaphanous blouse, and gives me a tour of her home, which is pretty without being fussy. There are books everywhere and a Bible on the kitchen table. Although there’s plenty I’d like to ask her about-being famous, devout, and single, for instance-she does not want to talk about herself. She wants to talk about the novelist Anne Lamott. She wants to talk about The New York Times. She wants to know what authors I like. She wants to introduce me to the artisan who does the decorative painting that makes her home see so French-ified. She wants to talk about gender apratheid in Afghanistan and her beloved Wildcats basketball team from the University of Kentucky. She wants to tell me all about Aunt Dot, who has come over from Judd’s mother’s house to bake a peanut butter cake. And she wants to make me some cornbread.



“I’m the designated hostess in the family,” she says.



“Ashley,” I have to ask, “what is it that makes you so aggressively gracious?”



She shrugs. She does not say that it’s because she grew up as a typically accomodating child of divorce or that being a hostess is a way of making herself feel at home in the world after somewhat of a rootless childhhood. She just tells me that she’s Southern and it’s normal. “Look, I’m just a goober,” she says, as she wolfs cornbread and peanutbutter cake, making me feel like a neurotic weight-watcher because i only nibble at it. “I just tend to get very excited at things.”



In fact, she seems excited about every single leaf and stone on our hike around the property. To me, it’s just a lot of woods and fields. To her, it is the most beautiful place in the world. “I’m walking in front of you so i can break the spiderwebs,” she tells me. On a pond, she charms a white duck out of the water. “Whitney, you’re the most handsome duck I ever met!” She is speaking to him in a high-pitched baby talk voice. “Where’s your girlfriend? When is she coming back?”



She may sound girly. She may seem loopy. She is not naive. She was smart enough to lobby for her role in Eye of the Beholder, which was written for an older acterss like Susan Sarandon or Meryl Streep. She’s smart enough to turn down roles that keep her away from home unless they’re big enough to pay for the pool and screening room she wants to build. She’s smart enough to say to me in the most breezy manner imaginable, “O.T.R.” (meaning off the record) every time she dishes the dirt about anyone, from actresses to editors. Everything she says about her opinionated and protactive mother, however, is fair game. “She just has her own kind of reality,” Judd says. “Sister says she’s going to write her own version of Mom’s autobiography someday, and it’s going to be called The Truth.”



We are still hiking, but she has decided that instead of walking on the trail in her woods, we need to be sloshing through the creek. She does so in her sneakers. I, however, am going barefoot since I dont’t want to fly home with wet shoes. “Are you okay?” she keeps asking as she practically skips through the water, pointing out tadpoles and the spot where she liked to take dips with her little nephew, Elijah. I am too embarrassed to tell her that I’m trying not to slip and break an ankle while keeping up with her, worrying all the while about cottonmouths and leeches. Once out of the woods, I think that I’m well, out of the woods. But immediately we are plowing through a waist-high field of grass and I’m having a hay fever attack and worrying about ticks. Yet, she is so beautifully fearless, in her faded sundress (outfit number four) and with her ponytail bouncing in front of me, that I am pulled along by her energy, like a bird sucked into a jet engine.



Her friend, the New York socialite Blaine Trump, says that Judd’s “a lot to handle” and “there’s a whole lot of lady there.” Actually, there’s a whole lot of everything in Ashley Judd: faith, curiosity, sexuality, intellect, graciousness, style, and of course, beauty.



WE’RE STANDING IN FRONT OF HER HOUSE AND, ALTHOUGH she’s been entertaining me for seven hours, nonstop, she’s not done yet. Do I want to ride bikes? Horses? See her llamas? Visit her sister? Eat some Jell-O salad? Actually, I feel like a wet rag that has just been through the spin cycle, and I want to go home.



“Is there anything else I can do for you today?” she asks.



It’s all I can do to keep myselff from yelling “No!” and running for my car.



“Well, I hope that when you come back,” she says, “it’ll be without the notepad.”



I’ve interviewd many celebrities. None of them has ever said that before.



SOURCE: Elle – September 1999

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