The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
We probably should have seen this coming at some point, but it was a surprise last week when, shortly after the presidential election wrapped up, a rumor starting floating that actress Ashley Judd might take on Kentucky’s senior U.S. Senator, Mitch McConnell, in 2014.
Of course, there were the knee-jerk reactions from people who don’t like the idea of celebrities running for office, those whose business is mocking everything (we saw you, Gawker), and those who disagree with Judd’s liberal viewpoints, particularly on coal.
But we should have seen this coming. In the past decade, Judd, 44, has devoted as much, if not more, time to politics and activism as she has to acting. She notably went back to school to earn a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard in 2010. Let’s check that chatter about her not being a serious commenter on issues right now.
People who complain about entertainers getting into politics are really complaining about entertainers who disagree with their viewpoints getting into politics. Talk to those opposed to Hollywood’s typically leftist politics and you’ll probably find many who count Bedtime for Bonzo star Ronald Reagan as their favorite president.
Judd is an entertainer with a serious interest in politics, a liberal with deep roots, although not current residence, in what is an increasingly conservative state.
Should she run?
Here are some things to consider.
She would be taking on one of the most powerful men in the country, and arguably the most powerful politician in Kentucky. Stepping into a U.S. Senate race against McConnell could be a akin to stepping into the boxing ring for the first time against another Kentuckian, Muhammad Ali.
But maybe not Ali in his prime.
In 2008, the most recent time McConnell, 70, was up for re-election, Bruce Lunsford gave him something of a race, losing by little more than 100,000 votes. After last week’s election, McConnell looks weaker: Republicans lost Senate seats, and he did not achieve his stated goal of Republicans of making Barack Obama a one-term president. As a big-name opponent with a lot of friends around the country, Judd might give McConnell a stiff challenge.
But so could some other Democrats. Despite the redness in the commonwealth on a federal level, there are a few Kentucky Democrats who probably are considering runs against McConnell. Judd could risk alienating some of those in the party if she is perceived to be stepping ahead in line.
Then there are the voters. Judd is one of the chief cheerleaders for one of the great uniters in the Bluegrass State: the University of Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team. But she is a controversial person, particularly in her homeland, Eastern Kentucky, where she is perceived to be anti-coal, after her participation in a number of rallies against moutaintop-removal coal mining. She might want to call up outgoing U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Versailles) for some tips on what being perceived as anti-coal can do to your prospects in a Kentucky election.
That and her international activism have earned her a reputation as being more concerned with issues overseas and international political compatriots such as Bono than with the struggles of her fellow Eastern Kentuckians.
If Judd is to have a prayer of winning, she would have a lot of work to do to convince Eastern Kentucky, particularly coal miners and her families, that she is concerned about them and will represent their concerns, and that her issues are with the mining executives, not the men and women who go underground every day to support their families. Judd would need to come up with concrete ideas on how Eastern Kentucky can prosper in a post-coal era.
She would also have to re-establish Kentucky residency to run; where she chooses to live could make a big statement.
And yes, Judd will have to convince skeptics that she is a serious candidate, even with that Harvard degree. It’s not an easy trick to pull off, but there are precedents. If she is considering a run, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) ought to be one of the first phone calls she makes. He made the journey from comedian to legislator fairly well.
She might also call her screen buddy Morgan Freeman to voice over some ads for her. It seemed to work for Obama.
If Judd does run, it would be the Senate race of the year in 2014, particularly if the next two years are rocky for Republicans and McConnell. Regardless, the contest could make her wish she was pursuing Oscars instead of public office. Political opponents and the media make movie critics and celebrity tabloid writers look downright congenial.
It’s all up to Judd, if she wants to throw her Derby hat into the ring.
Well the NCAA presented the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team’s No. 1 fan, Ashley Judd, with a bit of a quandary Thursday night: Watch her new show, Missing, at 8 p.m. on ABC or her beloved Cats in their first game in the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky is supposed to tip off at 6:50 p.m. against the winner of Tuesday night’s game between Western Kentucky University and Mississippi Valley State. So, the choice is the Cats or watch Judd kick some butt as an ex-CIA agent on a desperate search for her son.
“What a pickle,” Judd replied. “Are you kidding? I’m going to watch Kentucky Wildcats.”
Bambury pointed out that Judd has already seen the show.
Before the Cat quandary came up, Judd talked about the physical task of filming the action drama, which has her doing stunts such as jumping into the Seine River for a swim and running a lot.
Judd said her husband, Indy race car driver Dario Franchitti, teased her about the running, which she apparently does not do much.
