When Hilary Swank walks into a room she commands attention. The star is uniquely striking and abundantly talented. When you see her in person it’s obvious why in she is named one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People.”
For a famous actress who has earned two Academy Awards, two Golden Globes and an Independent Spirit Award, Hilary is surprisingly humble and down-to-earth. Perhaps this has something to do with her trailer-park upbringings in Bellingham, Washington and the fact that she succeeded through hard work and talent — in a Hollywood where success frequently comes through family connections and industry contacts.
For starring in her breakthrough film, Boys Don’t Cry, for which she won her first Oscar, she earned a meager $3,000. Hilary won the lead role of Brandon Teena after three hundred other actresses had been considered and rejected over the course of three years.
Hilary works hard for all her roles. To prepare for Million Dollar Baby, for which Hilary won her second Oscar, she radically overhauled her body by enduring three months of intensive physical training. “I had to eat about 210 grams of protein a day, so I’d drink egg whites and protein shakes and flax oil.” She nearly died during her training from potentially fatal blood poisoning. “I was in a bad way. It got to the point that where I couldn’t walk.” But Hilary shrugs it off, as if all actresses would go through this kind of torture. “My job was to do my best to look like a boxer.” And that she did.
I first met Hilary Swank at the Tavern on the Green in New York City. We were at an awards ceremony and she sat down next to me, said “Hilary” and stuck her hand out. My first reaction was to wonder how she knew who I was and there was a bit of confusion until we realized that we shared the same name — and spelled it the same way! We ranted for a bit about Hillary Clinton jokes and how the former first lady misspelled her name.
Over the next year I saw Hilary at the Golden Globes, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, and she always made a point of saying hello. Now, at the posh Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto, Hilary sits comfortably in a chair, her left knee propped against the table. She is wearing black boot-cut pants and a delicately lacy black top. She excuses herself and gets up to pour herself a cup of coffee at the buffet. She brings the cream back with her, but decides against using it. Instead she pours half a packet of “Raw Sugar” into her black coffee and delicately takes a sip.
“My schedule is so packed,” she explains almost apologetically, “I’m booked up the rest of the day and I fly out tonight.” I feel lucky that she made time for this interview as she was flying home to New York to appear on The Late Show with Jay Leno later that evening. I don’t know how she does it. She must be one of those rare people who can survive — and still be articulate — on next to no sleep.
Urbanette Magazine: How do you deal with critics and the public’s opinions?
Hilary Swank: “I think that any time you start concerning yourself with what people think you’re going to fail, because you’re never going to please everybody. If you try to make everybody happy you might as well quit. I think that what I have to do — and what I remind myself of constantly — is love what I’m doing because I care so much about it and I put so much into it that I need to be able to respond to it.”
Urbanette: Do you ever get hounded by paparazzi?
Hilary: “You know, I think that’s just part of the job. I’m not a scandalous person so it’s not like they’re searching for me left and right to catch me doing something bad ’cause I guess I’m just so boringly clean.”
Urbanette: How did your life change after you won the Oscar for Best Actress?
Hilary: “What’s interesting is that my life didn’t really change. When I watched the Oscars I used to always say ‘God, I bet their lives will never be the same.’ But you’re still the same person and you still have to do the laundry and walk the dog–you know, you’re the same person. My job opportunities have changed, that is a positive change.”
Urbanette: Did you have a trick or method that helped you to play Brandon Teena so convincingly in your breakthrough film, Boys Don’t Cry?
Hilary: “I tried to find the humanity that transcended gender. I didn’t play Brandon as an alter male ego. I didn’t think it was a gender that I was playing – it was something deeper than that, a quality that we all have as humans.”
Urbanette: When you’re immersed in a role and doing a movie do you find that you’re cut-off from your friends and life outside of the industry?
Hilary: “For sure, especially when I went off to do Boys Don’t Cry; I told everyone that I’m not going to call anyone and I’m just totally unreachable for this amount of time because you just have to totally immerse.
For The Affair of the Necklace I was a bit more available. I flew my grandfather and mother in to visit. My best friend visited as well and brought her kids. So you try to keep those avenues open although you can’t be as available as you’d like to be as a family member or wife or friend. But it’s one of those things you choose when you choose your career. There’s pros and cons of everything, I mean, if you choose to be a lawyer you may have to work long hours as well. It’s one of those things you have to just weigh.”
Urbanette: Is it hard to keep your priorities in tact when you’re constantly busy working and on set?
Hilary: “I think that we always need to be questioning what it is we want to be doing with our lives and making our priorities very clear. I think that after Sept. 11th I certainly have reevaluated my priorities, I was always talking my priorities and now I’m really trying to live my priorities. You live once and you have to hopefully learn before it’s too late what your priorities are. I ask myself often to make sure that I’m doing what I want to be doing and living the life that I want to be living and that I’m in check. All those important questions I think everyone should ask themselves.”
Urbanette: What inspires you to pursue theater when you are being offered so many movie roles?
Hilary: “I started my career doing local theater. I think you just have to be happy with what you’re doing and even though I’m getting this opportunity as an actress to work in film, I want to make sure that I’m doing theater too because that’s what’s inspiring to me. Unfortunately it seems like I’m doing a movie every time that the play comes along that I think I could be a part of, but I believe in fate — I really think it’ll work out. I really love LOVE theater. It’s a totally different feeling; it’s just so different.”
Urbanette: You seem to be choosing a lot of interesting but lower-budget movies than most Oscar winners. Do you prefer working on lower budget films as opposed to blockbusters?
Hilary: “You choose to do a film because you’re drawn to it one way or another and I’m lucky that I don’t have to make career choices because of money. If a blockbuster movie came my way and I loved the story and I wanted to be a part of it then I would hope that I would gain what ever I was supposed to from that creatively. But with lower budget movies like Boys Don’t Cry, you get a certain artistic collaboration that doesn’t necessarily happen on that level when you work on a bigger budget movie. With blockbusters you get more money and have more time to explore camera angles or different takes but on smaller budget films you don’t have that. So there are pros and cons to both.”
Urbanette: You live in New York. Does living outside of LA affect the roles you’re offered and you’re involvement in the industry?
Hilary: “When I moved, a lot of people said ‘Aren’t you afraid to move away from LA where there are all these opportunities for you?’ I do think that once you get to a certain place [in your career] you don’t necessarily need to be in a town or a certain area and I’m really blessed and lucky for that because I love my lifestyle living in New York. I also want to do theatre and I have this wonderful new place in which to expand those career opportunities as well, and that’s really exciting.”