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Ashley Alight

Author: Salma Hayek
Issue: Sept, 1998

Because she illuminates much more than movies with her feisty aplomb and earthy aura, Ashley Judd is a spirit for now

The word "star" doesn't hang well on Ashley Judd. A star is remote, celestial, and illusory - it may have burned out by the time we get to see it. The light it gives isn't to be trusted. Judd, by comparison, is undisguisedly elemental, someone so grounded in the reality she's constructed for herself that when we watch her we don't immediately jump to the conclusion that she's as unreachable as most stars. As Imperiously and nonchalantly beautiful as Elizabeth Taylor, she's as much a pistol as Liz: lusty, opinionated, and proudly hormonal. How smart of director Joel Schumacher to show Judd glistening with sweat in A Time to Kill (1996). She is altogether a different kind of star - an "earth," if you will - with her own kind of light.

The non-singing, thirty-year-old daughter of Naomi Judd and sister of Wynonna, Ashley has been no stranger to the pages of this magazine since we first saw her In Ruby in Paradise (1993). Her performance in that film remains her greatest, although she was outstanding in Heat (1995) and Smoke (1995); there's still the sense that Hollywood has yet to create for her the big dramatic roles she warrants. Simon Birch, the movie she appears in this month, is modest and her part in it comparatively brief. Had it have been a negligible role, we would have still paid her as much attention as we do here because, frankly, any excuse will do - she's that vital a presence.

Since we wanted something intimate, we went to one of Judd's closest friends and colleagues, herself a one-of-kind - Salma Hayek. They hooked up on a fiercely hot Saturday evening recently when Judd was in Vancouver and Hayek in New York City. The phone line positively hummed.

SALMA HAYEK: I can't believe I'm interviewing you, Ashley. I hope I don't bore you to death.

ASHLEY JUDD: [laughs] Never. It's good to hear your voice. Remember when you said to me the only thing that frightens you is a weak woman? Well, I said that to a couple of guys recently, and they were like, "Ah!" So now I refer to it as "Salma's soliloquy."

SH: That's what happens. They go, "Oh!"

AJ: Yes, it's emotional blackmail. But your wisdom is unbelievable.

SH: [laughs] But now I'm going to take this seriously and become a journalist. The first question is: What are some of the games that you remember playing with your father or mother?

AJ: One thing I did with my dad, which was very dramatic, was play outdoor hide-and-seek. We would play with grown-ups, and they took it so seriously. When I was in kindergarten Daddy took me out of school for a couple of weeks to go up Highway I with him to the Pacific Northwest. He was turning thirty, and he wanted to celebrate with a bunch of his wild, quasi-hippie friends, some of whom lived on government property in a domed tent. We played out there in the forests, and I was just thrilled and scared to death; I felt like I was the only person on the planet.

SH: Was that a good feeling or a bad feeling?

AJ: I don't really know. I mean, there's one moment in particular I can remember where I didn't know where anybody was, and I was just standing in the forest alone.

SH: That's a good thing for a child to experience. if you think about it, in a way we're all standing in the world alone. I think you're incredibly independent, and you . . . I was going to say you play with yourself, but in English that's not a good thing to say. [laughs]

AJ: [laughs] But it's true, Salma. Go right ahead and say it.

SH: You like your own company, and that's a wonderful quality. Did your mother ever teach you songs when you were a little girl?

AJ: I was around music so I absorbed a lot, but she didn't really teach me. When I was in the second grade, we lived on a hilltop in a very rural, beautiful, old-feeling part of Kentucky and we learned: [sings] "Kentucky! You are the dearest land inside of heaven to me / Kentucky! Your laurel and red bark trees / When I die, I long to rest upon some peaceful mountain so high / For that is where God will look for me."

SH: That reminds me: One of the things I find fascinating about you is how you take "home" wherever you go. I remember walking into a hotel room and feeling like I was in a Kentucky house; you'd turned the most cold - elegant, but still cold generic hotel room into a homey, warm place. Is it a way of making sure that you keep your roots and stay true to yourself and to who you are? Do you think that home and stability and the South are all part of your strength?

AJ: Well, I will say a few well-placed quilts and some seashell lights will do wonders for a hotel room. But actually, you're catching me at a very interesting tune, Salma, My definition of home is changing, and my internal compass is being reoriented, and . . . I mean, here I am, crying already.

