Ashley Judd had two sizzling new movie roles and just nabbed a highly sought-after Broadway lead. But what makes this actress purr is a fast-driving husband, her menagerie of animals, a good book and the occasional “hard-core” game of pictionary.
“Once, twice, three times a laaady,” Ashley Judd warbles along with a lounge-band rendition of the Lionel Ritchie ballad. The actress had just finished a champagne cocktail at London’s posh and resolutely unhip Lanesborough hotel when, heading for the door, she catches sight of some elderly Brits swaying to the late seventies prom tune. “How cute!” she declares, then murmurs, “I’m such an old lady for choosing this place.”
It’s after 10 on a Saturday night, and the wrought-iron gates of Hyde Park will be closing soon. The few stragglers inside are walking briskly through the dark. But when Judd enters the park, she takes her time, enjoying a leisurely stroll toward her rented Knightsbridge flat. “I don’t know if there are weirdos in this park,” she says — though she doesn’t sound especially concerned. Three-times-a-lady like in a Celine floral-print silk chiffon blouse and jeans, Judd slips off her rhinestone-encrusted Oscar de la Renta sandals to fell the cool grass under her bare feet. “It’s so ridiculous that walking through a park at night is considered dangerous,” she says. “To me it’s an elixir.”
Judd, 35, has been in London for three months–”How does ‘too long’ sound?” she says wearily — filming De-Lovely, in which she stars opposite Kevin Kline and Linda Porter, the wife and muse of songwriting legend Cole Porter. The long hours of filming (last night went until 4 am) and the distance from her race-car-driver husband, Dario Franchitti, have started to wear on her. And because of England’s strict pet-import laws, she’s also missing her five cats and two dogs.
“Their rules about animals are diabolical,” she says. “To spend months without a pet–never again. I don’t care what the movie is.” The pets apparently aren’t thrilled either. “Squeaker, one of our cats, is having accidents all over the house because he’s so angry I’m gone,” she says. “Dario told me Squeaker took a whiz in his office the other day–while still holding eye contact!”
There’s another, more immediate, reason Judd’s mind has been on home. Franchitti has been recuperating from an injury he sustained in a motorcycle accident in his native Scotland, and Judd has been getting periodic updates about his status on her cell phone. “He’s annoyed,” she reports, with a smile of relief. “That’s a food sign.” Despite the accident, she said she tries not to worry too much about her husband’s safety. “I think that fear is a choice,” she says, sounding like one of the indomitable heroines she has played in such films ad Kiss the Girls, Double Jeopardy and High Crimes. “I mean, I could be wound up about it every time he races, or I could not. And I’m not.”
Judd and Franchitti met in May 1999 at a wedding reception. A friend had told her that a cute race car driver would be there. “I said, ‘Look, my four available sports brain cells, are dedicated to Kentucky basketball.’” The actress obviously managed to expand her sports-fan capabilities, however, as she and Franchitti wed in December 2001. (The friends at whose wedding they met have since divorced. “We sucked up all the love in the room, apparently,” Judd says.)
The two, who have homes in Tennessee and Scotland, share a love for the bucolic life: hiking, and taking care of the dogs, cats, doves and countless chickens. “We have what’s most important,” Judd says. “We’re very comfortable together in the quiet moments.” Now, whenever she finds herself missing Franchitti and pinning for their sprawling farm in the hills outside Nashville, Judd makes a beeline for one of London’s green spaces. “If I have an hour to spare, I’ll hit the pavement to get to the grass as fast as possible,” she says. “It has assuaged the homesickness for me.”
The life of a movie star is often incompatible with Judd’s homebody tendencies. Before London she had spent several months in San Francisco shooting a thriller tentatively titled Blackout, in which she plays a cop who may or may not be bumping off her ex-boyfriends. After De-Lovely wraps, she’s taking a few weeks off before heading to Broadway to star with Jason Patric in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The play, which opens in previews in October, will keep her away from home at least six more months. “It’s a bit of a point of pride to do a play for that ling,” she says. “It’s just Hollywood fluff if you do it for less than six months.”
