You may know Judith Hoag from her role as Tandy Wyatt on ABC’s 'Nashville'. But for years she has appeared in a multitude of roles in films and TV, including reporter April O'Neil in the cult favorite 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'.
“I just got back from my Pilates class, where my ass was severely whipped,” Judith Hoag told me with a laugh at the start of our phone conversation. The Nashville star recently finished filming the first season of the hit ABC show and was now enjoying some much deserved down time from the grueling schedule of shooting series TV. For all her years performing in films, television and on stage, Hoag is not at all jaded about the acting life, and her enthusiasm is contagious when she discusses her career and her family.
Where are you from and how did you get into acting?
Originally I’m from Newburyport, Massachusetts, which is on the North Shore, about an hour north of Boston. Beautiful little town and that’s where I started doing theater. We started a theater company, which then went on to become an equity theater. It’s the place where I really cut my teeth and a beautiful place to grow up, but not really a place where you can be an actress.
From there I moved to New York City and in a very short period of time I found myself doing a play off-Broadway. In less than a year, I was on a soap opera (Loving), and my career just kind of took off from there. I really haven’t stopped working since.
You have acted in an impressive amount of excellent shows over the years. From cult favorites like Quantum Leap and X-Files to quirky comedies like Dream On to dramas like Sons of Anarchy and Grimm, to films like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Do you have any favorites roles out of all you've played?
I would say one of the highlights for me was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, playing April O’Neil. I did the first movie and our film premiered at the same time as Pretty Woman. It was, at the time, the most successful independent movie that had ever been made. I certainly was not prepared for how successful that movie would be. People loved that movie. It was a real career bump for me and [it was] tremendous fun.
The thing that is so interesting is that twenty years later, so many people come up to me, I want to say, about every single day, and tell me how much they loved that movie and how much they still love watching it. It brings them back to this really special time. Now there is a whole generation who are turning their kids on to [it]. It’s interesting. You have no idea that you would do something and twenty years later it would still resonate with people. It’s so weird. I was a crush to all these boys who are now men. It’s so sweet because they’ll come on to my Facebook page or my Twitter account and they’ll say that they’re still crushing. I have great fans. They’re loyal and kind-hearted.
What was it like working with Robin Williams in the film Cadillac Man?
When I was shooting Cadillac Man, that’s the first big movie I’d ever done. What was really fun about that movie, a lot of times you go in and read and you hear later if you got the job. I got the job in the room. They told me in the room, as I was auditioning, that I had the job, and that rarely happens.
Working with Robin was so much fun. He’s actually hilarious but he has his quiet moments and I learned a lot working with him. I started shooting Ninja Turtles while I was shooting Cadillac Man. I would shoot [Cadillac Man] all week in New York and then I’d hop on a plane, fly to Wilmington, North Carolina, where we were starting pre-production and really early shooting on the Ninja Turtle movie. People [on the Cadillac Man set] would say, “Where are you going?” and at the time no one had ever heard of [NinjaTurtles] before. I would tell them I’m working on this movie called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I was embarrassed a little to say the title. Robin got this giant smile on his face and said, “No way! They’re making of movie of that?” He’d been collecting the comic books from the very first one. When the movie premiered he brought his entire family to the premiere because he was so excited.
You tweet a lot and actually respond to fans when they tweet you. What do you like best about social media?
What I love is that it gives you the opportunity to connect directly with your fans and to share information. Debbie Reynolds taught me that you are nothing without your fans. There are definitely people out there in our industry who really don’t have any time for them. It seems to be an inconvenience. [But] you don’t have a career if you don’t have fans. If people don’t want to tune in or buy a ticket to see your movie , you will not have a career. So I think social media is an opportunity to connect with [fans] and let them know what you’re up to. My experience with it has been positive in that I tend to attract fans who are really nice.
With all the work you’ve gotten over the years, how were you able to make time for your family?
