Kate Hudson knows what it’s like to be “almost famous.” The daughter of Goldie Hawn was appearing in national magazines even before she became an actress, but always with the camera focused on the bubbly older woman next to her. And even though her father is comedian-musician Bill Hudson, she was raised since toddlerhood by Hawn and her longtime love, Kurt Russell, whom she calls Dad.
Now at the tender age of 21, the California girl is finally ready to come into her own with a starmaking turn in “Almost Famous,” Cameron Crowe‘s semi-autobiographical rock drama about his days as a 15-year-old reporter for Rolling Stone magazine. Hudson plays Penny Lane, the leader of a pack of “band aids” — not groupies — who travel and party with the fictional ’70s band Stillwater. While enchanting the young writer William Miller (Patrick Fugit), she finds love and heartbreak with the band’s lead guitarist, Russell (Billy Crudup).
Although “Almost Famous” focuses on a young man’s coming of age, Penny is the film’s ray of light, drawing everyone around her into her orbit. Likewise, Hudson sports the sunny grin and golden hair of her mother but possesses an adorableness all her own. With just a few films under her credit, acting is still new to Hudson, so she’s still reeling from the attention and buzz of her latest film.
“We totally knew that what we were doing was something incredible,” Hudson says. “I knew it was when I read the script. I cried five times when I read the script in his office for the first time … it was so beautiful.”
Playing Penny threw Hudson into a crash course. She, like many of her co-stars, was too young to have experienced the rock movement of the ’70s, so Crowe sent her a care package of CDs, books and old magazine articles about groupies. Although she declares herself a “huge music buff,” no band quite inspires for Hudson what Stillwater did for Penny.
“Bob Dylan is one that I went and saw for the first time in Anaheim (Calif.) and flipped out,” Hudson recalls. “I couldn’t believe I was looking at Bob Dylan — I couldn’t believe it. And he’s one of those guys that I think I could be speechless if I shook his hand.”
Despite her famous family, Hudson made the decision on her own to break into acting. Armed with an agent, she landed an audition for Russell’s “Escape From L.A.” In 1996 she made her first screen appearance, on the Fox drama “Party of Five” as the girl who breaks up Julia (Neve Campbell) and Justin (Michael A. Goorjian).
Although her character never reappeared, Hudson spent time modeling for Tommy Jeans before she landed her first film role, as the clumsy girl on a date from hell in “200 Cigarettes,” costarring Christina Ricci and Casey Affleck. A couple small films followed: “Desert Blue” and “Ricochet River” both released in 1999, and “Gossip,” costarring Joshua Jackson and James Marsden, earlier this year.
Hudson‘s plate has been full since then, with no less than four films out in the next year. Among them is “Dr. T and the Women” with Richard Gere and Helen Hunt, and “Big Trouble” with Tim Allen. But Hudson is still making her career choices with caution. Acting, after all, might be in her blood, but it is still something she’s making her own.
“I think sometimes it’s difficult as a whole … just letting yourself completely trust what you’re doing,” Hudson says. “That can always be difficult. But with somebody like Cameron, you can really trust your instincts because he would never make you look silly.”
Which is a good thing when you’re poised to become the brightest new star of the year.
“Almost Famous” opens in limited release Sept. 15.