Front Row Q&A: Ashley Judd

The multi-talented, multi-tasking actress will participate in The Connecticut Forum's panel on the "State of Women 2012," at the Bushnell in Hartford Oct. 12.

 

Meet Ashley Judd, 45: actress, activist, author, gardening enthusiast, 2012 Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegate from her home state of Tennessee, Mid-Career Master of Public Administration (MC MPA) from Harvard University, basketball fanatic. She sits on the board of Population Services International [PSI] and is a global ambassador for its YouthAIDS initiative. Perhaps best known for her roles in movies like Heat, A Time to Kill and last year’s blockbuster Dolphin Tale, Judd earned an Emmy nomination this year for her work in the short-lived ABC TV series “Missing.” She’ll be seen next in the 2014 big-screen thriller Olympus Has Fallen. She and I talked just after the Republican Convention and just prior to her departure for the Democratic Convention.

This month, she adds another notch to her belt—Connecticut Forum panelist. On Oct. 12, she’ll join Gloria Steinem, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Connie Schultz and political analyst Michelle Bernard for a spirited group discussion on “The State of Women 2012.” For further info, call (860) 509-0909 or visit ctforum.org. For more on Judd herself, visit ashleyjudd.com.

So we're talking about the Connecticut Forum panel you're going to be participating in with Gloria Steinem . . .

Yayyyy!

 . . . but I wanted to ask you first, as I've been following your Twitter feed—you went on a cross-Iowa tour yesterday with President Obama?

No, the President is in Iowa today; I went yesterday as a surrogate.

What's the mood out there in Iowa?

It was amazing; pretty spectacular. I heard intensely personal stories from Iowans across the state, about how their lives have been improved by the President's policies. Even in large groups, people really opened their hearts and expressed profound vulnerability. One woman, who was very ashamed to tell her story but also wanted to make a point, said that with Obamacare being passed, for the first time she was able to take her child to a pediatrician. And then there was a woman who provided elder care for her dad, who talked about how on the edge their lives were until the benefits for seniors were in place. She was thrown into a panic again when the prospect of Gov. Romney's idea to voucherize Medicare came up.

There was a lot of talk about clean, renewable energy, too, because there are 7,000 jobs in Iowa in wind-farming. In addition to those who actually work in wind energy, there are farmers who own land where the wind turbines are placed are paid rent. This is circulating a lot of money through the local economy, so they'd like to expand that sector. The president has created tax incentives for clean renewable energy in Iowa that Romney has threatened to cut; he's been very specific about that. I think Iowans are pretty proud of themselves in term of taking the lead in promoting wind energy.

We also talked about education, women's health and the services now covered by insurance, and the fact that it's now illegal for insurance companies to charge women more for the same care. People were celebrating that, but also concerned that it could be reversed. One of the big themes of the day was that we all agreed that universal access to family planning helps prevent unwanted pregnancy, when that's prevented, the need for abortion becomes obsolete. The conclusion was, there can't possibly be controversy around medically accurate sex education and allowing access to family planning. During a conversation of the candidates' presentation of themselves during the Republican convention, one woman at one of our stops stood up and said—I couldn't believe it—"I'm living proof that women conceive when they're raped." So it was a powerful tour.

That leads into what I wanted to ask about this Forum panel, as the theme is the status of women in 2012. What would you say is the most important issue facing women right now?

The lack of gender equality across the spectrum. It can be subtle and pernicious or blatant and egregious. So it's about identifying, along that continuum, gender inequality and how it manifests in its nefarious ways that often we girls and women ourselves fail to recognize.

In an essay I wrote, "The Conversation," I talked in a pointed way about women's internalization of the patriarchy—nothing is more tragic and destructive than when we internalize those attitudes ourselves. I see a lot of that. So that's probably something I will talk about, as well as gender violence, which travels a continuum from thoughts we all have in our heads about girls and women to forms of speech, whether it's wolf-whistling on the street or boys talking among themselves in those male-only spaces to acting out.

We all keep hearing the phrase "war on women," and I keep wondering where the locus of that war really is.

Oh, I think we all participate [laughs]. I think you're asking a really good question. I know from my own Twitter feed, the way women speak to other women.

How does one break out of that mentality?

To me, it is a spiritual practice. It's a fairly common quote now: "Watch your thoughts, because they become your words; watch your words, because they become your actions; watch your actions, because they become your deeds, your character and your life." Gandhi said that all violence begins in our own minds.

