Talks About The Reaping
Hilary Swank was born in Lincoln, Nebraska to Stephen Swank, an officer in the Air National Guard and later a traveling salesman, and Judy Clough. She has a brother, Dan. Many of her family members hail from Ringgold County, Iowa. Swank came from humble beginnings, particularly as a child growing up in a trailer park near Lake Samish in Bellingham, Washington, where she moved when she was six. Swank has also described her younger self as an “outsider” who felt that she belonged “only when reading a book or seeing a movie, and could get involved with a character”, and was thus inspired to become an actress.
When she was nine years old, Swank made her first appearance on stage starring in The Jungle Book, and thereafter became heavily involved in her school and community theater programs, including those of the Bellingham Theatre Guild. She went to Sehome High School in Bellingham until she was sixteen. Swank also competed in the Junior Olympics and the Washington State championships in swimming; she ranked 5th in the state in all-around gymnastics (which would come in handy when starring in The Next Karate Kid (1994) years later). Swank’s parents separated when she was thirteen, and her mother, supportive of her daughter’s desire to act, moved the two of them to Los Angeles, California, where they lived out of their car until Swank’s mother saved enough money to rent an apartment. Swank has described her mother as the inspiration for her acting career and her life during this time period and subsequently. In California, Swank enrolled in South Pasadena High School (although she later dropped out of high school) and started acting professionally. She also helped pay the rent with the money she earned appearing in television programs such as Evening Shade and Growing Pains.
In September 1997, Swank was cast as single mother Carly Reynolds on Beverly Hills, 90210. She was initially promised it would be a two-year role, but saw her character written out after 16 episodes in January 1998. Swank later said that she was devastated at being cut from the show, thinking, “If I’m not good enough for 90210, I’m not good enough for anything.” As it turned out, the firing was the best thing to happen to Swank, as it freed her to audition for the role of Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry. Swank dropped her body fat down to seven percent in preparation for the role. Many critics hailed hers as the best female performance of 1999; her co-star of the film, Chloë Sevigny, had her performance singled out for praise also, Swank and Sevigny where often ranked as the best two leads of 1999 in film. The performance ultimately won her the Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Actress. She subsequently won the Best Actress Oscar again for playing a boxer in 2004’s Million Dollar Baby, a role for which she underwent training and gained 19 pounds of muscle. Swank’s Oscar success means that she has joined the ranks of Vivien Leigh, Helen Hayes, Sally Field, and Luise Rainer as the only actresses to have been nominated twice and win both times (both times she won over fellow actress and nominee Annette Bening). She is also the third-youngest double Best Actress Oscar winner (after Luise Rainer and Jodie Foster.) After winning her second Best Actress Oscar, she said, “I don’t know what I did in this life to deserve this. I’m just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream.” Swank had earned only $75/day for her work on Boys Don’t Cry, culminating in a total of $3,000. Her earnings were so low, that (according to an anecdote on 60 Minutes) she had not even earned enough to qualify for health insurance.
On February 28, 2006, it was announced that Swank had signed a three-year contract “to be both the muse and the spokesperson for a new women’s fragrance by Guerlain to be launched later this year”. In 2007, Swank starred in Freedom Writers, a drama released on January 5; in the film, Swank, who also executive produced, played Erin Gruwell, a real-life teacher who inspired a California high school class. Many reviews of Swank’s performance were positive, with one critic noting that she “brings credibility” to the role and another stating that her performance reaches a “singular lack of artifice, stripping herself back to the bare essentials”. Later the same year, Swank starred The Reaping, a horror film scheduled for an April 5 release, in which she plays a debunker of religious phenomena. Swank convinced the producers to move the film’s setting from New England to the Deep South, and the movie was filmed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina struck. Swank has also completed filming on the romantic comedy PS, I Love You.
Swank received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Monday, January 8, 2007. Hers was the 2,325th star given.
Swank has said that she is “an actor, not a celebrity” and has described herself as a “homebody”. She considers herself a spiritual person, though not a member of an organized religion. Swank has said that she is “athletically inclined” and that she “loves sports”. Swank developed potential health problems, including elevated mercury levels in her body, because of certain preparations for her roles, including weight gain and loss for Boys Don’t Cry and The Black Dahlia. She has stated that she would “do what she needs to make the role believable and to make it work” and that her “battle scars are a reminder that you’re alive and human and that you bleed”. In 2007, Swank noted that she “feels like in the last couple of years I’ve really come into my own and a lot of that has come from figuring out who I really am and what I want in life”.
