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From Current Biography (Bio Ref Bank) -
Although she was born into a singing family--mother Naomi and sister Wynonna comprised the Grammy-winning country duo the Judds, and Wynonna has had a successful solo career since the early 1990s--Ashley Judd chose to pursue a career in Hollywood. She had prominent roles in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation and Sisters before winning the title role, that of a dreamy loner, in the 1993 movie Ruby in Paradise, and she has since starred in several hits, including Heat (1995), Kiss the Girls (1997), and Double Jeopardy (1999). Critics have praised Judd for the feminine strength she conveys on-screen; writing in Us magazine (January 1996) about the actress, who spent much of her childhood in rural Kentucky, David Hochman observed, "Ashley Judd is the sort of character Tennessee Williams might have created had he grown up watching MTV."
Ashley Judd was born on April 19, 1968 in Los Angeles to Michael Ciminella, a marketing specialist in the horse-racing industry, and Naomi Ciminella, who would go by her maiden name--Judd--after her divorce, when Ashley was four. Following several tumultuous years of struggling to survive on their own in California, Ashley, her older sister, Wynonna, and their mother moved to Kentucky. Money was scarce in that rural environment, and the trio moved around a lot, from one run-down house to another. Often they didn't have heat or running water. By the time she was 13, Ashley Judd had attended 12 different schools, an experience, she has said, from which she learned to be adaptable. According to Chuck Arnold in People (October 13, 1997), Naomi, who supported her daughters by working as a nurse, would often say, "Kids, pour more water in the soup. Better days are coming." Naomi also repeatedly told the girls that they were special and were destined to achieve great things. Judd still cites her mother's confidence in her as one of the greatest gifts she has ever received.
Because few other sources of entertainment were available, music played a big part in the household. Someone gave Naomi an old guitar, and Wynonna soon showed a knack for playing it. Although Ashley enjoyed the music, she had no interest in performing, and she has joked that given the quality of her voice, the public is lucky she followed another career path. While Naomi and Wynonna practiced the act that would eventually make them stars, the youngest Judd spent her time alone, reading. When she was 15, her mother and sister landed a major recording contract and embarked on a strenuous concert schedule. When the Judds, as her mother and sister became known, were on the road, Ashley lived with her father or grandparents. Many journalists have portrayed Ashley Judd as a Cinderella figure, pointing out that she used to clean the tour bus for pocket money. Judd herself has claimed that her family's fame didn't prevent her from leading the life of an average teenager, although she told Gail Buchalter for Parade (August 22, 1993), "A few times, I got mad waiting for them to stop rehearsing, but that's no different from any kid whose parents work at home. I remember getting really angry when no one picked me up at cheerleading practice or student council meetings." A television miniseries about the Judds, which aired in 1995, portrayed the teenage Ashley as petulant and dependent. Although she admitted to being engrossed by the show (she even provided the narrative voice-over for it), Judd told Lawrence Grobel for TV Guide (May 13, 1995), "I feel I look a little whiny, and I come across as having been frequently put out by their pursuit of their dream. That wasn't the reality, though I'm sure at times my feelings were hurt or I felt excluded."
After finishing high school, Judd attended the University of Kentucky, where she majored in French and minored in four separate disciplines--anthropology, women's studies, art history, and theater. When a prominent member of the board of trustees at the school made a racist remark, Judd led a campus-wide walkout to demand his resignation. Devoted to her studies, she generally maintained a 4.0 average. She graduated in 1990, with Phi Beta Kappa honors. (She remains passionate about the school's basketball team, the Wildcats.)
After graduation Judd was accepted into the Peace Corps. Fluent in French, she volunteered to go to a French-speaking part of Africa--preferably "an extremely traditional village," as she told Buchalter, "so I could start my career as a sociocultural anthropologist." But she felt conflicted. She had been interested in acting since she had seen Jane Fonda's performance in The Dollmaker (1984). Worried that her age would be against her if she delayed trying her luck in Hollywood, Judd approached her family for advice. Naomi was resistant to the idea at first. "She was aghast," Judd told Buchalter. "In her plans for me, I was running the Cousteau Society. But by the end of my presentation, Mom was as excited as I was and said she'd do anything to help me."
Judd moved to Los Angeles, got a restaurant job to support herself, and began taking acting classes. She asked the Triad Agency, where she had interned during her junior year of college, to represent her, and the firm agreed to send her on one audition. At this pivotal juncture in Judd's life, her mother announced publicly that she was ill with hepatitis C and would no longer perform with Wynonna. Some journalists have theorized that the news of the family's tribulations overshadowed the actress's fledgling career, but others think that it drew additional attention to her. "When I auditioned, I didn't tell anyone who my family was," Judd told Buchalter. "I was raised to be self-sufficient, and that's paramount to any success I attain. I guess my faith and arrogance kept me thinking I could make it on my own." Judd was offered the role for which she had tried out--the female lead in the movie Kuffs, starring Christian Slater--but turned it down in favor of a smaller role, because the Kuffs part required a nude scene. "My mother worked too hard for me to take off my clothes in my first movie," she told Cynthia Sanz for People (October 12, 1992).
