For Judd, who was nominated for two Golden Globes for her performances in 1996′s “Norma Jean & Marilyn” and 2004′s “De-Lovely” as well as an Emmy nod for her recent turn as Rebecca Winstone in “Missing,” the “Divergent” role saw her back on an action movie set. Hero Complex sat down with Judd to talk about “Divergent,” action movies and what’s next. But be warned: Spoilers lie ahead for those who haven’t read the books.
Hero Complex: Your character plays such a major role in the book trilogy, but of course, the third book wasn’t out when you signed on for “Divergent.” Did you know going into it that she’d play such a big role?
Ashley Judd: I didn’t, but I certainly noted that the author dedicated the book to her mother, and that of course grabbed my attention. I thought that was really prophetic. And that even if the character wasn’t unpacked in books two and three, that there was something really powerful of her that was in the waft and the weave of the story.
HC: What did you draw from in order to play that mother-daughter relationship?
AJ: I believe that mothering is a verb, and that we all parent. I’ve got a really large family of choice and lots of little kids in my life, from 6 months old to 17, and everybody comes over to the house regularly. We call them picnics even if we’re indoors. And I was talking with a friend of mine recently, and we were talking about a book called “Positive Parenting,” and he was suggesting that I read it because whenever we’re in a group, whenever we’re together, we’re all parenting. So I felt that very much in the movie. And the other part that I really drew from was Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and that’s something that I’ve been trying to bring into my own awareness about my own behavior, so everything I do, however skilled or unskilled, is actually designed to meet one of those needs. So that was a huge part of the understanding of my character, and the society that the author has created.
HC: Did you enjoy your action scenes?
AJ: I loved that, except I wiped out No. 1 on the call sheet [Woodley] once, because I’m just so confident and physically aggressive. It was during the shootout scene where we’re crossing the wide open boulevard, and I had on my picture shoes which were really not made for running and sliding and stopping and stuff, and so I had a lot of skid momentum, and I just kind of… not my most shining moment. It’s OK to do it to myself, but not OK to do it to No. 1 on the call sheet, who’s got three weeks of filming left.
HC: You and Shailene had some fantastic scenes together, including your character’s death. What was it like to film that?
AJ: Fabulous. Because I got to be with her, and watch her, and listen to her experience. Because I’m fading or dead, and just the natural, organic raw emotion pours out of that girl. She’s very unfiltered. She doesn’t have a sense of self-consciousness or restraint about working with real emotion, and that’s I think part of what makes her compelling.
HC: When you read the second and third books, were you surprised to find out Natalie plays such a big role? Would you like to play her again?
AJ: I was, yes. It depends on the age, of course, that Natalie is, but yeah, it would be great fun to able to do that.
HC: What was working with director Neil Burger like?
AJ: So easy. He’s very calm, very specific, very prepared. He reminds me of Bruce Beresford. He was just unflappable. The sun could be setting, and a time crunch could be on, and it’s not that he repressed it, he was just very secure, which is great. To be at the helm of such a hugely budgeted picture, he had a lot of equanimity. He’s also challenging to actors. He really pushed us and invited us to dig deeper.
HC: What would you say the message of “Divergence” is?
AJ: You can have it all, just not at the same time. I think it’s a lot about how we define family. Family within family of origin, family of choice, you know, choosing a different faction, seeking to have a sense of congruency in one’s tribe as a society, and the natural dissonance that comes from those competing needs.
HC: What’s next for you?
AJ: I did an independent film called “Big Stone Gap” in October, based on Adriana Trigiani’s bestselling book, and she adapted the book and directed it. And the acting was so glorious, just really fun, and it brought me back to that unfiltered joy of the creative process, which is quite separate from the production process. The production can be a hassle. And that movie was really difficult to make. We had a tiny budget, we were under-crewed. But we had two Tony winners, two Oscar winners, just an extraordinarily packed cast, and that’s what I would like to continue to do, is just really get into that stream of what a beautiful ride the acting can be. And if that includes a lot of input into the material or helping do things on the production side, that’s fine with me. I just want to make sure I have fun, because the more fun I have, the more I’ll keep coming back. If I don’t have fun, I’ll just opt out again, like I did for five years.