Tonight, ABC debuts its new drama Missing (8 p.m. ET). In Ashley Judd’s first TV series since Sisters, she stars as Becca Winstone, a mother who’ll do whatever it takes to find her son Michael (Nick Eversman) after he’s kidnapped while studying abroad in Rome. The hook: She and her late husband Paul (Game of Thrones‘ Sean Bean) — who was killed in Europe 10 years earlier in front of young Michael — were both CIA. “You will see some of our life together 10 years previously,” she assures us. “When I start to realize that my son’s disappearance is connected to my former life as a CIA agent, that really ties in the life I was living with my husband as an agent.” Below, Judd talks stunt work and staying sincere during one seriously gut-wrenching scene from the pilot.
Though she’s been inactive for a decade, she hasn’t lost her ability to kick some serious butt, which raises some questions. “CIA agents are trained never to forget and to always have their safe box and know that as much as they think they’ve gotten out of the business, for reasons they can’t control, they may be called back in some day,” Judd reasons. “And then there’s also that I’m a mother. This isn’t about choice, it’s about an inexorable human drive to do whatever needs to be done to find my son. We’re all familiar with the stories of people finding superhuman strength through moments of adrenaline and grace and being able to do the impossible and afterward not even having recollection of it because it was an altered state of consciousness.”
Judd does much of her own stunt work, which ranges from hand-to-hand combat to more elaborate setups. SPOILER ALERT! “When I’m on the bridge in Paris, and I get shot and fall into the river, I did that myself. That wasn’t a problem for me at all. But I had a really hard time leaping onto the railing of the bridge. It needed to be very crisp, and the whole point is that I’m trying to lower my body mass to the railing so the person shooting at me hopefully hits the rail and not me, and I just couldn’t do it right. I kept knocking my shin or I’d bang my elbow, and finally I was like, ‘I give up. I give up,'” she laughs. “It’s really about being able to acknowledge my limitations when I’m starting to get flooded or fatigued. I’m so grateful to be surrounded by wonderful [stunt] people, and it’s always a pleasure to call them in.”
The show also packs an emotional punch, and Judd may get you misty when Becca watches footage of her son’s kidnapping in the premiere and when she sprints on an airport runway trying to get to him in next week’s episode to no avail (pictured). “That’s a fun scene because it’s very demanding, and it requires all of the skills in the arsenal,” she says. “On the one hand, I wanted it to be perfect. And on the other hand, I was aware that there are stamina issues from the sprint and being able to have the really authentic, cathartic breakdown. Faking stuff is not in my repertoire. I’m just way too proud. I have this sense of shame about the idea of even faking anything. So for me, it has to be real. So I had to be very clever and resourceful about bringing all of the technical and emotional elements together perfectly…. I loved it. It was a very satisfying day at the office.”
Will she be trying to make us tear up every episode? “Absolutely,” she says. “That’s part of my job.”