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99s present Swank with Earhart medal

The president of The 99s, an organization of women pilots, has honored actress Hilary Swank and director Mira Nair for their work on “Amelia,” a film about pioneering U.S. aviatrix Amelia Earhart.

Susan Larson, president of The 99s — a group co-founded by Earhart in 1929 — presented Swank, who portrays the famous female pilot in the movie, with an Amelia Earhart medallion. Larson then bestowed upon Nair a signed copy of Earhart’s 1928 memoir “20 hrs. and 40 min.” at a press conference at New Jersey’s Essex County Airport.

Swank and Nair also donated a costume from the film to Larson for use in the 99s Museum of Women Pilots at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.

“Obviously, getting under the skin of a person that I’m playing is really important,” Swank, who has won Oscars for her work in the movies “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby,” told reporters at the airport press conference last Friday.

“We’re all specific beings. We know what our favorite color is. We know what we love, we know what we don’t like, and trying to figure that out about a person you’re portraying is very important,” Swank explained, adding she read Earhart’s book, as well as Susan Butler’s “East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart” and Elgen Long’s “Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved” to prepare for the role.

“I think Amelia was a very private person, so what she was expressing out in the world might not necessarily have been what her true thoughts were,” Swank noted. “So just breaking down how her childhood formed who she was. But I think one of the things that I took away from ‘Amelia’ that I found very inspiring and moving, and why I feel a lot of the people — more than any of my movies — have come to me and said, ‘I cannot wait to see “Amelia.”‘ It was something I kind of expected from women who really want to see this movie, but a lot of men are also coming up to me and saying, ‘I cannot wait to see this movie.’ And I think what people are — in my opinion — are kind of magnetized to is the idea of this person, Amelia, who lived her life the way she wanted to live it.”

Swank said she also took flying lessons to play the icon on film.

“When you’re a kid, there are so many firsts. There are so many things that you’re learning all of the time. You’re learning how to ride a bike. You’re learning how to read. There’s so many things you haven’t experienced and it’s euphoric,” the actress said.

“You’re really in the moment and then, as you become adults, you somehow experience a lot, and there’s not a lot of firsts any more. And learning how to fly for me was so euphoric because it was like I was learning how to ride a bike. It was a first. You know, it takes all of your senses, and you’re completely immersed. It’s dangerous. It’s adventurous. It’s all of the things I loved and that Amelia loved. I love to learn. It was exciting to learn some things new that really were challenging.

“I didn’t realize the calculations that go into flying. It was like I was back in calculus. And I’m not a big sweater, but I would find after a 2-hour flight lesson I would land and … was drenched, just from the concentration. It was really wonderful. I flew 19 hours. I was wanting to get my pilot’s license, but for obvious reasons for insurance purposes (the movie studio) couldn’t let me go up by myself in order to do that, especially before filming the movie.

“So now they’re like — sure, go ahead,” she joked. “I would like to get my pilot’s license. I like to see things through to the end.”

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