I've been reading a lot of Thomas Merton recently, because I was able to take a course on him this summer at Christchurch College, Oxford. He said, "Why are we so surprised that we're blowing each other up in Vietnam when we're so fragmented within ourselves." So my practice is constantly to turn the focus back on myself, to have a spiritual process that works under all causes, conditions and circumstances. I trust that when I change myself I do help shift wider consciousness. I am mentored by other women, and I do a lot of mentoring of women myself. That's really crucial—I strongly believe in female-to-female alliances. Hopefully, when I present some takeaways—some very specific actionable things—that the folks who attend the forum can do in their own lives, like having those alliances, they can work on those.

 What does it mean to be a feminist in this day and age?

To me, it's very simple. It's that girls and boys and men and women are all equally valuable and precious. That we're all made in the image and likeness of a loving Creator, and that no one is greater or lesser.

You do a tremendous amount of public activism and advocacy, and I'm wondering is there is one focus that's most important to you.

I do think that gender equality is the crucible for my work. And though I came into international work particularly through global public health, what I discovered immediately was the tremendous inequality in accessing health care—the kind of vulnerabilities that women have specifically related to gender. My work took me immediately to the brothels of Southeast Asia—I don't know if there's anything more blatantly gendered in the world. I can see gender issues are inherent in all questions: land tenure, land ownership, legal protections. The list is endless.

And that's just one of the ways I try to make order in my mind, because my desk is crowded and my life is full, and sometimes I too can feel pulled in a lot of directions. I remind myself, though, that that's a delusion. My work is all the same work because it's all love. It's the same love, same discipline, same expanding of the soul from one human to another, and that helps me find a harmony and synchronicity in everything I do. . . . when otherwise I might feel pulled in a lot of directions, like, "Oh, I'm on the board of the Centers of Wildlife," "Oh, I'm on the board of PSI," "Oh, I'm a wife." You know what I mean? So I just try to say, "It's all for me." It's all just an act of worship and trying to manifest the sanctity of life in all my actions.

I wanted to shift gears for a minute and ask you about film. I've long wanted to tell you that I saw your performance in the movie Bug, which I thought was extraordinary. That must have been a phenomenal movie to make. But I'm also curious about your movie future . . . I know you have a movie coming out called Olympus Has Fallen. Is that what we'll see you in next?

Yes, I've completed my filming in Olympus Has Fallen, which was a really fun romp. I was only on the film set for a few days, and it was great not to have any responsibility and to just goof off [laughs]. To watch somebody else be No. 1 on the call sheet and work that 12-hour day!

I'm glad that you saw Bug; thanks for taking the time to see that movie. It was great fun to make. That's the kind of acting I like, just that real down 'n' dirty, let it all hang out, kind of raw, emotionally driven character work.

On your website, you talk about movies that you'd like to get made. Are there any in particular that are priorities?

Well, it's a little early to talk about it in explicit terms, I'm starting to collaborate on a screenplay with someone I met in graduate school at Harvard. He's a very talented professor and a real expert in his area, and he's written a beautiful script. So we're just starting to get that underway. And there's a book I read years ago that I still want to make into a film at some point.

But I'm supposed to be writing a book right now, so I have to do that first. I'm just starting my second book.

Great! Will it be a memoir much like All That Is Bitter and Sweet, or is it going to be . . ,

Well, I don't know yet, she hasn't told me what she is! [laughs]. I'm waiting! I started some writing last December, and that was about recovering from childhood grief. And then I wrote "The Conversation"—maybe they all go together. Maybe this is a collection of essays. I have a lot of nature writing, becomes a lot of stuff comes to me when I'm hiking. We'll see.

I know that you are a big fan of the University of Kentucky Wildcats, your alma mater's basketball team. If you could play on that team, or any basketball team, what position would you play?

That's a really good question. I'm so bossy I'd probably be the point guard [laughs].

Speaking of jobs where people are often required to be bossy, do you have any interest in directing a film?

I'm sure I'll direct something some day. it's all about coming across the right material, but I'm sure I will.

You're leaving for the 2012 Democratic National Convention in a couple of days. What will you be doing there?

Lord have mercy, I'm doing so much. I am a delegate, so that's my primary responsibility—I gavel in every afternoon, which is going to be fantastic. I have the honor with our state party chairperson to announce Tennessee's vote for  President Obama as our candidate in the upcoming election.

Then, I'm just all over the place: doing something with Bill Clinton, doing something with my great friend Madeleine Albright and her National Democratic Institute. I'm on a panel for Emily's List [Ed. note: Emily's List is a PAC that supports pro-choice women political candidates}, set up by my great friend, former Ambassador to Austria Swanee Hunt, who was one of my professors in graduate school. I'll be speaking at three delegate breakfasts and even going to a couple of parties! I'm really looking forward to it. It was sensational in 2008; just electrifying.

Front Row Q&A: Ashley Judd

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