Ashley Judd spent the 1990s gaining critical acclaim, industry respect, and a broad fan base that made her one of the most in-demand actresses of the latter half of the decade.
The daughter of country-music superstar Naomi Judd and the younger half-sister of singer Wynonna Judd, Judd was born in Los Angeles, on April 19, 1968. A single parent, her mother supported Judd and her sister by taking odd jobs in California and Kentucky. The actress spent her first 13 years shuttling between the two states and attended 12 different schools, often living in poverty in remote areas of Kentucky. With no external sources of entertainment, Judd read books and amused herself by pretending to be various characters while her sister and mother whiled away the time singing. Their singing paid off; after Naomi and Wynonna Judd became country-music sensations, the family was finally able to leave their financial hardship in the past. Judd went on to attend the University of Kentucky, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1990 with a degree in French.
At her sister's encouragement, Judd, blessed with an outgoing, forthright nature, was able to secure an agent on her first try and, in 1987, won a part on the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. She went on to do more TV, landing a recurring role as Swoosie Kurtz's daughter on Sisters in 1991 (she stayed with the show until 1994). The following year, she made her film debut with a small part in Kuffs (1992). She was originally meant to have a larger part, but rejected it when she learned of a nude scene.
The actress' first major film role was in the hit independent drama Ruby in Paradise (1993). She garnered considerable acclaim for her subtle, realistic portrayal of a spoiled Tennessee heiress who runs away to sell tourist trinkets in a ramshackle resort, winning Best Actress at the 1994 Independent Spirit Awards. After filming Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, only to have her scenes end up on the cutting-room floor, Judd next found acclaim with her turn in the 1995 film Smoke, in which she played the pregnant, drug-addicted daughter of Harvey Keitel and Stockard Channing. The same year, she appeared in the much-lauded Heat, then went on to star with Mira Sorvino in the 1996 made-for-TV Marilyn Monroe biopic Norma Jean and Marilyn.
Following a substantial role as Matthew McConaughey's wife in Joel Schumacher's adaptation of John Grisham's A Time to Kill in 1996, and a lead in the crime film A Normal Life (also 1996), Judd starred in the 1997 thriller Kiss the Girls. The film received mixed reviews but did decent business at the box office, further increasing Judd's glowing star wattage. She landed another lead role the following year, in the well-received drama Simon Birch and, in 1999, could be seen starring in Bruce Beresford's Double Jeopardy as an ex-convict planning revenge on those who framed her for a crime she did not commit. The film was a substantial box-office hit, further cementing Judd's arrival as a major Hollywood star.
Judd didn't turn up again until 2004's Twisted, a crime thriller about a female homicide detective who finds herself at the center of a series of murders. That same year, she starred alongside Kevin Kline in the critically acclaimed De-Lovely, a musical biography of Cole Porter. She then laid low until a project by a truly legendary filmmaker came her way. William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, cast her in the leading role in his 2007 psychological horror film Bug. A gritty, pared down thriller with a five person cast, Judd handled the disturbing project like a pro. Ready for something more grounded in reality, the actress next chose a project that dealt with issues ripped straight from the headlines, signing on to appear in Crossing Over, a film about immigrants struggling to obtain legal citizenship in the US.