SH: Oh, I'm sorry.

AJ: No, it's a good thing. But I don't know how much more I can address the actual question because I'm still in the process of changing, and you know how you can get such a good perspective on what you've just left behind when you see it more clearly over your shoulder.

SH: Did you pray as a little girl?

AJ: Yeah, I prayed. There was one thing my mom said to me that to this day I consider to be the foundation of my faith. I was really young and a little bewildered about some things. She came into my bedroom to say goodnight and I told her I was at a loss, and she said, "Well, what's the Golden Rule? I'll give you some time to think about it, and you'll remember." And sure enough I did remember: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." In that moment, she taught me that no matter where I am, I know how to live this life: It was probably the greatest gift she ever gave me.

SH: And what are some of the rituals that you have now as a woman?

AJ: Well, in the mornings when I wake up, I don't rash into things. I write, and that comes and goes. I'm in a heavy writing phase at the moment. If something big has happened in my life, or something memorable, I say, "OK, time to go back to pen and paper again; this needs to be registered somewhere." And, I think that one of the rituals I have in my mind is, I seek to understand. Last night, for example, I didn't sleep. I was trying to understand something, and I had a mental sunrise at about four o'clock. Again, it's kind of a process, but it classifies as a ritual - if something has happened I am determined to figure out what it is and why, and I'll give myself the space to accomplish that.

SH: As much as you reflect on life and you love philosophy, you are incredibly giving. Does this influence your way of working with directors?

AJ: Oh, absolutely. When I accept a role, I feel that as an artist I have to submit completely to the tutelage of my director. And while I expect to be heard and encouraged and honored, at the end of the day, man, it's the way the director wants it. And that gives me a great adrenaline rush, because I like the challenge of doing it the way they want it done. If they ask me to do it, I can get to a place where I can deliver completely what they're looking for - with my own oomph.

SH: Are you a pleaser?

AJ: Oh, it's pitiful. When I love somebody . . .

SH: Before we get to love, I want to ask you about loyalty, because I think you're a very loyal person.

AJ: I'm learning how to be more loyal, though, Salma.

SH: But I'll tell you, loyalty is a quality that I think you either have or you don't. I will never forget the time I spilled that glass of wine on my white shirt in the most popular restaurant in town, and you had a white shirt, and you took a napkin and copied the same stain on your shirt in solidarity. Loyalty is in your nature.

AJ: And you know what, sweetie? I loved doing that. And it was great, because it was over our hearts! We made the guy we were with cry!

SH: [laughs] And now about love. Do you find it easy to fall in love?

AJ: Hmm. I'm assessing that right now. I think it's easy for me to connect to some people, and I don't know if that's the same thing as falling in love whereas before, I might have said it was. Right now, I'm starting to believe I'm a little bit different from other people. Because otherwise, why haven't I had fourteen amazing boyfriends in sustained relationships?

SH: Because there aren't fourteen amazing men out there willing to have sustained relationships. Feel lucky if you find one - men by nature are not interested in sustained relationships.

AJ: But I think that if somebody gets who I am, something happens. And it may not necessarily be the true love that I thought it was. It is still, however, romantic love and it's a valid connection. It's just in a context.

SH: I sense maturity here.

AJ: Salma! I'm growing up!

SH: You are growing up, Ashley, I can see that. Because before, you thought you'd found true love.

AJ: I know.

SH: There was that romance and passion and the greatness of the moment.

AJ: You were there, too. You saw it. And you know what? You were awesome about it, because you never belittled it.

SH: No, because it's a great feeling to believe you're in love, and I've been there. But I hope you find someone.

AJ: Oh, yeah. But you know how I feel about life: I wouldn't be here if I weren't going to. I don't think that I was sent down here to get robbed.

SH: I think probably all your romances happen so you can understand the right person when he comes into your life.

AJ: Yep. And when that happens, it's a miracle.

SH: Ashley, I must say, you are one of the hardest-working actresses in the business; you do so many movies and take so many classes. For me you've been an inspiration on this matter. I've never seen anyone work so hard on herself spiritually, physically, intellectually, and emotionally. You have amazing discipline. You're overwhelmed with a thousand things, but you always manage to give yourself the time to do yoga, to read a book, to put a mask on.