That job was quickly followed by the recurring role of Ensign Mussler on the television show Star Trek: The Next Generation. Not long after she landed that assignment, she joined the cast of the critically acclaimed dramatic series Sisters. From 1991 to 1994 she portrayed the daughter of the character played by Swoosie Kurtz. Meanwhile, eager for more film roles, in 1993 she earned the part of the title character in Ruby in Paradise, the tale of a dreamer from a small Tennessee town who escapes to find her identity in Panama City, Florida. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival, and Judd received an Independent Spirit Award, as well as unanimously favorable reviews, for her powerful portrayal. Victor Nunez, who directed the picture, explained why, after despairing of ever finding the right person to portray Ruby, he chose Judd. "It was a fluke," he told the New York Times (October 3, 1993, on-line). "Three of the actresses were very good. But they were all a little too much Tennessee Williams and not enough Tennessee. Their experience of the South was from doing Williams, not from living in the north of Florida. Not only did Ashley have an intuitive sense of who Ruby was, she also knew what it was like to weather a winter in Appalachia."
After the success of Ruby in Paradise, Judd was advised to make her next project a big-budget Hollywood movie. Ever independent, she opted instead to go to New York to star in a revival of William Inge's play Picnic, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1953. After that she returned to Hollywood, where her next performance, in Oliver Stone's film Natural Born Killers (1994), ended up on the cutting-room floor. Hired to play the sole survivor of a slumber-party massacre in the movie, Judd imbued her character with chilling realism. The Ratings and Classification Board of the Motion Picture Association of America initially gave the picture an NC-17 rating, specifically citing Judd's scenes as being too emotionally harrowing, and Stone deleted them. Judd has said that she viewed his action as a testament to her acting ability.
In 1995 Judd made an appearance in the movie Smoke. Cast opposite veteran actors Stockard Channing and Harvey Keitel, she drew raves from the critics with her vivid turn as Channing's drug-addicted daughter. Her Hollywood profile rose even higher with her appearance in the 1995 film Heat. In it she played the wife of Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer), one of a band of audacious robbers headed by Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and pursued by detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino). Judd held her own with the heavy-hitting cast, and she was soon offered the role of Matthew McConaughey's wife in the film A Time to Kill (1996), based on a John Grisham novel.
Also in 1996 Judd starred in Normal Life, opposite Luke Perry. The story of a bank-robbing couple, the movie went straight to video after a corporate shake-up at Fine Line Features, its distributor. In the same year Judd starred in the unusual Home Box Office (HBO) movie Norma Jean & Marilyn. The project, which presented the life of Marilyn Monroe from the perspectives of two different aspects of her personality, starred Mira Sorvino as the glamorous side of the screen goddess and Judd as Norma Jean, the insecure orphan who would be transformed by the Hollywood studio system. Judd had never been interested in Monroe, perhaps because she was born almost six years after the actress's death, but after studying Monroe's work, she began to develop respect for her larger-than-life subject. "I have a lot of admiration for her animal brilliance, her ability to survive, to know what she needed and how to go about getting it," Judd told Hilary De Vries for TV Guide (May 18, 1996). So capably did Judd portray the young Monroe that she was nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award.
By the end of 1996, Judd felt exhausted, and she sank into a deep depression. She secluded herself and began intensive therapy, through which she examined her childhood years and came to the realization that they were not "quite as sunny as she had wanted to remember," as Bernard Weinraub reported in Redbook (November 1997). "I was looking at old stuff," she explained to Weinraub. "And the fact is, I really encourage people to look at it, because it doesn't break you. It actually heals you."
Judd emerged from that bleak time ready to work, and her next roles cemented her screen image as a strong woman. While the 1997 movie The Locusts was not a hit, critics singled out for praise Judd's performance as a free-spirited midwesterner; she herself told Michael Angeli for Esquire (February 1997), "It's the proudest I've ever been of my work." The actress's biggest hit to date also came out that year. Kiss the Girls starred Judd as a feisty doctor who teams up with a detective, played by Morgan Freeman, to thwart a serial killer. The movie was a huge success at the box office, and Judd was particularly proud that she did most of her own stunt work--even learning kickboxing for the role. Discussing her casting, Gary Fleder, who directed Kiss the Girls, told Lucy Kaylin for Gentlemen's Quarterly (October 1999), "The thing that was important to me was that the character couldn't be a victim. And I thought Ashley was the perfect nonvictim. She refused to be broken."