Swank married actor Chad Lowe on September 28, 1997. The two met in 1992, on the set of Quiet Days in Hollywood, a direct-to-video film. Swank infamously forgot to thank Lowe during her acceptance speech after winning her first Oscar in 2000, and she spent nearly every public appearance afterward making up for it. Upon winning her second Oscar in 2005, Lowe was the first person she thanked. However, in January 2006, the couple separated. In subsequent interviews, Swank expressed hope that they could reconcile, but they announced in May 2006 that they were divorcing. In December 2006, Swank confirmed that she is dating John Campisi, her agent.
On January 15, 2005, after arriving at a New Zealand airport she was fined NZ$230 by the Manukau District Court for not declaring an apple and orange she had in her purse when she landed. Swank appealed the fine, but it was upheld on March 30, 2005.
During a recent trip to Beverly Hills, Wild About Movies sat with the two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner to discuss her most recent film, “The Reaping,” which as you can see from the poster below, was originally scheduled for a November 2006 release in theaters. It’s official theatrical release date is April 6, 2007.
Wild About Movies: How did you get involved with ‘The Reaping?’
Hilary Swank: Well, I, you know, to me, when I was reading this script, it was such a surprise because I think it’s a supernatural thriller that’s so smart. And when Joel sent it to me, it was a week before the Academy Awards for Million Dollar Baby, and he said, “I want you to read this right now!” And I said, “Right now? Can it wait?” “No, right now!” So I read it, and I just remember reading it and it being a real page turner, and really enjoying it, and not seeing some of the twists and turns that would come and what happened which is really hard. You know, it’s hard to fool me. It just is, because I’ve read a lot of scripts, as you guys have seen a lot of movies, and I’m sure it’s hard to fool you, too. I loved that. I loved that I didn’t see some stuff coming.
Wild About Movies: What was it like working with Stephen Hopkins as a director?
Hilary Swank: He’s so great. There wasn’t a director on this when I came on board, and when Joel and I were batting out names, I was a real big fan of those first episodes of 24, and The Life and Death of Peter Sellers had just come out, and I’m sure he told you, I really pushed for him and really fought for him and really wanted him to be a part of it. And he, same thing, when he read it, he saw the things I was talking about and wanted to really highlight those things, and so that was great.
Wild About Movies: What’s your take on faith and spirituality?
Hilary Swank: Well, I believe in a higher power. I was not baptized, or into organized religion, and all of that, but it’s definitely interesting. You know, part of my job is, as an actor, it’s so great that I get to read and learn about all different types of life and walks of life and different thinking, and it just certainly makes you more open-minded and I love that. I loved getting that opportunity to hear these people who write the Skeptic Mind magazine, and to really hear that they feel there’s a scientific reason for everything. And they will sit there and you could ask them anything, “Well, how’d this happen? Well how do you think this happened?”, and they have an answer for it. Whereas the other people will come in and say, “There is no way that this can scientifically be proven and is nothing short of a miracle.” And I love that, that you can represent both sides of that in a movie.
Wild About Movies: So where do you stand on miracles?
Hilary Swank: Ummm…I feel like…I’ve seen in my own life, just a lot of things that have happened that have been, I wouldn’t say miraculous, but I would just say a blessing. And I think maybe I have a lot of luck. I had to work really hard, but there’s a lot of luck. But I haven’t, myself, witnessed a miracle.
Wild About Movies: I love the scene where your character rattles off this whole scientific explanation of the plagues.
Hilary Swank: Yeah. Great writing, huh?
Wild About Movies: Is it harder to rattle off a block of dialogue like that, as opposed to a scene where there is back and forth interaction?
Hilary Swank: Yeah. You might have seen also in Freedom Writers, it’s the same. I had speeches that were so long. And certainly if you have back and forth, it’s easier to remember something because you have that person’s…you’re reacting off of what they’re saying and you remember your lines. So it took me a long time to learn that. It was two weeks of, between, of learning it while I was off set. I would be going over and over and over and over that. Because also she said it really fast, and passionately. And so it’s definitely different to learn that.
Wild About Movies: Do you do anything to keep co-stars from being intimidated by your two Oscar wins?
Hilary Swank: Yeah, I put it down, I say, “Can you polish that?” No! No, no, I’m just kidding! No, there’s no…You know what? People, I don’t feel, are intimidated by me. I’m just another person, I’m just another actor sitting down. And you know, doing the same thing, starting from scratch. And I think the second they see me mess up in a scene, they go, “Oh, yeah, okay. She’s just like me.”
Wild About Movies: Some of us remember you from The Next Karate Kid.
Hilary Swank: Exactly! I just signed an autograph for someone over there. They had me sign their Next Karate Kid DVD. Yeah. The thing is that I was fortunate enough to be blessed to do movies that people recognize somehow in that light. And I wake up every day and I like do these quadruple takes at it thinking, “What is that sitting in my house?” I don’t think it’s even sunk in with me. It’s not something that I…I don’t know, I’m just, I’m the same. I make the same mistakes on a set, and I don’t remember my lines, and I go, “What am I saying? What am I doing? Please help me!” So I don’t think people feel that way.