“My husband, when he saw the show, said, ‘Look doll, evidence. You were filmed running. It has happened before,’” Judd recalled.
Correction: The original version of this post misstated the time of the Missing premiere.
“When they were talking to me, they were surprised at how much I did know,” Judd says, referring to her and her family’s long-held interest in their genealogy. “A key element of the program is the surprise factor in revealing to the star information that they did not know. They were like, ‘OK, you’re going to be a challenge. How are we going to find family data that you don’t know yet?’
“Then they said, ‘What would you like to know?’ and I said, ‘Where does my passion for social justice come from?’ I have such an inexorable drive for positive reform, for equality, for justice. Is there a precedent in the family for these kinds of values and civic participation?
“And there is. There most certainly is. They found the big one.”
What the big one is you can find out on the show at 8 p.m. ET tonight (April 8, 2011) on NBC, but let’s just say it goes back 12 generations and crosses the Atlantic Ocean.
And that’s part of what makes this show cool.
Who Do You Think You Are? had not shown up on my radar before Ms. Judd’s episode because on the surface it felt like just another celebrity-based reality show.
But watching tonight’s episode it struck me that this is prime time network television where history and culture are being discussed in detail and in a pretty fascinating way, and the network is not PBS. Yes, the show has its gimmicks and somewhat manufactured drama. But it is also touching and enlightening, two things you really can’t say about most TV today, particularly reality TV.
For Kentuckians, with Judd’s episode, we see some familiar landscapes and places, including a visit to Frankfort.
“I loved going to the state archives,” Judd said in an interview Friday for a story that will be in Sunday’s Herald-Leader and on LexGo.com about her new memoir, All That is Bitter and Sweet. “They were wonderful people and I loved getting on that microfiche and looking at property records and … it’s enthralling.”
Forgive us for self-indulgent acts like sleeping, but while we were looking at the insides of our eyelids Monday night, Ms. Ashley Judd was on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” talking about — what else — the Wildcats. In the clip above, Judd details some of her basketball watching rituals to a fascinated Fallon. She also talked about grad school life at Harvard, where she claims to eat a lot of pizza, and kicked Fallon and NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson’s posteriors in a bumper car race (a little coaching from Dario?). Click here for the full episode.
In a related story, UK Coach John Calipari’s Hoops for Haiti auction finished, and dinner with Judd and Calipari at the coach’s house went for almost six-figures.
Feb21Filed under: Ashley Judd, Central Kentucky Arts News, Film, Oscars; Tagged as: Academy Awards, Actors Guild of Lexington, Ashley Judd, best supporting actor, Heath Ledger, Henry Clay High School, Josh Brolin, Leslie Beatty, Michael Shannon, Oscars, Patrick Donohew, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Revolutionary Road, Robert Downey Jr., Tates Creek Middle School, Tracy Letts
Click the play button to hear our interview with Michael Shannon talking about his career and his Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.
- Click here for our story and interview with Shannon about Revolutionary Road and his upcoming projects.
Check the LexGo version of the story for more photos and Shannon’s filmography.
Michael Shannon’s journey to the Academy Awards started at Tates Creek Junior High School in Lexington.
“I was in eighth grade, and I was not athletic at all,” Shannon says, recalling the years at Tates Creek. “But I wanted some sort of after-school activity.”
He tried the speech team.
“They gave me a little monologue to work on,” Shannon, 34, says. “It just captivated me. It wasn’t anything I fantasized about. When I was a little boy, I wanted to be an architect. So, it kind of surprised me.”
That surprise has translated into a serious stage and film career that has resulted in Shannon’s Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his performance in Revolutionary Road.
He will learn whether he won Sunday night, when the Academy Awards are handed out in Los Angeles.
Revolutionary Road, about a couple who try to flee 1950s suburbia, is loaded with Oscar-caliber talent, including stars and previous nominees Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet and Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes. But, on Jan. 22, when the nominations were announced, Shannon’s best supporting actor nod was one of only three for the film, in which he plays a mentally disturbed man who makes powerful observations.
The movie’s other two nods are for art direction and costume design.
Shannon slept through the nominations.
He was at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where two of his films were premiering: The Missing Person, in which he plays a noir detective, and The Greatest, in which he plays another brief-but-memorable role as the driver who killed Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon’s son.
“I had gone to see a midnight movie the night before … so, unfortunately, I didn’t get to sleep until 3 a.m.,” Shannon says.
The nominations were announced at 6:30 a.m. Utah time. That’s when his phone started ringing.
“I was pretty shell-shocked,” he says. “It just kept ringing all day long.
“That’s the special thing about it is realizing how many people are rooting for you.”
Including people back home.
