Ashley Judd’s acting career started in Florida with Ruby in Paradise, so it was nice to see her return to the gulf for her latest film Dolphin Tale. Judd went from indie darling to hot starlet to A-lister with a penchant for thrillers, and then back to a working actress. But throughout her career, Judd has been excellent, and sadly her skills on screen are often overlooked because of her attractiveness.
Judd has a reputation of being press shy, and initially she walked in and then was dragged out shortly thereafter. There was concern she was gone for good, but Judd came back and gave a thoughtful interview. We also talked briefly about her relationship with George Lucas. Check out the interview after the jump.
They were in the midst of shooting, but Judd was warm and friendly. Perhaps it was her role as a mother to a child who comes to Morgan Freeman for help building a prosthetic tail for a dolphin.
Before getting to the on set interview, here’s the latest trailer for Dolphin Tale:
Question: You and Morgan worked together so well. Were you already involved when he got involved?
Judd: It was just serendipitous. I had seen a really extraordinary film called The Snow Walker that Charles Martin Smith had directed, and I’d also seen Stone of Destiny which is a wonderfully Scottish story. When I received this screenplay my agent really downplayed it, she said, “The part’s really small, there’s not a whole lot to it, but I think you might enjoy the elements involved and I know you’re a fan of Charles’ other films.” At the same time I was reading it Morgan was reading it, so it came together beautifully and we’re very excited.
Question: It’s good to have you back in Florida. I always think of Ruby in Paradise. What’s it like to be back?
Judd: Now that I don’t have to stay at the Admiral Benbow Inn it’s fantastic. Got a little upgrade in the hotel accommodation. I also think of Ruby in Paradise when I come to Florida. That was a beautifully unique and special time in my life. There will never be another first. In a way I also didn’t know I was in Florida because I was in an altered state of consciousness that entire film. When we wrapped there was a little party. I left the party momentarily, went out to the beach, looked up at the sky and all of a sudden I saw myself on a map and realized I was in the panhandle of Florida and realized I was somewhere very far away emotionally for the six weeks.
Question: How much has your process changed in that time?
Judd: Not at all. I don’t necessarily sleep on the sets anymore, but other than that not at all.
Question: What was it you liked about this story?
Judd: I didn’t know it was true story when I was reading it. When I was done I thought, “This writer needs to be taken out and shot! This is just so emotionally manipulative, and how dare they have the audacity to incorporate every touching storyline imaginable?” Little boy abandoned by his father who idolizes his hero cousin who’s a great athlete and a soldier too. That’s criminal. Then I saw seewinter.com and it dawned on me it’s a true story and thought it would be a wonderful thing to be a part of. I’m also turning in my first manuscript so the schedule was attractive too. It gave me plenty of time to finish the book while being on a show with people I really enjoy.
Question: Is it different being on a family drama as opposed to the action stuff we’re used to seeing you in?
Judd: A set’s a set’s a set.
Question: I’m always drawn to the W.C. Fields quote about not working with animals or children. You’ve got both and you’ve got 3-D. How would you rank the three in terms of which is the worst to deal with? (laughs)
Judd: I think that children and animals can be uniquely humiliating to grown-ups, but so far both of ours have behaved extremely well, with an assist from child labor laws and good union rules. (laughs) When we did the schedule and signed the contract the production also quoted Mr. Fields and said, “Some things may change over which we have no control. Please be as flexible as you can.” Who can predict what happens with all these dynamics, but so far so good!
Question: Do you think it adds something to have the real Winter playing herself?
Judd: Oh, absolutely. I’m very moved by her. Someone I work with at home who loves animals sent me an e-mail today knowing I was on the set saying, “Please give that dolphin my most profound regards.” My eyes welled up. She’s a very special animal, as is her surrogate mother.
Question: Have you gotten to swim in the tank with her yet?
Judd: I haven’t gotten in the tank yet but I have been around her at the aquarium. She’s lovely. It’s also fun for me to see her play on her own, really see her spirit. Isn’t it great how the stuff the production built for her they made look old so it wouldn’t look incongruous? In the film the aquarium is having a lot of funding troubles and is about to collapse, so even though we built a new tank it’s movie making magic.
Question: As a former actor is it helpful to have Charles Martin Smith as the director, since he knows the process?
Judd: I think so. He cares a lot about the performances and he gives us plenty of feedback, plenty of time. Really pays close attention to the subtle connective tissue that other directors overlook.
Question: He’s been in some major films like American Graffiti, have any of them been particularly important to you?
Judd: I haven’t called him “Toad” yet. (laughs) Yeah, they’re all good films. I think American Graffiti in particular because we lived in Marin when it was being filmed. Mr. Lucas is a great hero of mine both personally and professionally. I was pretty young to see the film, didn’t necessarily appreciate it for what it was, but I related to his character because he was funny. He’s actually what stood out the most for me.
Question: What’s he like on the set?
Judd: He’s very organized, straightforward, pleasant and fun. Really kind. He seemed really happy to see me this morning. Maybe it does have something to do with the kids and animals but I received an especially warm reception today.
Question: We’ve heard from Nathan that he and Harry have been pulling pranks around the set. Have they been respectful of you and Morgan?
Judd: I didn’t even know, so thanks for the head’s up. Harry is great, he’s a stitch. We have a really good time together, and he brings out the funny in me. I’ll have to devise something for them. This is only my 5th day, and my days are really broken up. I’ll be here for a block of time next week so maybe I’ll get in on it.
Question: You said Lucas was a hero, have you tried to work with him?
Judd: No, we’re just friends. I have the luxury of considering him a friend. I filmed a couple of things in Northern California. He’ll have me over for supper and I know his kids. We just hang out.
Question: How has it been playing the mother of Sawyer?
Judd: It’s been wonderful. I really enjoy kids and he is a lovely young man. The first day he had to do a really big moment, and he totally blew me away! Charles says the look on my face, I had to pull my jaw off the floor. He was incredible. He’s impressed me, because child actors can be these little professionals. I’m like, “be a kid, be late, mess something up, go knock something over!” But he manages to be both a kid and respectful and appropriate on set, do the work in a way that’s very becoming to himself and the production. I was looking at him today and thought the little 10-year-old girls need to watch out. (laughs)
Question: You mentioned your book. Do you have any other projects, personal things, that you haven’t been able to do yet?
Judd: There’s a play written by a wonderful Canadian writer named Penny Gummerson called “Wawatay” and it won a lot of major Canadian theatrical awards, and Charles and I are desirous of turning that into a movie someday. It’s a wonderful, very particular story. I’m actually looking into doing a cable TV series. I’ve been very fortunate in that for some years I’ve had pilots offered to me, and I’ve not been interested and went off to school. I’ve opted out of film for the past 5-years, so I just wasn’t interested but now I’m paying attention again and satisfied the part of me that wanted to go on a big academic tangent for awhile. I have a dream TV project in my head but I’m looking for that match in producers and writers.
Question: Do you find it more comfortable working with Morgan than in the past? Is it automatic?
Judd: Yes. (laughs)
And with that Ashley Judd was ushered off. Dolphin Tale opens September 23.
For more from our set visit, here’s our interview with Morgan Freeman and our set visit recap with interviews with director Charles Martin Smith, Austin Stowell and Nathan Gamble.