- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

“Pretty miserable” is how Ashley Judd describes her experience of singing on the set of “De-Lovely,” a new movie musical opening today about composer Cole Porter.

This, from someone whose last name is Judd … as in Naomi and Wynonna.

But we’re sitting with Ashley here at Georgetown’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and Ashley Judd is not famous for vocal prowess, unlike her country-music-star mother and older sister.

Naomi and Wynonna are of the Kentucky Judds; Ashley is the Hollywood Judd.

You can still hear a comfy Kentucky drawl from Miss Judd when she’s tending to her two cockapoo dogs, a brother-sister duo that travels with the entourage.

One cockapoo is working intently on a squeaky toy (“Is that gonna be totally annoying?” she asks politely). The other is lapping up Poland Spring water from a tumbler glass.

“Well, goodness gracious, honey. What happened to the water in your room? You don’t like that? … What about you, Buttermilk, do you need a drink?”

It’s enough to melt you on the spot with visions of a small town, a caring mom and a peaceful home.

Then we talk movies and singing, and Miss Judd, 36, snaps into an accent in which words like “actually” are flattened and clipped — “cultured,” a Kentuckian might joke — into a faux-Brit inflection that sounds like latter-day Madonna.

Miss Judd’s job in “De-Lovely,” as Mr. Porter’s wife, Linda, didn’t require a lot of singing. Not as much as was required, for example, of co-star Kevin Kline, who plays the legendary pianist-songwriter.

But it was enough to send the actress into what she candidly admits was a mini-panic.

“I have enough of an ego to think I could’ve done a really good job,” she says, “but I was fairly stricken when it came down to it, when I had to perform.

“I had thought I would have more time to prepare in London in going to the studio where they laid all the tracks,” Miss Judd continues, “but most movies, once the train has left the station, move at a fairly extraordinary clip. ‘De-Lovely’ was no exception.”

Adding to the hurried pace was that the filmmakers, led by director Irwin Winkler, had to find space for a stable of marquee singers, including Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Robbie Williams, Sheryl Crow and Elvis Costello, all of whom appear briefly in “De-Lovely” crooning Porter tunes.

“Stephen [Endelman], our music director, was up to his eyeballs with other songs, and I just kind of got lost in the mix,” Miss Judd says.

Yet it was a mix into which she was happy to find herself lost.

“It was a delightful aspect of showing up to work every day,” she says of seeing a soundtrack performed before her eyes. “You know, I had some great entertainers showing up for my personal pleasure.”

One scene put a disconsolate Linda in a bed, while Miss Cole ran through the ballad “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” nearby. “That was really fun,” Miss Judd says.

And there were the Porter nuggets themselves, no matter which star was singing them.

It may surprise fans of the Kentucky-bred daughter of a country-music clan, but classic American pop was a staple of the Judds’ musical diet. “We listened to the Andrews Sisters a lot,” she says.

“It’s the progenitor of 20th-century style,” Miss Judd adds of the music of the 1930s and ‘40s. “It’s my favorite music.

“I don’t particularly relate to current music. If it weren’t for my girlfriends enjoying hip-hop, rap and what is somewhat erroneously referred to as rhythm and blues, and making it fun for me, I would be even more un-hip than I already am.”

Miss Judd is happily un-hip, or at least un-glamorous, when whooping it up with other Wildcats fans at University of Kentucky basketball games — don’t get her started on her alma mater’s lousy performance in the March Madness tournament this year — or traveling on a bus with Indy race-car driver Dario Franchitti, whom she married 21/2 years ago.

Her husband’s profession sometimes requires some stick-in-the-mud wifeliness. Especially when Mr. Franchitti blares race-car broadcasts from multiple TVs in their home outside Nashville.

“On Sunday,” she says, “I was outside gardening in the back yard and [could hear] the television pouring out motor sports all day long. It was just pouring out the windows. I finally had to go upstairs and turn it off and then downstairs and turn it off.”

Her marriage is worlds apart from her “De-Lovely” character, whose relationship with Cole Porter was, it’s speculated, almost totally sexless (Mr. Porter was homosexual).

Still, Miss Judd thinks the Porter union was more than a marriage of convenience or propriety.

She says, “Maybe it’s a higher kind of love, maybe it’s not; we’ll never know. All we know is that they were married for 35 years and loved each other very much.

“He never wrote a song without her final stamp of approval and, as she predicted, when they amputated his leg, the man who had literally filled trunks and trunks and trunks with music never wrote again.”

Cole Porter died in 1964. Long before he could’ve heard Ashley Judd singing his tunes.

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