AJ: To dig around that temple. Yes, it's something I have to do.

SH: Tell me, how come you have this discipline? Do you write things down all the time? Do you make lists?

AJ: Well, a bikini wax is definitely on that list. [laughs] But the rest of it . . . I guess it just has to do with knowing what I require to go into that easier, softer part of myself. It also comes from having spent so much time alone; though I can go a little too far in that direction. When I was working on Eye of the Beholder, I played a character who is so aloof that my whole lifestyle became very aloof. If someone knocked on my door, there was a part of me that went into a rage, because I wanted to be isolated and alone. I mutated into something that was a little to my detriment - not to mention unpleasant for other people, because I was a raging meanie! It's already so different here on the set of Double Jeopardy, where people come in and out of my trailer, and I'm hugging the set costumers and getting very excited at the prospect of having some new girlfriends.

SH: Did you enjoy working on Eye of the Beholder?

AJ: That movie was a very different kind of movie for me. There's a lyric in a song my sister sings that goes, "When you hit rock bottom / You've got two ways to go / Straight up, and sideways." I know when I'm working on a performance, I'll go sideways for a while before I go straight up. If I'm trying something in a take and it's not working for me, t will absolutely exhaust the idea in myself before a change will occur to me. And I almost need to do that. It's the way my neurons work. To answer your question, I was really unhappy in Montreal because the weather was so glum; it might as well have been the middle of December, whereas back home there were daffodils and jonquils and forsythia bushes. I missed the dogwood trees, I never saw a blooming Bradford pear. And that was upsetting.

SH: So the weather affects your mood?

AJ: It really did in Montreal.

SH: What about the moon?

AJ: Yeah, I can get a little crazy, a little sentimental, a little ripe.

SH: Are you affected by the smells of places?

AJ: Oh, love, you don't even know. I rented a house that has a huge, beautiful, warm, umbery-colored master bedroom, but every night I'd go up into the little hovel of an attic to sleep, because it reminded me of my grandparents and I could smell the pine trees through the windows.

SH: Now, Kiss the Girls opened huge - a lot bigger than anybody expected. You were a star before that, but I don't know if the industry really understood your star power until then. Do you get a feeling that the audience knew something the studios didn't?

AJ: Hmm. You know, before Kiss the Girls opened I was a little nervous. I was in a very rural and remote part of Canada, shooting Simon Birch -

SH: I was there with you. I came to visit, remember?

AJ: Yes. I got a little bit anxious, because I thought that maybe my life was going to change a lot. I called both my morn and my sister. As it turned out, it all was free, but the sweet thing was that my sister, having heard my tone, called me back with her son, Elijah, who's two and a half, and he left me a message. It was very cute, because he said his sister's name before he said mine. It was like he was consoling all the women in his life. He said, "Be OK, Gracie; he OK, Ashley. I love you. I miss you. I pray for you." And I still have it on my voice mail.

SH: That changed everything.

AJ: OK, what else? Sock it to me.

SH: Do you want to talk about your passion for basketball?

AJ: Oh, my Cats! My Kentucky Wildcats! I love them.

SH: You fly around the country just to watch them play?

AJ: Yes. And it blew my mind when I started to get wind of the fact that they actually liked me being around. That was humbling, because Kentucky basketball is a big deal, and I am not the biggest fan - I am just the most notorious one. [laughs]

SH: Oh, my God. Do you like guys who are into sports?

AJ: Umm . . .

SH: Or Just guys who are into music . . .

AJ: Ahem!

SH: OK. Do you want to have kids?

AJ: Salma . . .

SH: I know it started hitting me this year. I think you'd be fantastic mother.

AJ: I love carrying my niece around like a little sack of potatoes. She's awesome. She hooks her arms through mine when I've got her on my hip, and I think, "Right on." I think that, as with marriage, you just know when it's time to have kids.

SH: Because you grew up with two strong women and because you are a girls' girl, would you like to have a girl?

AJ: I have to have a girl. I think it would be a wonderful thing to have a boy, too, because he would simply come through me and would be slightly less me. Because, obviously, when I see a little girl, I'm seeing myself, even though it may not be conscious. And the encouragement I give her is a way of loving myself.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Brant Publications, Inc.