Wild About Movies: Do you feel there is an expectation to keep picking roles that are potentially Oscar winners?
Hilary Swank: I think after Boys Don’t Cry I did, because it so came out of nowhere, and I just thought, “Wow, all of a sudden I’m here, and last year I was doing 90210.” Like, “Wow, where do you go from here?” But I think that’s, you know, you can’t be in that mindset, because nothing’s perfect. Those performances weren’t perfect. They were flawed, and my goal is to just continue to challenge myself and to try and learn and grow.
Wild About Movies: Did you have to draw on your inner Agent Scully for this movie?
Hilary Swank: From Insomnia?
Wild About Movies: From The X-Files. The Gillian Anderson character. You and Idris have been compared to Scully and Mulder from The X-Files.
Hilary Swank: Oh, funny. No, I didn’t. I didn’t even think of that. I was like, “Do you know who you’re talking to?” I thought you thought I was someone else. I’m just kidding.
Wild About Movies: Let’s talk about Sometimes They Come Back Again? What comes to mind about that? That was your first horror film, right?
Hilary Swank: Yeah. Ummm…Well, I did a few of those types of movies. Just movie of the weeks and stuff that were scary. So that actually wasn’t my first.
Wild About Movies: You did horror before that?
Hilary Swank: Well, I did, you know…
Wild About Movies: Buffy.
Hilary Swank: Yeah. Yeah, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Wild About Movies: But that was more of a comedy. What about straight up horror?
Hilary Swank: But this isn’t a straight up horror.
Wild About Movies: It’s more of a Seventh Sign type thing…
Hilary Swank: Yeah. No, I didn’t draw upon that.
Wild About Movies: Would you have done a straight up horror movie? This is a character-driven script and you’re playing somebody with baggage. Is that what interested you about her?
Hilary Swank: About my character?
Wild About Movies: Yes.
Hilary Swank: Well, I certainly like characters who are rich and multi-faceted, because I feel that we all are. You know, I think everybody has a lot going on in their lives, and there’s more to us than just meets the eye. And so certainly when I read these characters who are multi-faceted like that. I certainly can, you know, I like that there’s all those things to play.
Wild About Movies: How are you with swamps and bugs?
Hilary Swank: I’m a lot better than Idris Elba is! He hates spiders, he hates swamps. I grew up out in the country, and I was a tomboy, and I loved climbing trees and tree forts and frogs and all of that stuff. And I grew up by a lake. And Idris, he hates all that. He just…Spiders and stuff really, he doesn’t like. So we’d get a good laugh, me and AnnaSophia. When they brought the locusts out and stuff, we’d be having them crawl all over us, and he’d just be like, “Uh-uh.” And it was funny, he actually…the scene where he falls in the swamp, he fell, he sunk into the swamp, and we had those big things on, and it filled with water, so he couldn’t get back up. He was just like, Wooo-Hooooo!
Wild About Movies: What is your opinion on faith vs. science in school and society?
Hilary Swank: You know what? I actually don’t have very many thoughts about that, and it’s not something that I think about a lot. I don’t have kids that go to school, I don’t think about what that sort of thing in school…It’s not really something that I think about, so I don’t have a big opinion about it. I feel like, you know, we’re all people who…You know, I grew up in America and there’s freedom of speech, and I feel thankful that I get to believe what I believe, and if I want to be religious, I can, if I don’t, I don’t have to. It’s completely up to me, and I appreciate that I have those rights. But other than that, I haven’t put a lot of thought into it.
Wild About Movies: Where do you see your life and career now?
Hilary Swank: I would say I’m just really happy that I get to do what I love. You know, I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was 8 years old, and that I am now here in this place where I’m talking about a movie and I get to talk about my future movies, my old jobs… No, I love it. I actually don’t have any problems talking about any of my jobs, because all of it…I was just always happy to be a working actor. I just love what I do. And I feel like I’m in a place where I get to wake up and say, “Hey, I get to go do what I love today.”
Wild About Movies: What else are you into besides the work?
Hilary Swank: Well, I like to travel, and I definitely get to travel so much with my job. I get to see the world. I mean, the places I’ve been in my life, I’ve been seeing most of the world than not. And that’s so great. So I love that. I love cooking, and I get to see and taste all different types of food. My job allows me to really be involved with philanthropic things, and talk about things that I believe in, and raise money for things that I believe in. So it’s great.
Wild About Movies: How was it working with AnnaSophia Robb in this movie?
