Home Improvement turned its cast into stars. One A-list actress nearly got her start on the beloved ABC sitcom, but the producers thought she was too talented for the role.
If you’re familiar with Home Improvement, you’ll remember the show within a show Tool Time. It follows Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor (Tim Allen) as he annoys his co-host Al Borland (Richard Karn) with his need to soup up everyday items with disastrous results. The “Tool Time Girl” often would deliver them the tools and occasionally get in a joke.
Pamela Anderson played the original “Tool Time Girl” Lisa. When she left the show as her career took off, Debbie Dunning stepped in as Heidi. But there was someone else who read for the part during casting that impressed the showrunners. Her audition was so good, in fact, that they wrote a larger part in the series for her, but she turned it down.
Ashley Judd had no acting credits when she audition for Home Improvement in 1991. But her barely-there resume belied her talent. When she read for the role of Lisa, producers felt she was too good for the mostly seen-but-not-heard character.
”When Ashley came in and read for the part I thought, My God, this girl is so talented!” Home Improvement creator Matt Williams told Entertainment Weekly in 2000. ”So I called her agent and told him that she was so good, we would find a way to incorporate her into the series, period.”
Williams wrote Ashley Judd in the show as Tim Taylor’s sister. But after considering the offer, Judd turned it down. Her agent told Williams that she wanted to focus on building a career in movies.
Judd ‘Agonized’ For Days About Turning Down ‘Home Improvement’
When Matt Williams got a chance to work with Ashley Judd again in Where the Heart Is in 2000, he asked her if she remembered his offer nine years earlier. By this point, Judd was a star on her way to becoming one of the most bankable actresses in Hollywood. But she remembered. How could she forget? It was one of the hardest decisions she’d ever made.
“She told me she went for a long walk on the beach and thought, ‘Am I ready to commit to a series? I’ve never made any money as an actress, so how do I turn my back on this?’” he told Entertainment Weekly. “She said she agonized over it for a couple of days.”
It’s unclear why she turned down the role, though. Her agent’s answer about wanting to focus on films doesn’t hold up. Judd worked in television for most of her early career. She appeared in a couple of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and starred on the NBC sitcom Sisters.