Kate Hudson has just tumbled into the backseat of her SUV, narrowly escaping the small swarm of paparazzi awaiting her outside the downtown Manhattan spot where she was having lunch. The driver is pulling a series of turns to elude a particularly pesky photographer on a bike, but Hudson has just as quickly shifted her attention to more pressing topics. “You know how, with Martha Stewart, there’s an aesthetic consistency—like you look at it and you know: This is Martha Stewart,” she says, her eyes squinting in concentration and her voice solemn. “That’s how a wedding should be. From the ribbons on the bridal party’s bouquets to the ribbons on the place cards to the ribbons tied around the menus. Will your look be woodsy? Will it be modern? Everything. Must. Be. Consistent.”
It’s jarring to hear such instructions—delivered as they are with OCD–flavored intensity—issued from the mouth of Hudson, hippie chick of Hollywood, she of the peasant blouses and Bob Dylan references. Her mother, Goldie Hawn, has never officially married her partner of 25 years, Kurt Russell, and Hudson’s own wedding, at age 21, was an über relaxed and untraditional affair (“We didn’t even have invitations; we just called people”) in which she married a shaggy, formerly drug-addled rock star, Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. Oh, and the marriage ended in divorce last year. She is also a woman who famously neglected to have her son’s hair cut for a full three years after his birth, not caring that he was routinely mistaken for a girl or some sort of street urchin.
Hudson, 29, blames her nuptial mania on having just finished filming Bride Wars, which she produced and stars in opposite Anne Hathaway. “Annie and I would talk about this stuff constantly—we were obsessed with The Knot!” she says, referring to the wedding Web site and magazine.
Not to worry, though. Hudson hasn’t yet morphed into the shrill neurotic she played in her 2003 box office smash, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. The bohemian Kate is still here, still clad in flowy florals (today it’s a Bally chiffon sundress), still interrupting conversation to loudly break into song and sway when a Radiohead tune comes on the speaker system. She has spent the morning making appearances all over town to promote David Babaii for WildAid, the new paraben-, sulfate- and petroleum-free hair-care line she developed in tandem with her hairstylist. “We need to start paying attention,” she says gravely, “to how we’re harming ourselves and our environment.”
It is one of the stickiest days of summer, and not 10 minutes after we sit down to lunch, the environmentally conscious hole-in-the-wall restaurant she’s chosen has a blackout. “We lost power!” Hudson yells out happily to no one in particular and giggles. Feeling sweat beads forming at my temples, I suggest that, if the electricity stays out for longer than a few minutes, we think of a plan B. “Nah, I’m cool,” she says. “As long as the gas in the kitchen is still working, so we can eat our tofu balls!”
“Kate is really comfortable with herself, and that makes everyone around her comfortable,” says comedian Dane Cook, her costar in My Best Friend’s Girl. Due out in September, it’s a vulgarity-filled romantic comedy that barely manages to stay this side of an NC-17 rating. “She’s one of the boys, in the sense that you can throw her into any situation, and there’s no ewww factor with her.”
When the ceiling fans switch back on a grueling five minutes later, Hudson barely notices. She’s too busy scarfing down edamame and talking about her favorite subject: her son, Ryder, who’s four. “He’s superathletic,” she says between bites. “I just signed him up for tennis camp. He’s very good at riding a bike—no training wheels. And he’s skiing! I was at that age too, but not as good as he is.”
Hudson was only 24 when she gave birth to Ryder, and the fact that she spent what many would consider their prime Hollywood partying years breast-feeding and packing lunches doesn’t really make much of an impression on her. “Am I gonna look back and say, God, I wish I could have gone to that… that… concert?” she asks, making the same sour-lemon face of disdain she gives repeat costar Matthew McConaughey when he says something particularly idiotic onscreen. “I’d rather be listening to my son sing songs. I’d rather be watching him sleep.”
