Thursday (March 15) night will be a big one for Ashley Judd.
At 6:50 p.m. ET, Judd’s beloved Kentucky Wildcats begin what is expected to be a long NCAA Tournament run, tipping off as a No.1 seed against a Western Kentucky Hilltoppers squad that isn’t expected to put up much of a fight.
By 8 p.m. the game is expected to be a blowout, just in time for Judd to make her return to primetime TV as the star of ABC’s “Missing.”
In the globe-trotting thriller, Judd plays Rebecca Winstone, a mother who taps into an unexpected reservoir of skills when her teenage son goes missing in Europe. Butt-kicking and international intrigue ensue.
With its mixture of action and empowerment, “Missing” is designed almost as an extension of hit Ashley Judd features like “Kiss the Girls,” “Double Jeopardy” and “High Crimes,” giving ABC high hopes in a time period that has been a problem spot in recent seasons.
Late last week (before the NCAA brackets were announced), I got on the phone with Judd to discuss taking on episodic TV, shooting overseas, the plan for “Missing” Season 2 and, of course, Kentucky basketball.
Click through for the full interview.
HitFix: We’ve seen this kind of story play out over two hours on the big screen. What are the advantages, particularly for you as an actor, to doing it in elongated series form?
Ashley Judd: It gave me a chance to sustain a very complete and complex character. We have the narrative arc of a mother looking for her son, which is the aria, if you will, for 10 episodes and yet each individual episode has its own very satisfying beginning, middle and end and a complete narrative that is also about complex relationships and dilemmas. So it was very, rich and very rewarding and by the end I was exhausted, but they gave me a lot to do and that’s how I like to work.
HitFix: You get a script for something like this and it intrigues you, but were there tough questions you had to ask the pproducers before you were willing to sign on for a full series?
Ashley Judd: Absolutely. There were just some criteria that I needed met before I could even consider doing a series, one of which was a limited number of episodes, because I have a very wonderful life that’s important to me and I’m just not willing to give up a lot of my other pursuits. But it filming in Europe was definitely outside of what I thought was something that would appeal to me. I wanted, if possible, to shoot in Tennessee and a lot of people were willing to do that, but the locations are part of what makes “Missing” event TV. There’s nothing else like it on TV. There hasn’t ever really been. Every episode is set in a different part of the world and I think it will be something that really draws audiences in. Plus, it’s television for the world. European audiences will be really pleased.
HitFix: Where specifically were you getting to shoot? And what did shooting in those locations do to help inform your performance?
Ashley Judd: Well, our base camp was Prague. The whole experience was like shooting a movie. Our base camp was in Prague, but we started in Croatia on the coast and in Dubrovnik and then on an island. And then Rome, Paris and Vienna. We finished our shoot in Istanbul, which was a pretty spectacular way to wind things up. Place is a character in the series.
HitFix: There are a lot of “landmark”-style locations in the series. Were you able to film at all of them?
Ashley Judd: We were able to film at some of them. Certainly Hagia Sophia and the other incredible mosques, the Blue Mosque around Istanbul, those were very special places to have access to and to be allowed to film. One of them even closed to the public for three days, so we really had it all to ourself and were able to control the space and the extras. It was like, from a tourist perspective, an absolute and total dream, because there weren’t any other damned tourists in the way. I could lie down on the floor of the mosque to look up at the mosaics and kinda slip into the nooks and crannies where, gee, maybe there was that balustrade that said, “Do Not Enter,” and just really contemplate the awesomeness of being in a house of worship that was built in 420 or go upstairs and look at the marble floors where they’ve been warn smooth by nothing other than the padding of feet over 1500 years, people coming to connect with a power greater than themselves. It was just incredible.
And then there were some places that were equally interesting, but a lot dingier. I need to be careful about saying that, because there’s a real sensitivity there, but there are some parts of Czech Republic that haven’t necessarily imerged with prosperity yet from the Communist years. Seeing that by way of contrast from the growth in Prague, for example, was a history lesson.
