UNIVERSAL CITY, California — Before Kate Hudson was pregnant, her latest film project had already gotten her thinking about starting a family of her own.
"These kids are unbelievable," Hudson gushed on the set of "Raising Helen," shortly after finishing a scene in which 11-year-old Spencer Breslin ("The Santa Clause 2") rescues a small dinner party from an uninvited cockroach. "You think you're gonna work with kids and you're really going to work with them and help them. [But] these kids are pros.
"And the little girl, oh man," she said, pointing toward 7-year-old Abigail Breslin ("Signs"). "She's a heartbreaker. She can cry on the spot, she's so focused, she's so professional. It's like working with an adult actor. ... The other day [Spencer] asked, 'What are you going to wear to the wrap party? I think I might wear a sport jacket.' "
"It actually has [made me want to have kids], especially little Abby," Kate confessed. "[But] you never know what you're going to get. So you might look at a little girl like Abby and go, 'Oh, I can't wait to have a kid.' And then you end up getting this little boy who is off hanging from chandeliers. But we do want them, [and] kids will happen when it's supposed to happen."
Though Kate didn't know that she and her singer husband Chris Robinson would soon be expecting, "Raising Helen" gave her other reasons to think about family as well. She plays a career-obsessed New Yorker who, together with another sister, must care for three children when their eldest sister dies. Plus she's working with Gary Marshall, who directed Kurt Russell and Kate's mother, Goldie Hawn, in the 1987 comedy "Overboard."
"I directed 'Overboard' when [Kate] was 8 years old, running around the set, and here she is starring in this picture," the director said proudly.
"[This film] has some emotional elements but a lot of comedy in it too. And the key was to find somebody who could play both sides of it," he added. "There are very few [actresses] around [who could], particularly in the under-25 age group. Kate Hudson is one of the best. ... [She] reminds me of when I did 'Pretty Woman' with Julia Roberts."
Though her more recent work has been in the romantic comedy genre — movies like the $105.6 million box-office hit "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" and last month's "Alex & Emma" — it's worth noting that Hudson earned an Oscar nomination for her dramatic turn as groupie Penny Lane in "Almost Famous."
"There's nobody more perfect to execute this movie than Gary Marshall," Hudson said inside a Universal Studios soundstage that had been convincingly made to look like a New York apartment. "For one, he's a family guy — I mean, family all the way. His son has a softball game and we all leave the set early, that kind of thing. And he's down [with my family].
"He's so perfectly executing this film," she added. "Because it's funny but it's realistic. And it's sad but not sappy. The whole movie is about strength and about holding on."
Also starring Joan Cusack ("High Fidelity"), John Corbett ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding"), Paris Hilton and singer Jackson Browne's son Ethan, "Raising Helen" is scheduled for release next year.