The part of the turbulent, sexually frustrated Southern belle Maggie “the Cat” Pollitt is one of theater’s most coveted roles, previously tackled by Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood and Jessica Lange. “A lot of Hollywood names wanted to play this role–and I mean big names,” says Cat’s producer, Bill Kenwright. “You have to have someone as Maggie who can eat up the stage. Ashley’s extraordinarily right for it, with her beauty, her background and her vulnerability.”
Before the play came along Judd had been planning to star in the movie Catwoman, which would have been her first shot at a big-budget comic-book franchise. But the film schedule collided with the play –”It was a catfight,” she quips–so she dropped out of the production and was replaced by Halle Berry. “Obviously that movie would have been incredibly lucrative,” Judd says. “But you know what? I’m the only person in my generation who will get to play Maggie. I cannot anticipate the ways doing this play will change me.” She shrugs. “You know what’s going to come of Catwoman: Hopefully it’s a big hit, it makes a lot of money, inspires some little girls, and there are some T-shirts.”
For Judd, the only real downside of a six-month run on Broadway is that it means six months in New York, where she lived two years ago while filming the romantic comedy Someone Like You. “It was really hard,” she says. “I don’t want to slag New York. It’s a very special place. You can get Indian food at 3 in the morning. But I personally don’t want Indian food at 3 in the morning. I want to go for a walk in my nightgown! I’m just not an urban person, neither is Dario.”
If Judd craves a calm place to put down roots, it may be because she never had one growing up. After her parents divorced when she was 4, she spent her childhood moving between California, Kentucky, and Tennessee. In 13 years she attended 12 schools. When she was 15, her mother Naomi, a registered nurse who struggled to keep the family afloat, and older sister Wynonna achieved sudden country-music stardom as the Judds. “I found peace and stability at an earlier age than my mom,” she says.
Between her nomadic childhood and the globe-trotting life of an actor, Judd has learned how to create islands of serenity. when she travels, she takes her favorite stuffed animal and a photo of Franchitti. And she always carries along tons of books. “My suitcase weighs so much,” she says, “but the make me feel at home.” For Judd, who studied French at the University of Kentucky, books are a portable refuge. She keeps a journal devoted to whatever she has been reading — recently Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, and Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. This bookish bent carries over into the way she speaks: crisply and precisely, with an impressive use of language (though she’s been known to utter the occasional “Duuude!”). “Kevin Kline is bit of a word hobbyist, am I,” Judd says. “We’ve been going around the set saying, ‘You’re the only other person I’ve ever met who knows how to pronounce “forte”!’”
It’s almost midnight by the time Judd finally reaches her apartment, tucked away on a quiet and stately side street. Mimi, a friend visiting from L.A., emerges from the kitchen, and the two settle down for a late snack. On the mantel Judd had propped a photo of Franchitti wearing a racing helmet. On a side table is a picture of her oldest dog Buttermilk. Beside the TV are games: Cranium, Pictionary, Articulate!, Scattergories. “Ashley is a huge game player,” Mimi explains. “When she hosts a game night, there’s a whole art to it.” Judd nods, adding, “I’m hard core.”
It’s getting a little late to break out the board games, though, and Judd excuses herself, reappearing in a demure, blue – and – white – checked nightgown and stifling yawns. Nine hours of sleep are–along with yoga and a mostly vegetarian diet — the cornerstone of her healthy lifestyle, and after last night’s marathon shoot, she needs them. On Monday she’s off to Luxembourg for more filming, then on to New York to find an apartment, and then returning to Tennessee with Franchitti.
But tomorrow Judd will enjoy a rare day off, which means, not surprisingly, that she’s heading outside London to visit a friend’s garden. “Some nice grass, a good breeze and some pretty flowers,” she says. “That’s what I’m all about.” This girl may be out of the country, but the country will always be in the girl.
InStyle – 2003