Hilary Swank: Great.
Wild About Movies: She’s such a sweetie in person.
Hilary Swank: Isn’t she sweet? She’s so sweet. And she loves her job and she has great parents, and we had a lot of fun. This movie was really, just, it was fun to film. We all enjoyed being together, we all enjoyed being in the South, we all enjoyed the gumbo and the pecan pies and the Southern hospitality. And we had a great time on set and off, you know? It was great to hang out with her and her parents. And there was this one little…one place in this small town, part of the small town we were filming, where I would see her on our day off, and we’d both be eating our waffles. And you know, it was like the only place you could go to eat. And I had a little farmhouse when I was there. I mean, it was a great time all around.
Wild About Movies: Did you talk to her about growing up in Hollywood?
Hilary Swank: You know, I just tried to. I didn’t want to sound preachy or like I was trying to teach her something. But I definitely would just say, “Remember to believe in yourself and to do what you love and trust yourself,” and that sort of thing. You know, she’s pretty solid, and she has solid parents. So she’s definitely on that right path.
Wild About Movies: You sold the ending shock really well. Was that what attracted you to the script?
Hilary Swank: Oh yeah. Like I was saying in the beginning, when I read this, I kept being surprised. So yeah, it was definitely one of the things.
Wild About Movies: This woman next to me was grabbing her mouth.
Hilary Swank: Stephen was watching the movie. Did he tell you? He was watching the movie and it was way…he had been working and traveling back and forth and he was jetlagged, and it was at one of these screenings, and he was just like, You know, he had seen the movie a million times. He’s like, “I’m just going to shut my eyes for a sec, I’m so tired.” And all of a sudden, this guy behind him got so freaked out and kicked him in the back of the head. He jolted awake.
Wild About Movies: Did you expect the finished project to be so rich visually?
Hilary Swank: Well, as you had asked me before, I knew his work, and I knew he works with that same cinematographer, and so it wasn’t like that was going to be a surprise of how it was going to look. And I do think that his movies are visually really stimulating. His work is visually stimulating. You know, you never know if it’s always going to come out like that with anything, but yeah, this cinematographer [Peter Levy], he’s…I felt the movie was really rich in color, and the way the camera moved was fun.
Wild About Movies: What was it like working with Idris?
Hilary Swank: Idris? Cool. We had so much. You know, we have a lot of our scenes together, and I feel like just as people, we have great chemistry. I felt like I had known Idris forever. And you know, we had a lot of great talks just being down there and waiting for the scenes to be set up. A lot of fun, a lot of jokes, a lot of back and forth. I just think he’s such an extremely talented actor, and I was really happy to get the opportunity to work with him. And I talk about how he is British, but you forget because his accent’s so spot-on. And there was not an accent coach. He didn’t have an accent coach, he just did it. And so whenever I see him and he uses his accent, because that’s his accent, I always think, “What are you doing? What is that? Are you trying to act smart or something?” Because it’s so weird to hear him speak like that.
Wild About Movies: Ever had to work at a retail job, before your extensive film career started?
Hilary Swank: I started working like right at 16. So I didn’t really. But there were times when I just thought…you know, I had a restaurant that I really loved, and I said, “I want the experience to be a waiter here. I want to know what that’s like.” I love people and I love being around people. I like to observe. And so I did stuff like that. But it was more fun, because I was working.
Wild About Movies: Were you thinking sequel going into this?
Hilary Swank: No. No, actually, I wasn’t. And also, it’s not really…I don’t…no…because I don’t know where it would go. But I guess that’s why I’m not a writer.
Wild About Movies: Can you talk about the experience of working in Louisiana?
Hilary Swank: Yeah. Well, a lot of our crew was from New Orleans, so a lot of them had lost their homes and everything. We all got evacuated. And instead of… being a business, it would have been really easy for the studio and Joel to say, “Okay, we’re going to take this movie somewhere else. We’ve got to finish this movie, we can’t wait.” And instead, they really took, I think it was great, they said, “Okay, let’s wait, and let’s just hold out and go back.” And I think it was really smart, because all those people who had lost their homes then didn’t lose their job, and we helped the city rebuild by all the money we were bringing there. And so it was a long shoot because of that, but it was a no-brainer. It was the obvious and right thing to do.
Wild About Movies: As the lead, did you feel responsibility to keep the crew’s spirits up?
Hilary Swank: Absolutely. You know, you don’t want to deny them having their emotions and feelings and everything. And obviously, it was a horrible devastation that happened. But it was part of their healing and rebuilding, and everyone’s healing and rebuilding. And I think our country had to heal and rebuild from that. So it’s great to, I think, have a movie that represents that area and that’s so much fun, and a reminder to people to go to that area.