Following in the tradition of gracious francophiles Jodie Foster and Brooke Shields, actress Ashley Judd has been wowing the French press and public at the 23rd Deauville Festival of American Cinema. Judd majored in French at the U. of Kentucky, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and the combo of Judd’s fresh-faced all-American Southern charm and fluent French has proved irresistible.The actress appears in John Patrick Kelley’s writing and directing debut, “The Locusts,” in competition, and stars beside this year’s Deauville acting honoree Morgan Freeman in Gary Fleder’s “Kiss the Girls,” which world preemed Wednesday night as part of the tribute to Freeman. Before a packed and cheering crowd, Judd showered Freeman with heartfelt, bilingual praise: “You are a giant. You are the most supple and beautiful actor I know, and when I think of you I cry because I love you so much.” Only a middle initial comes between director Morgan J. Freeman — whose youth drama “Hurricane” is in competition —and the three-time Oscar nominee, revered in France for his work in the smash “Seven.” The younger Freeman told Daily Variety: “It started out I got good reservations in restaurants, last-minute plane tickets, invitations to festivals. But when ‘Hurricane,’ a small movie, got exposure through Sundance, there was so much confusion that on CNN’s ‘Hollywood Minute’ they ran a whole one-minute clip about ‘Morgan Freeman’ winning these awards at Sundance. And for a whole minute on national television, they showed pictures of the actor smiling and waving at the Oscars and stuff — all day long. “I had the middle initial in there from the start, and the prospect of changing your name after 27 years is a weird thing. I thought of trying Morgan Cougar Mellencamp or Morgan Bob Thornton. MGM asked me not very long ago — just before they did the poster — to consider changing my name. They called me on a Friday and said, ‘We’ll take your new name on Monday,’ but personal identity is a pretty ingrained thing.” As it turns out, both Freemans share the same agency, William Morris, where their respective agents confirmed that it was “fine” for the director to keep his real name and confusion be damned. As for uncanny similarities, Freeman-the-actor was asked whether he didn’t find his “Kiss the Girls” role as a serene and wise forensic psychologist on the trail of a brilliant serial killer with an eerily specific agenda a tad comparable to his “Seven” role as a serene and wise police detective on the same quest. “If I thought that, I would not have even considered the role,” Freeman explained. “The fact that there were two detectives I’m fully aware of. But the characters — at least on paper — are completely different.” “Besides,” added Judd, flashing a megawatt grin. “It’s not the same at all, because I’m much better looking than Brad Pitt.”
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