HitFix: Would you be hoping and assuming that a second season would continue that international scope?
Ashley Judd: We’re talking about Sub-Saharan Africa. So that would be a resounding “Yes.”
HitFix: I guess that’s culturally expansive and I’m sure it helps set up and expand infrastructures wherever it goes.
Ashley Judd: When the producers approached me, they had an implicit acknowledgment that feminist social justice and international public health and global issues, particularly the eradication of sex and labor slavery, are a core part of my life and my service is my number one priority. They assured me that I could bring some of those storylines into the plotlines of “Missing” and we do that pretty quickly in Season One. We introduce a human trafficking theme and we’re real serious about expanding upon those ideas if there is a Season Two. I’ve already brought in a couple of people to meet with the producers, people who are career Africanists and who were advisors to the UN Security Council, experts in international arms trafficking, experts in all kinds of African stuff, and they would be our story consultants.
HitFix: And you feel like the writers and producers have been able to integrate these ideas into the plot so far?
Ashley Judd: Absolutely. We have the protagonist. Hello? That’s me. And then we have the antagonist. We need some kind of a bad guy or gal. And to know what the bad guys are really like on the ground, from someone who’s spent their entire life trying to bring them to the International Criminal Court is valuable, in terms of creating character plot and narrative.
HitFix: You’ve got all of these stunts and action scenes here. What came easiest and what came hardest?
Ashley Judd: I have to say, I can throw an elbow. The stunts are really easy for me, for some reason. My mom is so cute. Every mother is proud of her children. I remember years and years and years ago, my sister and I had done a bunch of hiking and she just sat at the supper table and she said, “My girls have always been so coordinated.” So I’m very coordinated. It just comes to me and I really like it. So the stunts were the easy part. Getting enough sleep was the hard part. The fighting was easy.
HitFix: That means no particular challenges?
Ashley Judd: Well there was a fight in a park. It was a very quick fight and it was after dark and just being cognizant of fatigue and not allowing, maybe through tiredness — because it’s two o’clock in the morning — having a lapse? I was absolutely wanting to keep myself and my fighting partner safe. And then there was a fight on a train. That was a train compartment and the space was miniscule, so there was a pretty high risk there of some unplanned bumps, knocks and bruises just from operating in such a little thing. Most stunt coordinators and the directors suggest doing about three moves at a time and really limiting to that to make sure that the fight doesn’t become out of control or so that one of the two-or-more people who are fighting don’t make a mistake, but I really do well when I can sustain the sequence from start to finish. So in the train fight, I just kept going, because I could keep going going and I punched my hand through the wall. Then, when they went to do the close-up, it was already done. So I was like, “I’ll just go to my trailer and rest while y’all figure out what to do about that.”
HitFix: So ABC announces the premiere date. How quickly did you realize that could put you against the start of the NCAA Tournament?
Ashley Judd: Ummm… Hi! Like immediately. Hello! That was an instantaneous calculation on my part and if we’re a Thursday night game, then the show will not have the Big Blue Nation and that’s a core part of my demographic. It’ll be interesting to see if that actually shows in the numbers.
HitFix: On Selection Sunday you’ll be crossing your fingers for a game at a different time?
Ashley Judd: Personally, it would be easier for me if it were Friday/Sunday, because I have to work all day Thursday because that’s premiere day and I’ll be in New York doing a lot of live television. But whatever’s good for the team… The NCAA never gives Kentucky the easiest path. We had two Final Four calibre match-ups last year before we even got to Houston. So it’s ultimately about what’s best for the team.
HitFix: I assume you have to be feeling pretty good about their chances, though?
Ashley Judd: I feel really good. There’s no doubt that we can win it all. It’s just a matter of if the stars align.
“Missing” premieres on Thursday, March 15 at 8 p.m. on ABC.