Often a portrayer of heroines and victims, Ashley Judd welcomed the chance to be evil in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (opening June 7). As Vivi, she's a mom with a mean streak — viewers will surely cringe at scenes of the hellion beating her children. But just so we know it's fiction, Judd reveals a few tricks of the trade.

"The kids were incredibly well-rehearsed," she reassures. "We came to the set about a week in advance of shooting and had a huge safety meeting with all the kids, their parents, the tutor, the acting coach and the director."

One way of keeping scary scenes realistic, yet safe for her child co-stars, was talking in code. "If you say 'ouch' or 'stop it,' that's part of the dialogue," Judd says. "So, 'orange' was their safety word for when they felt uncomfortable. The belt [I beat them with] was made out of felt and the buckle was cardboard. It was movie-making madness!"

While such Mommie Dearest moments could damage her good-girl image, Judd scoffs at the thought of softening a character to suit her ego. "If you are [acting], you have to do it for love of the character, right or wrong," she insists. "When I was first introduced to that notion of making a character 'likeable,' I was so repulsed. If an actor is worried about that for one minute, they have absolutely no integrity in their craft."

And unlike Vivi's daughter — who's played as an adult by Sandra Bullock — Judd says she no longer scrambles for the approval of her mother. (That's country singer Naomi Judd.) "You can have a richer manifestation of love when you don't have those kinds of aspirations and attachments to ideas like approval," she philosophizes. "You have to simply be who you are. That is where real happiness comes from."