Hilary Swank is one of just 11 actresses to have won two Best Leading Actress Oscars
Success has been rapid – she only broke into Hollywood a decade ago, with her acclaimed portrayal of Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry. Since then, she’s starred in challenging parts including Maggie Fitzgerald in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby and gravitates to roles that feature strong women. It’s no surprise, then, to find her playing Amelia Earhart, the aviation pioneer, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and cultural icon in the biopic Amelia. Saga caught up with Hilary on the eve of her latest big movie release.
Q: We noticed you’re credited as executive producer and for your next two films as well. Is this something you’re building on?
Hilary Swank: And for my last two actually as well. I do have a production company. The films I executively produce I didn’t develop from scratch, so I didn’t consider myself a producer. I think a producer should be involved from the conception, but I definitely played a part in actively trying to cast it – getting the right music and meeting people. I don’t just throw my name on there to help with my production company, I actually do work hard to just get all right elements together.
Q: So what did you do specifically for Amelia?
HS: Casting, working with the producers to get the Electra (Earhart’s famous plane) to be a part of the movie. There are only three of those planes in the world: one of them isn’t running, the other is in Southern California and we shot that stuff in South Africa, so we needed to get the plane from France to South Africa. It’s expensive to do that and sometimes it helps to get on the phone and talk to people and say, “hello, I’m Hilary Swank, I’m playing Amelia, I’m passionate about this movie and your plane’s really going to make a difference.” People really like to hear that. They want to hear the passion behind the movie and if I can help make it better, I’m certainly going to do everything I can, because making a movie is such a collaboration.
Q: The way in which Amelia was worked by her husband George Putnam was quite similar?
HS: Well you know, with any art, there comes the commerce. I personally feel that in order for it to be successful, you have to have an understanding of both sides. And I think Amelia had an understanding that to pursue a passion, she had to fulfil a business side of it. I am an actor because I love to tell stories. I love the art of it, but I understand that I need to travel the world and have discussions and talk about the movie which I love to do – but it’s also really tiring. Amelia, when she had to travel all the time, she said to George Putnam, “I’m tired”. It’s tiring, it’s really hard work. And I would say that this is really where my work lies – it’s travelling around and talking about the movie and doing press, because it’s harder to do than actually what I love to do – which is to make the film. But it is also fun to talk about how movies are made and why you make them and why you’re a part of them.
Q: Do you ever feel like a ‘white horse jumping through hoops’?
HS: Don’t you see my mane right now? She was actually quoted as saying that when she’s in the air, she’s not tethered to the things of this world, the constraints that you feel on the ground.
Q: When do you feel that? When you’re acting?
HS: Yeah, I would say definitely. That’s when I feel the most free and alive, for sure. I love my job, I love to act. If I didn’t have it…I…it brings me a great source of joy. And every time I’m on set, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to do what I love, every time. Every job I have, I just wake up in the morning and I’m so excited to go to work.
Q: Amelia was a very powerful woman who pioneered a lot of things, not just aviation. Is that what attracted you to the role and is that something that you feel?
HS: I have to say, I thought that I knew a lot about Amelia before I took the role but I didn’t know all that she actually did for others until I started reading about her. I didn’t realise the humanitarian that she was. I didn’t realise the prolific writer that she was. She loved to travel, she stood up for others, especially women, so it’s so refreshing to see another woman be so supportive of another woman. I feel like that’s something that got lost somewhere along the way. I think especially in the early ’20s when women got the right to vote, women were so…respectful of other women and inspired by their power and strength and somewhere women started getting threatened by that. There were other women who were breaking a lot more aviation records than she was and she stood right by them and cheered them on. It’s admirable; it’s a really admirable quality. And helping children, she worked as a nurse during the war; she lived in Toronto and actually got really sick helping veterans of the war. It affected her hearing and her throat and it was hard for her to fly because of a sickness that she got. Like I said, all she did for children in orphanages around the world was…extraordinary, right? To live your dream, pursue your passion of flying yet also help so many people, it’s really extraordinary.
Q: Were there any parts of the film that you were wrenched about because they didn’t make it into the movie and do you mind those kinds of things turning up on DVD?
HS: No, I don’t mind them showing up anywhere. I don’t think there was anything that was missing that was a favourite of mine, thankfully. It does happen.
Q: Why did you choose this part? You have a lot of her character, in your determination.
HS: I think there are a lot of similarities. She was actively pursuing her goals and her dreams and obviously that’s something that I’ve done and continue to do. I love to travel. I’m a curious person and she was obviously curious and a traveller. One of her biggest passions was to see the world and it’s always been mine. I remember being so young and watching planes flying overhead and thinking, where are they going? There are so many places to see in the world and I want to see it all. She was a real adventurer and a real risk taker, so there are definitely a lot of similarities.