Having done gutsy gal films like ”Double Jeopardy” and the new ”Where the Heart Is” (opening Friday), Ashley Judd seems like an odd choice to add girly jiggle to a hit TV show. But as a fledgling Hollywood starlet in the early ’90s, one of Judd’s first auditions was for the role of the hot-to-trot Tool Time girl on ”Home Improvement.” ”When Ashley came in and read for the part I thought, My God, this girl is so talented!” remembers show creator Matt Williams, who directed Judd in ”Where the Heart Is.” Williams decided she was too talented, in fact, for the small part of a Tool Time girl. ”So I called her agent and told him that she was so good, we would find a way to incorporate her into the series, period.”
So Pamela Anderson became the Tool Time girl, and Williams told Judd he’d create a role for her as the sister of Tim Allen’s character. Considering that Judd had no previous professional acting experience, a supporting role on a series would seem like a dream come true. But not to her. ”We didn’t hear anything for about two days after the offer, and then her agent called and said, ‘You know, Ashley’s thought about it, and she’s not ready to go into television right now. She thinks she has a feature career,”’ sighs Williams.
Later that year, however, Judd accepted a smaller role on the drama ”Sisters” perhaps because it gave her a chance to show off her serious acting chops. It was a wise choice to take the TV paycheck. While she was sensational in 1993’s low-budget feature ”Ruby in Paradise,” it wasn’t until her role two years later in ”Heat” that Judd finally broke into mainstream films.
Even now, Judd hasn’t forgotten her tough decision to walk away from the sure thing of ”Home Improvement.” ”When I met with her for this movie, I asked her if she remembered all this, and she said, ‘Absolutely, absolutely!”’ says Williams. ”She told me she went for a long walk on the beach and thought, ‘Am I ready to commit to a series? I’ve never made any money as an actress, so how do I turn my back on this?’ She said she agonized over it for a couple of days.” Maybe she just didn’t see herself swimming in Tim Allen’s gene pool.