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Described by her own mother as "an intellectual pin-up", Ashley Judd portrayed a wide array of characters onscreen that possessed a fierce determination, coupled with an alluring sensuality. Whether she was playing a Southerner starting over in her breakthrough role in "Ruby in Paradise" (1993), to a pre-fame Marilyn Monr in "Norma Jean & Marilyn" (HBO, 1996), or a kidnap victim who manages to elude her captor in "Kiss the Girls"(1997), this actress delivered strong, beautiful, delicate and forthright performances that impressed critics and audiences alike.

Born in April 9, 1968 in Granada Hills, CA to parents Michael Ciminella, Jr., an Italian-American marketing specialist in horseracing, and Naomi Judd, a then nurse but future country music star, Ashley Tyler Ciminella joined an older half-sister, Wynonna. When her parents divorced in 1972, Judd was shuttled between California, Kentucky and Tennessee, attending 12 schools in 13 years. A bookish child, she developed an early interest in performing and, goaded by her older sister, opted to try her luck in Hollywood after completing college. Working as a hostess at the popular restaurant The Ivy, Judd made industry connections and within a year, had begun to land stage and screen roles - most notably as Swoosie Kurtz's troubled daughter, Reed Halsey, on the NBC female-centric drama, "Sisters" (1991-96). Judd, however, found the small screen role frustrating and negotiated an early release from her contract. The ambitious beauty auditioned for the pivotal role of Christian Slater's girlfriend in the comedy "Kuffs" (1992), but as she told Movieline in 1997, she "thought they were boiling it down to a booby factor - choosing a pair of breasts." Her agent suggested she pass and accept instead the smaller role of a woman in a paint store. Knowing her mother would not approve of the onscreen nudity anyway, Judd took the smaller role and her career began to take shape from that point on.
After her award-winning and star-making turn as the Tennessee heiress who sets out across Florida to find herself in "Ruby in Paradise," Judd was cast as the sole survivor of a massacre who must describe in detail the traumatic event, in Oliver Stone's highly controversial film, "Natural Born Killers" (1994). Because her emoting was accompanied by graphic flashbacks, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) requested that director Stone cut the scene, deeming it too violent and disturbing. Thankfully, Stone would later restore it for the 1996 "director's cut" video release. Despite ending up on the cutting room floor, Judd continued to add to her gallery of supporting roles, including a dramatic turn as Harvey Keitel's junkie daughter in "Smoke" (1995), Val Kilmer's unfaithful wife in "Heat" (1995) and, bringing what she could to the underwritten part, a lawyer's spouse in the John Grisham-penned,
"A Time to Kill" (1996). Faring better on the small screen, Judd displayed her intelligence and skill - as well as a considerable amount of flesh - as the younger incarnation of Marilyn Monr in "Norma Jean and Marilyn," which brought her an Emmy nomination. Judd's Norma Jean more than held her own opposite Mira Sorvino's Marilyn, with the former's incandescent beauty believably representative of Hollywood's Golden Age. While Judd's next project, "Normal Life" (1996), was originally intended for theatrical release, it was relegated to HBO. Nevertheless, it contained her disturbing, impassioned portrayal of an unhinged woman who drives her caring husband to a life of crime in order to satisfy her acquisitive nature. The rather steamy sex scenes between Judd and Luke Perry, no doubt, gave Judd's mother pause.
In her first Hollywood lead, Judd was cast as a capable doctor who, having escaped from a kidnapper, agrees to help the police track down the criminal in "Kiss the Girls" (1997). Again, her native intelligence and striking beauty were used to good effect, even if the surrounding efforts were not top-drawer. She had a particular onscreen chemistry with star Morgan Freeman, no stranger as the yin to someone else's yang in suspenseful crime thrillers. Next up, the actress exhibited her sexy side as the local girl who falls for a drifter in "The Locusts" (1997) and offered a memorable, if relatively brief, turn as a single mother in the sentimental period drama, "Simon Birch" (1998). Judd returned to thrillers as an innocent woman who, after serving time for murdering her abusive husband, discovers he is still alive in "Double Jeopardy" (1999), as well as playing bad again as a suspected serial killer tracked by Ewan McGregor in the disappointing "Eye of the Beholder" (2000).
In 2001, Judd decided to step outside the genre which, in a few brief years, she had become queen of - that being, suspense thrillers - by starring as a betrayed woman who becomes obsessed with studying male behavior in the romantic comedy feature, "Someone Like You." Despite starring opposite an equally gorgeous Hugh Jackman, the mismanaged film did not ignite any special box office sparks. That same year, following a two-year engagement, Judd married her boyfriend, Indy race driver, Dario Franchitti, and settled in to domesticity while splitting time between homes in his native Scotland and her beloved Tennessee. After her marriage, Judd's Hollywood output would drop radically, but between rooting for her beloved University of Kentucky sports teams, publicly supporting her sister's very public battles with addiction, and getting the word out for causes near to her heart like AIDS, Judd did manage to pop up in the occasional film projects. A return to form in the middlebrow thriller "High Crimes" (2002), reuniting her with her "Kiss the Girls" co-star Freeman, did little to advance her career, though she did provide some fire and flavor to the softer follow-up, "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" (2002). Playing the flashback version of Vivi, the highly strung Ellen Burstyn character, Judd's vibrant personality leaped off the screen. She was then cast in a small but crucial supporting role as Tina Modotti, lesbian lover of famed artist Frida Kahlo, in "Frida" (2002) - as a favor to Judd's longtime friend, the film's producer and star, Salma Hayek.

After a stint on Broadway in the role of Maggie in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and a never-realized flirtation with the role of "Catwoman" - thankfully later played campily by Halle Berry - Judd returned to the big screen in 2004 as Linda Lee Porter, the devoted wife and muse to the great American composer/songwriter Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) in the elegant and sophisticated biopic "De-Lovely." Receiving universal praise for her role as the pained wife of a homosexual, Judd reminded movieg rs what they had been missing since her reduced workload had taken effect. Despite a happy marriage and making her voice heard on behalf of various causes, Judd would stick her t back in the showbiz pool intermittently, appearing in her buddy J y Lauren Adams' directorial debut, "Come Early Morning" (2006), as Lucy, a 30-something Southern gal who searches for love; as well as in director William Friedkin's ode to horror, "Bug" (2007).


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