Lexington native Michael Shannon was nominated for an Academy Award Thursday for best supporting actor for his performance in Revolutionary Road.
Shannon’s competition is stiff, including Josh Brolin for Milk, Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder, 2005 best actor winner Philip Seymour Hoffman for Doubt and the late Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight. Ledger posthumously won the Golden Globe Award for his performance on Jan. 11, and Shannon was a bit of a surprise pick since he had not been a Globe nominee.
Louisville native Gus Van Sant was also received an Oscar nomination for directing Milk, a best picture nominee too.
Despite a strong showing in the Globes’ field, Shannon’s nomination was one of only three Oscar nods for the film, and the only major category pick. Revolutionary Road‘s other nominations were for art direction and costume design. Kate Winslet won a Globe for her performance in the film, but in the Oscar race, her lone nomination is for best actress in The Reader.
Revolutionary Road opens in Lexington Friday at the Fayette Mall and Hamburg Pavilion cinemas.
On the Today show, Entrertainment Weekly writer Dave Karger cheered the nomination for Shannon, calling his turn as a mentally disturbed man, “a fantastic performance.”
We talked to Shannon Monday, and asked him about the possibility of being an Oscar nominee:
“I’ve spent a lot of time the last few months having people tell me I did a nice job and they think I’m pretty good at acting and stuff,” Shannon says. Reflecting on three days he spent last week in Peru filming with acclaimed director Werner Herzog, he said, “Then I went down and got back to actually trying to make something work, and I felt a little rusty.
“It’s nice to have a performance recognized, but you’re only as good as your last thing, and you’ve gotta keep pushing yourself. You can’t get lazy, because then it can all disappear.”
That hardly seems to be a danger at this point in Shannon’s career. Right now, he has two films premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, Missing Person and The Greatest, and he is currently filming an Orestian drama, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, with Herzog.
Shannon attended Henry Clay High School and started his acting career on the stage, including stops at Actors Theatre of Louisville and the legendary Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. His film career has been marked by small but memorable roles such as Dave Karnes, an ex-Marine who spontaneously put on his uniform and walked into the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, in Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center. Revolutionary Road‘s John Givings, the only character to cheer Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s plan to chuck their 1950s suburban lifestyle and move to Paris, falls in line with that resume. But Shannon has also turned in lead performances, including playing opposite fellow Kentuckian Ashley Judd in last year’s Bug. Missing Person and My Son are lead performances.
This is his first major award nomination.
Read more about Shannon here. (Includes audio of interview with Michael Shannon.)
See it, without preconceptions.
There are some moments of Ashley Judd’s performance in Bug that set you on the edge of laughter, and those are the moments that make it great. Specifically, there is a segment in which she connects all the dots in her life
and that of her paranoid companion to validate a vast conspiracy theory. That monologue ends with her declaring, "I am the mother bug!"
If Bug gains any traction at the box office and in pop culture, it’s a line that could wind up a punchline on the order of "I’m the king of the world," or "Damn you all to hell!" Yes, it’s absurd.
But Judd (Copyrighted photo, above, by Anthony Friedkin for Lionsgate) delivers it with the conviction of a woman who firmly believes her declaration. Bug asks a lot of Judd. As Agnes, she’s a character who runs opposite most of our impulses. When casual acquaintance Peter Evans, played by Lexington-native Michael Shannon, starts to tell her his belief that he is infected with bugs and is on the run from the military, instead of calling a doctor or the police, she begins to buy into his theories and even takes on his psychosis. It is a profoundly disturbing film, due in part to the best performance of Judd’s career.
Judd immerses herself in Tracy Letts’ script without an ounce of self consciousness. What makes it really frightening is that she starts the film as a hard-drinking Southern woman, a familiar part we’ve seen Judd in before. It’s a part she’s often revered for because so many of us have met this character — maybe some of us are her. And then she takes her on a tragic journey, slowly slipping from the tethers of reality. Along the way, we are frequently reminded of the tragedies and sadness in Agnes’ life that have brought her to this path, not because Letts reminds us in word, but because those things are in her eyes as she clings to Peter.
In the character and the performance, Agnes is a part remininscent of Halle Berry’s role in Monster’s Ball or Charlize Theron’s turn in Monster, and we know how those choices turned out.
Bug obviously has huge competition at the box office this weekend. But if you have followed Judd’s career, and felt she had tremendous promise, you’ll want to see that promise fulfilled here.
(Do be warned, Bug is a grisly, disturbing film.)
~ Just in case you think we’re being homers on this one, check out this review from New York Magazine.
~ Check out Friday’s Herald-Leader for our take.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich