By Chuck Arnold
October 13, 1997 12:00 PM

IN WORKING ODOR

Having won an Oscar nod for his portrayal of a well-meaning homicidal rustic in Sling Blade, Billy Bob Thornton continues off the beaten path as a slovenly mechanic in Oliver Stone’s desert thriller U-Turn. “As usual, I just couldn’t leave him as a regular guy,” says Thornton, 42, who costars with Sean Penn, Nick Nolte and Jennifer Lopez. “I really wanted the guy to be freakish because the movie has a surreal quality.” Playing a hygienically challenged character didn’t bother Thornton a bit. “At the end of the day, I didn’t even have the makeup people clean me up. I would go home that way,” he says. “I always stopped off at this food mart on the road, and people were really frightened. They stayed away from me in the line or would say, ‘Please, go before us.’ I looked like I smelled bad.” Well, did he? “I’d like to think that I didn’t,” says Thornton.

DESPERATE DAD

Kim Basinger, who last starred in 1994’s The Getaway with husband Alec Baldwin, returns to the big screen in the crime drama L.A. Confidential. “After I had the baby, I found motherhood more interesting than my career,” says Basinger, 43, who’s been too busy entertaining daughter Ireland Eliesse, nearly 2, for many romantic getaways. “Alec, he’s ready to kill me. He says, ‘C’mon, just two nights. We’ll go to Santa Barbara—that’s not far. Just the two of us.’ ” Playing papa has been a bit of a stretch for Baldwin. “He’s met his match with this kid,” says Basinger. “When she cries, Alec has to take her to me. I can be in the shower, and he brings her to me. I say, ‘She’s trying to tell you something—figure it out.’ But I’ve got her number, and she knows it.”

RELATIVITY

Ashley Judd, who costars with Morgan Freeman in the new whodunit Kiss the Girls, says that she and her older sister Wynonna are still playing kiss-and-make-up from their childhood. “Wynonna remembers picking on me a lot and says she feels bad about it now,” says Judd, 29, who was only 15 when her sister and mother Naomi hit it big as the country music duo the judds. “She would sit on me. The only thing I could do was sock Wy in the boob. It was my only course of defense.” Nowadays, the two get along just fine, though “even as grown-ups, people assume we’re competitive,” says Judd, who learned the importance of family ties the hard way. “When we were growing up, we were so poor that our heritage was the only thing we had,” she says. “Mama would say, ‘Kids, pour more water in the soup. Better days are coming.’ ”

MIDDLE MAN

“They were tops,” says veteran actor Jason Robards of Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange and Jennifer Jason Leigh, his costars in A Thousand Acres, the drama adapted from Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller. In fact, playing the film’s family patriarch hit pretty close to home. “I’ve known Jennifer since she was 6. Her mother [TV scriptwriter Barbara Turner] and my wife [producer Lois O’Connor] are close friends,” says Robards, 75, a father six times over. “We’ve had Jenny at our house since she was a little kid, even before she wanted to be an actress.” Actually, the two-time Academy Award winner played a big part in Leigh’s early career. “She named herself after me,” Robards says proudly. “When she went to the Screen Actors Guild, there was a Jennifer Leigh already registered, so she told her mother, ‘I’m going to add Jason, after Uncle Jason.’ So she’s one of my own.”

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