Boxer. Astronaut. Journalist? Yes, Hilary Swank has found a new dangerous profession to portray onscreen. On the new ABC drama Alaska Daily (Oct. 6), she stars as talented, impulsive, recently disgraced New York investigative reporter Eileen Fitzgerald, who takes a job at an Alaska newspaper while searching for reinvention, redemption, and, as always, the truth.
“Tom [McCarthy, the Spotlight director/co-writer who created Alaska Daily] told me that he was basing this on the article ‘Lawless,'” says the Oscar-winning actress of the Pulitzer-winning series by The Anchorage Daily News/ProPublica that detailed, among other things, sexual violence in the state’s indigenous villages. “I read the article and I was blown away by the statistics and the facts. And the fact that most of the world doesn’t even know about a lot of those things that are happening. I had known about the missing, lost, and murdered indigenous women before I spoke to Tom, and understandably, I was horrified and really angry that this is happening. It’s obviously systemic and nothing’s being done about it. Those are the stories I seek.”
The seeker at the heart of Alaska Daily is indeed Eileen, who is as skilled as she is stubbornly determined to break whatever story is put in front of her. “She is going to get to the bottom of the truth one way or another,” Swank tells EW. “No one’s going to stop her from getting there. And I love that she does her homework; she knows her rights and if she doesn’t, she quickly learns them. It’s kind of fun to see this award-winning journalist go up to Alaska and… she just kind of shakes it all up. It’s something I admire in people — people who don’t give up, who persevere.”
Swank is really committing to the write thing, as she’ll also play a journalist in the upcoming thriller Mother’s Milk. “I feel in a way that the parallel to what I do in breaking down my characters is investigative journalism,” sums up the actress, who last headlined a TV show with the 2020 Netflix space drama Away. “Figuring out the insides of the person that I’m playing — what makes them tick, what their fears are, what makes them human, getting to the truth of them — is so similar to what investigative journalism is. There’s so much richness in that exploration.”
Which got us thinking: How much has Hilary Swank — known for her intense preparation for her award-winning roles in Million Dollar Baby and Boys Don’t Cry — delved into character here? (She notes that she spoke with several Anchorage Daily News reporters before filming.) And what kind of journalist would she be in real life? Let’s do an investigation and test her knowledge of the trade while also finding out what kind of journalist she might be in real life. Hit record and let’s go on the record with Swank.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Imagine that you — Hilary Swank, not Eileen — are a journalist. Are you using an old school notebook and/or a micro recorder? Are you taking notes on your iPhone?
HILARY SWANK: I’m using what you’re holding. I’m using a recorder because I am not fast at writing, especially nowadays when we’ve lost that talent. So there might be beats that I’d write little things down but it probably be, “At minute 1:30, there’s an important thing, go back to it.”
How are you dressed? Are you wearing a fedora hat emblazoned with the word “scoop”?
And my little pipe! I would say kind of like Eileen Fitzgerald. She’s a hip Brooklynite. Comfortable but professional enough to look like you belong there.
What’s your relationship with your editor like? Are you two best friends? Are you scrapping hard, but there’s mutual respect? Or are you just always at each other’s throats?
What I love so far about old-school journalism, from where Eileen came from, which I can really relate to is the idea of being able to have a healthy debate and to have a difference of opinion and still respect each other in the end. I think that’s what’s missing a lot in the world, so that would be the relationship I would want with my editor.
How do you feel about deadlines? Meeting them or missing them?
It depends on when it’s going to print. If I’m being told that it has to be done at this time, but I know I have an extra day, I might fudge a little and be a little late.
When are you asking the tough question — the beginning of the interview, the middle, or the end?
I think I’d slip it in somewhere when it’s unexpected. Case by case.
What quality of yours would make you a good journalist?
From where I have come from, it makes it so that I can hang out with anyone. I’m like a T-shirt. T-shirts go with anybody.
And which quality of yours would make you a terrible journalist?
I get really angered by liars, so I would have to find a way to kind of squash that anger and not just bite really fast.
Is reading it on Wikipedia “close enough”?
No, not even! I think anybody can go on and change Wikipedia.
You’ve got to be well-sourced to get the information you need. What story would you be uniquely suited to break?
A story on rescue animals. [Swank is a staunch animal advocate.] The truth is there’s something like 5 million homeless animals that need to be rescued every single year in the United States alone and half of them get put to death because we don’t get the word out enough.
Are you a grizzled print journalist with ink stains on your hands? Or are you more of a digital journalist active across all socials?
Look, I’m not bad-mouthing TikTok or Instagram, but I think that the fast news is just as bad as fast fashion, so I think you need to get the depth of it to really get an understanding. If there’s something that intriguing or of interest to you, dig into it.
Let’s move on to the quiz part of the interview. If I were to write the phrase “two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank,” where would the hyphens go?
Yes! Do you think there’s also hyphen between Oscar and winner?
No. You tried to trick me!
Correct! Which is grammatically accurate: “The editor called Hilary and me into her office” or “The editor called Hilary and I into her office”?
Correct! What is “the nut graph”?
I have no idea.
What does it sound like it might be?
It sounds like the nutty people go on a graph board on your Excel sheet.
It’s the paragraph that sets the table and the stakes, where you explain what the story’s about.
Did you know that or did you have to look that up?
We use it all the time here. The Watergate scandal and the Pentagon Papers were stories broken by The Washington Post and The New York Times. Which newspaper published which story?
Washington Post was Watergate.
Yes! If a tabloid wrote something willfully inaccurate about you, would you be suing them for libel or for slander?
Slander. [Self buzzes as if on a game show, to indicate a wrong answer]
It is libel. What does “not for attribution” mean?
Not for money? Sounds good. [Laughs] I know that’s “not for contribution.” I just didn’t know what “not for attribution” was. I think I got 40 percent right.
On the grammar part, though, you’re at 100 percent.
Well, thank God! Not bad for a high school dropout.