Of course, her first years of motherhood were anything but conventional. When Ryder was a baby, he and Hudson went on tour with Robinson and his band. “I miss living on the road,” she says, flashing a devilish smile. “I’ll always miss it.” But her greater concern is making sure that Ryder feels his dad’s presence, even when he’s not around for weeks at a time. (It’s an issue that strikes close to home: Her biological father, musician Bill Hudson, was absent from her life from the time she was an infant; when she refers to her parents, she is talking about Hawn and Russell.) “We iChat with Chris constantly,” she says. “No matter what is going on in my life, relationship-wise, Chris takes absolute precedence. It’s important for Ryder to hear me say how wonderful Chris is, and how much Chris misses him.”
Romantically, though, Hudson has moved on. As anyone who’s recently passed a newsstand knows, she’s spent the past few months frolicking with new beau Lance Armstrong. Tabloids—and even The New York Times—have been reporting on the actress and the legendary cyclist in situations both naughty (making out in Cannes) and nice (they dined Brady Bunch–style with both their children and Robinson and his girlfriend in Brooklyn on Father’s Day). Hudson all but acknowledges the relationship—her barely contained excitement pretty much gives her away—although she’s trying to rein herself in, something that clearly does not come naturally. “It’s so hard for me, because I’m so open, to hold back. I could really just go on forever about this stuff,” she admits, having learned to be more discreet about new relationships. Husbands, however, ex or otherwise, are another story: “We can talk about Chris till the dogs come home. I married Chris, I had a baby with Chris, Chris will be in my life for the rest of my life. But everything else—I’ve learned that things are better left private until you’re actually planning the wedding.”
There it is again: the W word. For all her bohemian trimmings, Hudson is, it turns out, a traditional gal at heart. She loves beauty products and trading clothes with her friends. She bakes (though she won’t eat her own concoctions—she says she’s a hearty eater but doesn’t do sugar), watches Oprah and writes in a journal daily. “Years ago Oprah had this show where she said to write down three things a day that you’re thankful for and see what happens. I started doing that and couldn’t believe where it led,” Hudson says, citing short stories about sad breakups and stream-of-consciousness entries about her life as the sorts of things that now fill her pages.
Though early in her career she would chain-smoke and make blasé statements about recreational drug use, these days, she doesn’t go in for artsy pretension. To describe her recent trip to the New Museum in New York, she cobbles together a little collage on our lunch table of a used straw, a tiny ball of paper napkin, her sunglasses and the tin of desserts she has ordered to bring home for Ryder. “The art [there] is like this. And you have to stand there and say”—here, she furrows her brow—“‘I think it represents conflict.’” She gives the Goldie-clone smile, an impish grin that features teeth many a Hollywood dentist would consider too small: “It wasn’t my thing.”
Don’t confuse her breezy frocks and crusade for safer hair care with flakiness, either. As Hudson makes clear, her own and Hathaway’s characters in Bride Wars were exaggerated versions of their actual personalities. “I play the classic extrovert, and she’s the classic introvert. She sort of goes with the flow, gets a bit walked over sometimes, while I’m that got-it-all-figured-out, everything-needs-to-be-done-my-way, take-care-of-everything type. And that’s kind of how we are.”
Lynda Obst, the prolific producer who worked with Hudson on How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, calls her “a real girls’ girl. She loves women, and she knows the difference between friendships and alliances.” Obst believes this has played no small part in her box-office success with such films as You, Me, and Dupree, The Skeleton Key and Fool’s Gold. “It’s the girls’ girls who are the true stars. Because female audiences can identify the actresses who aren’t, and they don’t flock to their movies.”
Indeed, Hudson, who’s prone to earnestness, quickly gets maudlin when it comes to her family and friends. “I have a supersolid family,” she says. “We have the best time together, just a blast.” She has a couple of close male friends from high school (she name-checks actor Cash Warren and NBA star Baron Davis—“Uncle Baron in our house!” she effuses) and “a real solid group of girlfriends, about six of us who are really tight. A lot of them are from when I was little, and we’re still superclose. A solid group of girls will get you through anything—believe me, I know. I feel bad for the women who don’t believe that,” she adds. She’s surprisingly sappy about other topics too—and today, love is among them. “Every girl wants a fairy-tale ending,” says Hudson. “And I believe it’s possible. Absolutely.”
