Why Ashley Judd Said Yes to Playing the 'Unapologetic' New Boss on 'Berlin Station' (Exclusive)

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Ashley Judd wanted to get back into the acting grind. The actress and political activist had been working off and on for the past several years, with key supporting roles in the Divergent trilogy and the Twin Peaks revival, but she had desires to return in front of the camera in a more significant way. Within three weeks of Judd articulating her wish, Berlin Station came calling.

“I have a really diverse life and I started to have a hankering to work,” the 49-year-old actress and political activist told ET during a recent sit-down in Beverly Hills, California. “My team came to me and said, ‘There’s this amazing show called Berlin Station. It’s a very strong ensemble cast. It films in Germany. The writing is superb. And they want you to play the boss.’” (Get an early first look at Judd's debut above.)

Judd is one of two new additions, alongside Scream Queens’Keke Palmer, joining the CIA thriller’s sophomore season, which kicks off on EPIX later this month. (Fun fact: Producers watched Judd’s TED Talk in January about the online harassment of women, which prompted them to inquire about her interest in the show. “It delighted me!” she said with a smile.) In the series, Judd plays B.B. Yates, Berlin’s tenacious new station chief, who injects a distinct and welcomed energy to the world. Part of the appeal of Berlin Station, Judd noted, was also the importance placed on gender equality in all aspects of production.

“When I spoke with the executives, they expressed to me that they wanted to hire female directors and their goal was gender parity across the board -- in the crew and on camera,” she shared. “They also said that, ‘Look, the world is diverse and our cast needs to be as well. We absolutely have to have a person of color, preferably a woman,’ and Keke Palmer fits that bill; she’s so talented and so spunky. Now, we have generations of women represented exactly as we have generations of women in this very world.”

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Judd pointed to Jessica Chastain’s remarks at the Cannes Film Festival in May, when the actress made light of her disappointment over the lack of respectful portrayals of women in the festival’s movie pool, as a recent example of the intensifying spotlight on an area Hollywood can do far better in. “At least we’re having the conversation,” Judd said, conceding that there’s still a lot more work to be done.

As Judd tells it, B.B. represents the modern woman -- a strong female who’s “clever,” “unafraid to piss people off,” especially “the boys’ club,” and accomplished in her own right -- and the actress made it clear, there’s a relief in not having to contextualize or justify her power. 

“I love that B.B. is an unapologetic leader, just a leader through and through [and] very ready to suit up and show up and say this is how it is,” Judd said, offering a glimpse into her character’s mindset, whom she modeled after former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: “‘I don’t have to play any games in order to try to say, I’m the boss. I’m the woman, so I’m going to do this to make you feel more comfortable with the fact that I am your leader. I’m just your leader.’”

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As for why Judd put acting on the backburner in recent years, she cited her work with the Women Deliver Conference, the United Nations and other charitable and humanitarian organizations as fulfilling a personal directive to be a catalyst for change and empowerment.

“I do love it,” Judd said of acting, who has a small part in the upcoming movie, Trafficked (out Oct. 6). “The supporting roles have been suiting me, because I’ve been to India and Jordan and Eastern Ukraine and to Denmark for the Women Deliver Conference. I have all my work with the U.N. and [other non-governmental organizations], but I was ready to do a more sustained piece. Something like Berlin Station really fulfilled my wishes. Really strong actors. Superb writing. Meaningful plot. All of those things are important.”

Berlin Station premieres Sunday, Oct. 15 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on EPIX.