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Sela Ward's Summer of Independence

Hillary Clinton may have clinched the Democratic nomination for the 2016 presidential race, but actress Sela Ward already commands the Oval Office in this summer's heavily hyped hoped-to-be blockbuster, "Independence Day: Resurgence" (due in theatres June 24).

Although Ward admitted in a recent interview with the Sun Herald to studying the body movements and tone of the former first lady and secretary of state, it is another former head of the free world whom the Meridian native said she uses to characterize her character, President Elizabeth Lanford, as she battles to defend Earth from a heated alien invasion for a second time.

"(President Harry) Truman is a good one because Lanford is really decisive, and she is dealing with high stakes," Ward said of the character's response to the obstacles she faces in this sequel to the 1996 popcorn hit that made Will Smith a megastar. "The world lost 3 billion people (in the first attack). It effected everyone on the planet; the planet, then, has to come together as a whole to protect itself. (There are) elevated defense systems orbital defense systems. So, you have a world, that is, if you could imagine, ISIS on steroids."

Familiar faces

In addition to the robust extraterrestrials, moviegoers also will recognize some familiar faces from the original feature, including Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson, Vivica A. Fox as Jasmine, Judd Hirsch as Julius Levinson and Bill Pullman as President Whitmore. Surprisingly, having to come in to an already established recipe for success did not prove intimidating for the two-time Emmy winner.

"It'd be different if I was playing Will Smith's character (Captain Steven Hiller)," said Ward with a laugh. "I don't think you ever have to worry about that unless you're replacing an iconic part of a package."

Pullman's speech given before the closing battle sequence in the original has become epic to fans of the sci-fi world, but Ward wisely opted out of attempting to top it. Instead, director Roland Emmerich had a unique action sequence for President Lanford.

"I sort of have this Clint Eastwood moment at the end (of the film) with an alien," she says proudly.

Ward revealed that her character loses her whole family in the original attack, so does that mean there will be some romance amidst annihilation between Lanford and her predecessor?

"No, no action between us," she said. "That would've been really good though, because Bill (Pullman) is great."

The appeal, then, it seems, will be the same as the original: massive destruction, mega ton explosions and mania. But how does a leading lady largely lauded for her dramatic stints on the small screen ("CSI: New York"; "Once & Again"; "Sisters") convert from a world heavy in dialogue and rich character interaction to one whose backdrop is empty and special effects dominate?

"You pretend like hell!" she said. "It's a strange way of shooting, because it doesn't incorporate all of your senses as an actor."

She said it was a challenge for her.

"But it just becomes part of the performance," she said. "All the minutia. So, yes, it is harder, but you do it somehow because that's how you've been trained."

Her political run will continue on into the fall with the new series "Graves" - premiering on Epix -- opposite Oscar nominee Nick Nolte.

"It's a dark comedy," she said of the show in which she will play the role of Margaret Graves, the wife of Nolte, whose aspirations in the political arena conflict with his need to undo certain wrongs done during his presidency. "There's a lot of drama, but there's just great levity; it's pure comedic entertainment."

Southern roots

A strong proponent of the South and Southern culture -- in 2002, Ward authored "Homesick, A Memoir," that detailed her upbringing and longing for Mississippi after having travelled to New York City and Los Angeles for her craft -- Ward also is not afraid to stand her ground on issues she feels are important, especially those that can sometimes bring a negative connotation to the South.

One such example includes Mississippi's controversial legislation HB 1523, which would allow people to refuse service to some people, including gay, lesbian and transgender people, in some cases due to religious objections.

"The law is horrifying (to me)," Ward said. "It's a culture of people who just aren't well traveled haven't seen the world or met a gay person, or certainly, a transgender person. I am so disheartened."

Ward, the eldest of four, never entirely fled her roots. She owns "an amazing little slice of heaven," as she puts it, in Mississippi, which she visits for summers and holidays with her husband, Howard Sherman, whom she married in 1992, and their children, Austin and Anabella.

Ward's legacy

Ward has left an indelible mark on Mississippi with Hope Village, which she founded in 2000.

"We have an emergency shelter for kids who have to be removed from the home because they are in danger," she said. "And then, we have a permanent shelter that takes in kids until they are 18 years old. We also have two transition houses that kids can live in to help get them on their feet -- you know, get a car, a job or design a resume. They can live there for three years, and then, hopefully, they can fly.

"It's so important (to have the transition houses)," she said. "I can't imagine telling my 18-year-old, 'OK, you're done! Good luck!'"

Ward is a woman on the move but with her kids in tow. Sort of. She is soon to clear out of her Bel-Air estate for smaller digs in order to be able to be close to both Austin and Isabella.

Austin is an aspiring musician (he is part of a duo named Take Your Soma that has received critical praise with a single titled "Uncertain"). Austin accepted a position with Google in northern California while Anabella begins Brown in the fall. Ultimately, Ward will call three locations home: California, Mississippi and New York.

"Exactly," sums up the star, sounding a little weary as she begins the packing process. Then, there is the matter of Ward hitting a certain milestone birthday in July that will surely designate a celebratory bonanza.

"I would (have a party) if I could only figure out when," she said.

Donations to Hope Village can be made by going to www.hopevillagems.org

People in need of help can call 1-800-422-4453.

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