Judd's 1998 film, Simon Birch, was not as well received by moviegoers, but as usual, Judd's performance--this time as the mother of the title character--was hailed by critics. Later that year Judd narrated a Family Channel special on the life of her sister. But if 1998 was a relatively low-profile year on her resume, 1999 would prove to be anything but. Opening in September of that year, Double Jeopardy starred Judd as a woman wrongly imprisoned for killing her husband. While in jail, she discovers that her husband is still alive and enjoying himself with her best friend. Reasoning that you can't be tried and convicted for the same crime twice, she plots her revenge. Originally the role had been intended for Jodie Foster, but Foster dropped out of the project when she discovered that she was pregnant. A determined Judd then lobbied the director, Bruce Beresford, for the part. The movie features several scenes of Judd working out in prison in preparation for her release; critics found those sequences charmingly reminiscent of similar scenes in Sylvester Stallone's Rocky. In the first two weeks after its premiere, the movie, which co-starred Tommy Lee Jones, made almost $50 million and established Judd as a bona fide leading lady. (Its earnings eventually reached more than $116 million in the U.S. alone.)
Judd next starred in The Eye of the Beholder (2000), as a psychopathic killer who frequently changes her appearance to foil her pursuers. The film was almost universally panned, but Stephen Holden wrote for the New York Times (January 28, 2000), "Judd, at least, emerges from this fiasco with her dignity intact. . . . She is clearly giving her all to an unsalvageable enterprise." Judd appeared opposite Natalie Portman in Where the Heart Is (2000), a movie based on the Southern Gothic novel of the same name by Billie Letts, which the talk-show host Oprah Winfrey had selected for her popular book club. Although the book sold well, the movie was neither a critical nor commercial success. Judd currently has several projects in production, including a film based on the life of the artist Frida Kahlo, which is due to be released in 2001.
Unable to pigeonhole Judd, journalists have often resorted to comparing her to other actresses, and she has been described variously as having the casual beauty of Elizabeth Taylor, the icy sophistication of Grace Kelly, and the strength of Katharine Hepburn. Feature writers seem to relish the challenge of analyzing Judd--a woman who, on the one hand, has described herself as a "ball-buster" and, on the other, carries quilts and stuffed animals with her when she travels, to make her hotel rooms cozier. "True to her rural Kentucky roots," Hilary De Vries wrote, "Judd is a classic southern woman, all syrupy charm on the outside, wrought iron underneath. One minute, she is the girl next door with her well-scrubbed sexiness and down-home aphorisms, nattering on about 'Mawma' and 'grandaddy' and life on the farm. Spend enough time with her, however, and you realize Judd's cultivated farm-fresh image can yield with startling speed to that of a cool-headed careerist."
Riveted by her on-screen work, Judd's fans have shown just as much interest in the star's personal life. Judd had a widely publicized romance with Matthew McConaughey during the filming of A Time to Kill, and the two remain good friends. She was also linked with Robert De Niro, but although the two admitted to admiration for each other, they denied any deeper involvement. Judd laughed at the idea that she always dated her leading men. "I actually sat down and counted," she told Ned Zeman during an interview for Harper's Bazaar (May 1997). "In 10 professional outings, [I was involved with] exactly two of my co-stars, both of which were wonderful love affairs. Just 20 percent. Which, by the way, is well below the national average." Judd's next confirmed relationship was with the singer Michael Bolton, whom she met through her sister. Although the romance eventually ended, she credited Bolton for helping her through her depression in 1996. In May 2000 she announced that she was engaged to be married to the Scottish race-car driver Dario Franchitti.
A devoted aunt, Judd has frequently regaled listeners with tales of Wynonna's children. She is said to be intensely loyal to her friends. The actress lives in a century-old house on the property of Peaceful Valley, the Judd family's 1,000-acre Tennessee farm. She told David Hochman for Us, "I'm modeling it after C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, with cubbyholes and secret passageways, old gun cabinets and medicine chests built of chestnut, all because it was the first book ever read to me as a child and my house needs to be a magical place." Interviewers who have seen the house confirm that it is, indeed, magical--full of overstuffed chairs and whimsically painted surfaces. -- M.R.
Selected Sources from UK Libraries:
Nunez, Victor., Ashley. Judd, Todd. Field, Bentley. Mitchum, Full Crew/Say Yea Productions, Ruby In Paradise Ltd, and October Films. Ruby in Paradise. Los Angeles: Republic Pictures, 1994.
AV-V4476, Young Media Library
Mazzello, Joseph., Oliver. Platt, Ian Michael. Smith, and Ashley. Judd. Simon Birch. S.l.]: Hollywood Pictures Home Video, 1999.
AV-D4482, Young Media Library
Freeman, Morgan., Ashley. Judd, Cary Elwes, Tony. Goldwyn, Jay O. Sanders, Gary. Fleder, David Klass, James Patterson, Paramount Pictures Corporation, and Rysher Entertainment. Kiss the Girls. Hollywood, CA: Paramount, 1998. Widescreen DVD Collection.
AV-D4481, Young Media Library