The Oscar winner for Million Dollar Baby and Boys Don’t Cry stars in the new drama series Alaska Daily (Oct. 6 on ABC). Swank, 48, plays Eileen Fitzgerald, an investigative journalist seeking redemption at a newspaper in Anchorage after a story she’s pursuing causes her dismissal from her high-profile job in Manhattan.
What’s your take on Eileen?
I call her no-nonsense, and she doesn’t suffer fools. I don’t think she’s rude; she’s very New York, very matter-of-fact, and she calls people on what she feels is BS. She’s hell-bent on continuing to reveal that the article she wrote was true, that her source was good and to keep digging deeper into that specific investigation.
Missing women is at the heart of Alaska Daily.
When she goes to dinner with her old boss, who’s courting her to come to Alaska, Eileen sees pictures of these women, and understands—as she starts doing research—that this is a huge, horrific situation, and nobody is investigating. Another woman disappears and gets forgotten, and another. Even saying that gives me chills. There’s no world in which that should ever be happening, especially now in 2022.
You’ve had some incredible roles. When you play them, do you ever absorb parts of your character?
You can’t help but do that, especially with the roles that I’ve been so blessed to play. I play a lot of real-life people who blow open my blinders of how I look and walk in the world. Of course, that’s going to forever change the way I see and view things. It’s such a gift.
A lot of actors are doing streaming television now. What was it about Alaska Daily that made you agree to do something for broadcast TV?
[Executive producer/creator] Tom McCarthy asked me if would I read this. And I was like, “Yeah, of course.” I love his work. I didn’t know that it was network. As we started going down the road creatively, he’s like, “Oh, by the way, this is for ABC. I feel like this is the right home for it.” And I was like, “You know what, you’re the creator; if that’s how you feel, that’s great.”
It’s nice to have a network that believes in the story we’re telling. There’s a lot of wonderful material out there that now has a place because there are more places than ever. But it is nice to be back to basics, on network television, and have streaming, because we are on Hulu as well.
How do you perceive journalists?
They’re truth-seekers, investigators of the truth. And if something’s been debunked for someone who spent five months investigating, I think the person feels there’s like a moral responsibility to continue to get this information out.
You didn’t create Alaska Daily, but you have an executive producer credit. How do you see your role as an executive producer? Do you ever go into the writers’ room?
Very much part of the creative process. And yes, getting in the writer’s room and helping with character developments across the board, [how the] story aligns, and all of it. But I do a lot of that too, in my film work as a producer. It’s really a work in progress until it’s a locked picture.
On your Instagram, you mentioned that you just filmed back-to-back movies. In one, Mother’s Milk, it looks as if you play a journalist again. How is that different from Alaska Daily?
They’re very different, because you don’t really see me as a journalist in Mother’s Milk. You don’t see me actively as a reporter. It’s more of a thriller about losing my son, who gets murdered, the spiral down of that, and trying to figure out what happened to him. So it’s not specific journalistic work, it’s just her trying to figure out what happened to her son.
And then the other film is Ordinary Angels, based on the true story of a struggling hairdresser who rallies her community to help a widowed father with a critically ill daughter.
It’s really inspirational. It’s a true story of a real-life angel who sees this young girl in need, who needs an organ transplant. And she’s like, “I’m going to help.”
You mentioned earlier that there’s so much more content now on television. Do you see that there’s a lot more roles for women of the type that you would like to play, that you fought to play in your career?
Oh, yeah, 100 percent. I feel like I was so lucky because I got to play a lot of women years ago that were ahead of their time and doing things that were ahead of their time. I don’t know how else to say it. Real trailblazers. I can look back now and say for the last 30 years that’s been a wonderful trajectory of my career, and certainly a tremendous blessing for me as a person and as an artist. Thankfully, now, because of that, I think people continue to give me those opportunities and I am grateful for it every day.
You once said, “I cut coupons and believe in buying toilet paper and toothpaste in bulk. It’s who I am.” Is it still who you are?
I was raised in a way to make ends meet, and that’s just in your bones. Why wouldn’t I look for a deal? I’m a human being. I work hard for my money. Growing up the way I did, we needed our dollars to go as far as they could. Why would I want that to be different now?
You’re a big animal lover. Is there a cause that you’re involved in at the moment with an animal organization?
I work with a lot of different charities, but I have my own charity that I’m working with right now called Hilaroo, which is my name and my late dog’s name Karoo put together. It brings together kids who have been given up on and animals who have been abandoned, to help heal each other.
How many pets do you have now?
I have five dogs, two parrots, two horses.