One thing she’s not sentimental about, though, is acting. Growing up, she says, she had more fun in gym class than in theater class. “Sometimes [in theater class] I just felt like, ‘Stop with the talking—just do it!’” she says, realizing aloud that she sounds like a Nike advertisement. “I don’t like to analyze; I just like to put it out there.” She still plays regular pickup games of soccer, and one gets the feeling that going head-to-head with her on the field would be a physical risk. Her figure is svelte, sure, but also, to borrow her favorite adjective, solid—she’s no fragile waif—and her demeanor is marked by a calm confidence. “She’s fearless,” says Cook, who likewise resorts to sports lingo in describing Hudson’s approach to filming My Best Friend’s Girl. “She jumps cannonball-style into the deep end.”
Perhaps the most truly free-spirited thing about Hudson is her constant pursuit of fun. It is, to her, the motivation for and solution to almost any situation—and the key to her parents’ lasting happiness. “I think it’s their trick,” she muses. “When the hard stuff starts to hit, they meet at this fun place where they can play. I think you need to find somebody you can play with.” Of course, this guiding principle is hardly a safeguard against difficult times, which Hudson understands all too well—apart from her very public divorce, she was reportedly devastated by Owen Wilson’s attempt on his life shortly after a romance between them ended, though she won’t discuss the incident publicly. She admits that her approach to life is hardly risk-free. “I have this personality—and there’s a downside to it too—but I have this thing where it’s like, okay, I’ve chosen to bungee jump off this ledge,” she says. “I have to do it. And if the cord snaps, well, I might as well enjoy the ride down.”
One suspects she loses little sleep over the common criticism that, since her Oscar-nominated turn in Almost Famous, she’s made a string of all-too-similar romantic comedies that have done little to show her range. “You never know how a movie is going to come out,” says Hudson, who has a chance to prove the doubters wrong with her next two films: Big Eyes, a drama in which she plays painter Margaret Keane, and the musical Nine, Rob Marshall’s film adaptation of the Broadway show, in which she was recently cast alongside Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard and Judi Dench. When it comes to critics, authors and musicians like her ex-husband are the ones who, she thinks, have the tougher burden. “When you are writing a book or a song, you are putting your words and your ideas out there. It’s all you. But at the end of the day, I was just a piece of the puzzle, and yeah, I’m the one who has to go out and sell [the movie]. But I can really dissociate myself from a film once I finish working on it. You have to.”
Ask Hudson about a particular film, and she’s far more likely to tell you about how much fun she had on set than about her character or process. “I laughed so hard with Jason Lee,” she says of filming Almost Famous. “My connection with him—everything about his sense of humor just got me. And Luke and Owen!” she exclaims, referencing the Wilson brothers, with whom she worked on Alex & Emma and Dupree, respectively. “Man! I can’t get through anything with those two.” Her choice of My Best Friend’s Girl was also driven by her expectation of a good time. “I’ve never laughed so hard,” she says. “I got to film in a strip club and say lots of swear words. I’ve never really gotten to curse in a movie!”
Her approach to acting might leave many of her peers cold. But it’s worth noting that she’s not the first easygoing blond to carve an impressive career out of light comedic fare—some of it good, some of it not, all of it endearing if only because its star appears to have had the time of her life making it. Hawn followed this same formula, and it turned her into an American sweetheart, even if she did subject us to Protocol. So Hudson comes by her take-nothing-too-seriously attitude rightly. “I watched my parents go through ups and downs in their careers,” she says. “At the end of every day, as soon as they walked through the door, it was about us kids. About watching Scooby Doo or The Three Amigos or whatever we were interested in. I guess that’s what you wind up emulating. I love acting, but I can be present on set, and then at the end of the day I come home, and it’s about family.
“Eventually,” she says, again flashing her mother’s smile, “it all goes away. So you just gotta keep enjoying yourself.”