Kate Hudson did the unthinkable when she got her first big break – she flaked. She was eleven; the venue, the Santa Monica Playhouse. "I got too scared. I couldn't do it," she says woefully. "I put on a better performance in my bedroom faking a headache than I would have onstage: 'Mother, I'm feverish, I mustn't go on.'"
Somehow Hudson evaded the blacklist in the preteen acting community. The now twenty-one-year-old grew up in L.A. and on a ranch in Colorado, and is the daughter of Goldie Hawn and former Seventies TV comedian Bill Hudson. Her parents divorced when she was just eighteen months old, and she calls Kurt Russell, her mother's companion of eighteen years, "Pa." "Kurt raised my brothers and me," she says. "He came into the picture when I was three. My real dad was in and out, but now we've reconciled and started to have a really nice relationship." Russell and Hawn made a home for Kate and her brothers, Oliver, 24, and Boston, 20, as well as their own son, Wyatt, 14.
Hudson truly felt the acting call in 1995 after attending the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts. "I was an apprentice," she says. "I built sets, and they'd put on productions in the middle of a field. It was this big hippie theater; it was so incredible."
She returned to L.A. eager to audition and, like so many idealists before her, fell smack into the uncaring arms of The Man. "I would think, 'Why am I doing this?'" she says. "I could have just gone in, turned around a few times, let them hear my voice and walked out. It wasn't acting."
Nonetheless, when she was accepted at the Tisch School at NYU, she pleaded with her parents to let her defer for a year while she looked for a film. "It took five months of begging," she says with a laugh. "But I was determined. I didn't want to go to school, and I didn't want to get cut off, so I found work."
She started on the indie circuit (200 Cigarettes, Desert Blue) and will be seen to smashing effect as Richard Gere's lesbian daughter in director Robert Altman's Dr. T and the Women, but when she heard that Cameron Crowe was making a film, all other projects hit the back burner. "She got Penny because of her loyalty," Crowe says. "She hung in and had turned down leads in other movies just to play the part of the sister in our movie. Everyone told her she was crazy and told us that we were going to lose her. Then she'd call and say, 'Don't listen to them, you'll never lose me.'"
"I just wanted to make Cameron happy," Hudson says. "I would have done one line. He's the kind of man you meet and are instantly inspired by. When I first met him, I just spilled everything. I felt so connected to him that I was the most honest I've ever been, and I think vice versa. It was amazing."
Unlike her co-star Patrick Fugit, Hudson didn't need any rock schcoling before shooting began. "My pa is a huge classic rock fan," she says. "Early ZZ Top, Hendrix, the Stones, the Beatles, Zeppelin, Steely Dan – they were big in my house." Russell was into rock while Hawn, now fifty-four, was more the rocker. "My mom lived a more hippie lifestyle," Hudson says, "while my dad was playing baseball."
Hudson has eclipsed both – she is, after all, friends with the Stones. "When I was seventeen, I did a photo shoot with my now-friend Jessie Wood, so I met Ronnie and Keith," she beams. "That was huge for me! Tattoo You was my first crush album." Now she calls Ronnie "a friend" and Keith "the coolest guy," and she attended the Bridges to Babylon sessions. "My mom came down because she'd hung with them a little back in the day," she says.
On Hudson's left hand glitters a mammoth square engagement ring from her boyfriend, the Black Crowes' lead singer Chris Robinson, 33. "I get so nervous about people seeing it," she says, looking down and blushing slightly, "only because I'm not getting married any time soon. It's not about that. Chris just really wanted to give me something that said, 'I want to spend the rest of our lives together.'"