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September 19, 1999
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SJP


Judd in Jeopardy
Ashley may play a woman in distress, but in real life she's in control
By BOB THOMPSON


HOLLYWOOD -- Ashley Judd breezes into the Beverly Hills hotel suite resplendent in her cream-coloured Valentino dress. As she sits in her chair daintily, she is told how beautiful she looks.

"Thank you," says Judd, smiling coyly, "but don't sound so surprised."

But of course. What was I thinking?

This is Ashley 'Don't Mess With Me' Judd, a smart and sassy actor who plays the movie industry game on her terms.

Seven years ago, the University Of Kentucky graduate was better known as the shy sister of the country-singing Judds, sister Wynnona and mother Naomi.

Her debut in Ruby In Paradise didn't get much attention from moviegoers back in '93, but producers, directors and, especially, agents saw what everybody sees now -- that smart and sassy thing.

She used that combination to great advantage portraying Marilyn Monroe in Norma Jean And Marilyn, the wife role in A Time To Kill, the tough role in Heat, and the pursuer-turned-pursued in Kiss The Girls.

In Double Jeopardy, her latest film adventure, which opens Friday, Judd plays a woman who gets framed for murdering her husband (Bruce Greenwood), then is sent to prison. Tommy Lee Jones is a parole officer who tries to track down Judd, who goes on the lam, looking for her lost son.

As usual, Jones is a presence in the picture, but it is an Ashley Judd headliner.

So six years later, she's reaching for the top and she's almost there.

Bright and brainy and impatient with fools, how did she manage to curb herself long enough to get there? "Like, do I have to downplay it for the schmucks?" she says, smirking as she tugs at the top of her designer dress.

"No. I think that being perceptive and having interests is nothing but an asset. What I find is people's surprise that I might have an urban side to me, or that I'm well-rounded in ways that they didn't expect either an actress or maybe a Southerner to be."

The fact that Judd's Double Jeopardy character is easily conned doesn't seem to faze the actor in what she admits is a woman-in-distress thriller with lots of revenge and lots of Judd doing the running and jumping action thing.

"It's fun," says Judd of doing most of her stunts. "And it's a diversion, and it's exciting. It's a different kind of challenge. It's very invigorating."

Punching Tommy Lee Jones "was an added bonus" she says, joking about a confrontation between their characters.

There were lots of water stunts in Double Jeopardy, which didn't please Jones or Judd, because no matter how diligently their crew tried to heat the water, "it ended up being an admirable but ineffective result."

Toughest for Judd was her coffin scene, when her character is put in definite jeopardy.

"I cried all day when I did that," admits Judd. "It really upset me. I think it was because it was coming to the end of the movie, and we'd already said goodbye to everybody.

"And there was something about lying still for 12 hours that promoted having thoughts about my own mortality."

She survived it, of course. She even made another film, Eye Of The Beholder, which she wrapped in early August. It's about a strong-willed woman (Judd) who gets stalked by a seemingly harmless man (Ewan MacGregor).

That film's theme seems to hit close to home for Judd, who lives far away from the glare of the media spotlight, just outside of Nashville on a 1,000-acre spread.

"Well, we don't have Spago," suggests Judd. "I think that my peace of mind and my solitude are greatly enhanced by being at home. And the kind of home that I have is cute. It was built in 1819, and I restored it in four years."

And what's this rumour? Folks have to do chores when they come over?

"Yeah," says Judd, like there's nothing wrong with her homestead tradition.

"You have to take your shoes off, because when you live on a thousand acres, it's hard not to track stuff in. But, let's see, you could rinse the dishes in the sink and put them in the dishwasher, or you could shake out the throw rugs on the sleeping porch. Little things."

One thousand acres, on the other hand, is a big chore.

"Well, not really," she says, the country girl sounding a touch defensive in her Valentino dress.

"I mean, half of it's woods, and half of it's valleys. And my sister's farm manager, whom we call Uncle Johnny, he gets on that big tractor and keeps it mowed around the lake and stuff. And I have a five-acre fiefdom in the overall camp."

Or maybe it's more like a compound -- the poor timid girl growing up to be a rich 'n' famous movie star hiding out.

"I do think of it that way sometimes," she says. "And I think that oftentimes the way I appreciate it is rooted in fear.

"No, not fear in losing it all. Fear of recognition, fear of fans, fear of intrusiveness. The reason that it's become so sacred to me now is because it protects me and buffers me against what you-all call celebrity."

She grins as she adds quietly: "And then there's the naturalist in me that appreciates it because it's like Audrey Hepburn said, 'I have found that there is nothing in the world that nature cannot soothe.' "

Seems like the perfect opportunity to start a family, doesn't it?

Judd snaps out of her pensive self, recognizing the inquiry as one of those big city snooping type things when she hears it.

"Something I've always said, which I believe remains true," says Judd. "It's for God to know and for you to find out."

The ASHLEY JUDD SPORTS FAN File

WILDCATS SUPPORTER: Judd is not just a Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball fan because she graduated from the University Of Kentucky. "My grandparents were fans too. My Aunt Margaret told me about Papa Judd leading the kids in the neighbourhood into the car and driving them to Lexington on the old two-lane state highway."

FAN-ADDICT: "Well, I like to carry on. Some Kentucky fans are a little more subdued. There was this great comment made when we were playing some NCAA tournament game in St. Petersburg. So it was probably Utah. And their fans were just going crazy. And I'm like, 'Come on!' And the Kentucky fans are just like, 'Honey, they haven't been here before.' There's a certain superiority in that."


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