You know what? One of the best jobs for a mom is being an actor. I’m very fortunate that I work a lot, but there’s also a lot of down time. I’ve been really involved in my children’s education, doing stuff with their school. My children go to public school. They don’t go to private school. We did that on purpose because I feel that when you live in Los Angeles, where I live, it’s fairly affluent and there’s a huge sense of entitlement. When your children go to public school, they’re in real school with real people and they get a real sense of what the world is like out there. I think that takes them out of that entitled place that they are growing up in and really opens them up to the rest of the world. Los Angeles is a very diverse community and I wanted them to experience that. In order to do that, you really have to be involved in your children’s education.
You’ve worked on so many projects. Is there someone you would like to work with you haven’t yet?
There are so many people who I would love to work with. [But] I have to say there were two people I worked with recently who I really loved. I was in the movie Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, and I got to work with Helen Mirren. That was thrilling. It was just us and it wasn’t a really huge part but to go in a play with Helen Mirren [was] such fun. We had mutual friends so I knew going in how lovely she was. But she was even more lovely in person.
The other person is I loved working with was Jason Bateman. It was his feature film directorial debut and he was also starring in it. I loved him. He’s a great director. He made me look so ugly in the movie and it was so much fun because I work on Nashville, where you have to look really good. [In this film] I had a claw and crazy hair. I had a blast.
What’s the name of the movie?
The movie is called Bad Words (currently in post-production). It’s a very funny movie, an R-rated adult comedy by Andrew Dodge, about a spelling bee. Jason plays an unlikely spelling bee contestant. He’s found a way into [this contest] and he has a very big point he’s trying to make. What I love is that he plays a really unlikable character. Jason is so charming and finds that balance so well between [being charming] and playing this person who is really unlikable.
You played Cindy Price on the HBO series Big Love.
That was so much fun! Jean Tripplehorn and I read Mormonism For Dummies front to back. Playing with Jean, who I love, and Bill Paxton, who I love, and having Ellen Burstyn come in and play our mom was a career highlight. I love her work. I’ve loved her since AliceDoesn’t Live Here Anymore”. HBO is a pretty cool place to work, a dream job for an actor.
You currently play Tandy Wyatt in the ABC show Nashville.
[Nashville is] a guilty pleasure that’s good for you. T-Bone Burnett (series music producer and songwriter). I love that man more than I can say. He’s been a real champion for me, even though I’m not one of the singers. He’s been so kind to me. He really believes in what I do, which means a lot to me. His wife is Calli Khouri, who is our fearless leader. She is an amazing woman, an incredible writer, and I consider her a dear friend for life.
Give us the Reader’s Digest version of your character on the show.
I play Tandy [Wyatt] and I’m the sister of Rayna James, who is played by Connie Britton. When you first saw us we were a bit on the outs with each other. We have a very controlling and domineering father who is brilliantly played by Powers Booth. Rayna has been on the outs with my father and I am sort of the son my father never had. I follow in his footsteps and do everything he ever wanted me to do at great sacrifice to myself. As the season went on Tandy and Rayna became close again, which has been such fun for us because I feel like Connie is a sister to me. I love her like a sister. The first season of a series can be really challenging and we have really bonded together like sisters. I feel protective of her. Anyone messes with her and I’ll break their legs (laughs).
Now Tandy is at a place where [she] can’t really do her father’s bidding the way he wants her to anymore. It’s time for her to become empowered and become her own woman. She started taking over the business when her father had a heart attack. She needed to step up and do the job he needed her to do, and he was not terribly appreciative of that. So our relationship will become more interesting as a result.
Will you ever get to sing on the show?
You know what? I do sing and I think that it is possible.
The show’s fanbase is pretty large.
Yes, we just got picked up for a second season. We’re going to go back in July and we’re going to hit it hard. We’re on the runway and now it’s time to take off.
You've had an amazing amount of success in your career. Do you have any goals or plans for the future?
I would just love to see Nashville be successful and be something that people love to spend a night with. I think that life is kind of hard right now for a lot of people. It’s very uncertain. Our world feels like a precarious place to live. There are a lot of shows on TV that feature dark stories. There is certainly room for that but I think it’s really great that Nashville is a show that makes you feel good. Being able to do that on a massive scale, to be able to make that impact at this moment and give people a little break from their tough day feels like a really nice thing to be able to do.