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If you like Hilary Swank's story, you might also like:
Julie Andrews,
Carol Burnett,
Olivia de Havilland,
Whoopi Goldberg,
Ron Howard,
Jeremy Irons,
James Earl Jones,
Naomi Judd,
Sidney Poitier
and Barry Scheck

Hilary Swank can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Hilary Swank's recommended reading: To Kill a Mockingbird

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New York Times
Hetrick-Martin Institute
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Hilary Swank
Hilary Swank
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Hilary Swank Interview

Two Oscars for Best Actress

June 22, 2007
Washington, D.C.

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  Hilary Swank

You won the Oscar for your performances in Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby. Boys Don't Cry was the role that really brought you widespread attention. Can you tell us how you got that role? What do you remember about that?

Hilary Swank: I remember, first of all, reading that script and thinking, "Wow, I can't believe that this happens in the world," and that this really happened, and feeling like I really wanted to be a part of it, and going in and auditioning for the casting director. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, and I bought a cowboy hat and put my husband-at-the-time's clothes on, and put my hair up in the hat, and was just scratching the surface of how I wanted to play the character. The casting directors knew who I was. Yet, when I got there, they were looking at their clipboard and kind of looking at me. They just went, "Hilary?" and I said, "Yep," and they said, "Oh, okay. Great." And I went up, and I remember auditioning. The tape went to Kimberly Peirce in New York, and they said, "She'd like to meet you, but you have to fly yourself here," and I didn't have a lot of money. My manager said, "No. They should fly you," and my agent said, "Get your ass on that plane." So I bought my ticket.

I went to New York. I stayed at a friend's place, and...

I remember auditioning. I remember Kimberly having me not only read what I had prepared, but practically the whole script. After the audition, I remember feeling really liberated. I felt liberated, not because I felt like I had done a wonderful job or that I was going to get the movie, but that I had fought for myself and that I put myself on a plane and I went there and I fought for something that I really wanted. I remember I felt wonderful. It was a great feeling to have done that for myself and to not be afraid, to just get in there and give it all.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

When did you find out after that?

Hilary Swank: I didn't find out right away, actually. I think it took about five days, and I found out that I had the role.

That must have been an amazing moment.

Hilary Swank: It was an amazing moment. Yes. And at that moment, they said, "Okay. We want you to cut your hair off and start right now your preparation for the role," which ended up being about a four-week preparation of trying to pass as a boy.

What did you do physically to achieve that?

Hilary Swank: First of all, I cut my hair.

I went into the Astor Place Barber Shop in New York City. It's not there anymore. My hair was longer than it is now, and I asked them to please cut my hair off, and they wouldn't do it. They kept saying, "Is this for a student film? Are you sure you want to cut your hair off? What are you doing? What are you doing?" and the first person wouldn't do it. Finally, we got someone who would do it, and it was probably the most physical part of the kind of transformation. Afterwards, I had someone meet me at a coffee shop across the way, and I remember standing there, and I was in the clothes that I had auditioned in, and they were looking right past me. They would look at me and look right past me, and I thought, "Wow, this is wonderful. This is the first step in this preparation." And then after that, for four weeks, I would just, every single day, go out and try and pass as a boy, which is what Brandon Teena had done.

I knew that when I got to the set that people would treat me like the role because they were saying the lines, and that's what they were supposed to be doing, but I really wanted to know what mannerisms worked and what didn't, what gave me away. Was I seen as a girl when I was trying to pass as a boy? Was it a voice inflection? Was it the way I was carrying myself? Was it the way I was looking? That was a really important part of my preparation. I learned a lot about life.

In these roles that I've been fortunate enough to be a part of, I really learned a lot about things that I wouldn't have any idea really about, except from what I've read, but I get to live it in such a deep profound way. I get to see what it's like for a transgender person, or a person with a sexual identity crisis, or a lesbian or a gay person, and really the daily harassment that you can get. I got to live that. I knew that I could go back to being the person that people could define, and that I could step out of that. But for the people that can't, and that's their life, it's a scary place to be, to feel not understood, and when people can't define you, how it scares them and how their own weakness comes out because they don't know how to be.

It was a scary movie, actually.

Hilary Swank: It's scary in the fact that it's happening. It's a true story, and it's still happening in the world today.

Tell us briefly about the plot of the film. What happens to Brandon Teena?

Hilary Swank Interview Photo
Hilary Swank: Tina Brandon was actually born in the same hospital I was born in, in Lincoln, Nebraska, two years before me. So there is that interesting coincidence. Tina grew up with her sister and her mother, and at one point in her life she started dressing more masculine. To this day, I try not to define who this person was, because she or he, however you look at it, never said, "Look, I'm a lesbian, and it wasn't okay to be a lesbian in Nebraska, so I started passing as a boy," or "I want to have a sex change. I don't feel like I'm a girl." The only thing we know that Tina Brandon said was, "I have a sexual identity crisis." That's the only thing we have on tape, when she was interviewed by a cop. So an important part of my job, I felt, was to not define her, but just to try and be as honest to who she was as we could.

What I do know is that this person had a sexual identity crisis, and chose to be with women. All she -- all he -- wanted to do was find love and give love. She was quoted as saying, "I have a lot of love to give, and I want to give it," and that's something that I could relate to. That was the part that I could relate to. In essence, this was a love story about finding yourself, and becoming yourself, and that journey, and that journey getting cut short. The pain of it, and what is hard to understand, is how the people who were her -- or his -- friends ended up brutally raping her and then killing her. It was because of whatever came up in their minds when they found out that this person was really a girl. Why? What came up for them? Why was it so threatening? That's occurring still. That's not something that happened and it's done and we all moved on and we all grew from it and we are enlightened. It's still happening in the world today, every day.

Hilary Swank Interview Photo
Your transformation in that role was astonishing. There was also a real chemistry with Chloe Sevigny. Those of us watching the film saw a real relationship there. Was that difficult to work on, that relationship where she isn't sure what's going on, but kind of goes with it?

Hilary Swank: Chloe, I feel, really embodied Lana fully. I felt like her performance was just beautiful. We were working off a script that was also wonderful. This script was really fleshed out. It was there. It was on the page. I think Kimberly and Andy, the co-writer, really captured the spirit of these people. So it was there on the page. I think what we really had to do was just get out of the way and not mess it up. It was there.

This role inspired you to get involved in a community in New York.

Hilary Swank: I was asked by the Hetrick-Martin Institute to give their yearly award out, right after I had finished filming, and the movie hadn't even come out yet. I went and I presented this award, which is an award that is given to people who have done great things in the gay, lesbian, transgendered community to either raise awareness or funds, or actors who have played roles and brought enlightenment to the community. That's when I learned about it, and I was asked to be the spokesperson. So I have been the spokesperson now, I guess for seven years, and worked closely with the kids there. There's an accredited high school, the Harvey Milk School. I work closely with the school's chancellor in New York City to help expand the school and make it bigger. There's counseling services for the kids and their families. A lot of these kids have been either ostracized from schools or their families and have lived on the street, turned to prostitution, myriad things. So it is wonderful to be their spokesperson and be able to help raise money to give them a safe environment in which to learn and grow and realize their dreams.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

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