Hilary Swank apologizes for being late for the interview as she and the publicist for the FX series “Trust” took a wrong turn down a hotel corridor. It’s an understandable mistake, especially when you factor in that it has been a few years since the Oscar-winning actress has been part of any kind of promotional press for a project.
“I took care of my dad who had a lung transplant, which is the hardest thing you can undergo. My dad is doing great now, but it was three really tough years. So, I took three years off and so 2017 is my year of getting back into work,” Swank says. “I did two movies and one TV show in a year.”
The films were “Logan Lucky” and “55 Steps,” while the TV production is “Trust,” a series inspired by true events that examines the trials of one of America’s wealthiest and unhappiest families, the Gettys. The series mixes equal parts family history, dynastic saga and an examination of the corrosive power of money at the heart of every family, rich or poor.
The series begins in 1973 with the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson), an heir to the Getty oil fortune, by the Italian mafia in Rome. His captors banked on a multi-million-dollar ransom. What they discovered was Getty was not prepared to pay a dime without a lengthy negotiation process.
While the grandson is being held, J. Paul Getty Sr. (Donald Sutherland) is surrounded by a harem of mistresses and a pet lion. Paul’s father, J. Paul Getty Jr. (Michael Esper), refuses to answer the phone. Only Paul’s mother, Gail Getty (Swank), is left to negotiate with the increasingly desperate kidnappers. Unfortunately, she’s broke. The series chronicles the teenage grandson’s nightmare ordeal at the hands of kidnappers who cannot understand why nobody seems to want their captive back.
The cast also includes Brendan Fraser, Anna Chancellor, Norbert Leo Butz, Charlotte Riley and Luca Marinelli.
Swank has played characters based on real people over the years, including her portrayal of Amelia Earhart in the 2009 feature “Amelia.” She’s found there generally is a difference between playing a role based on fact and one based on fiction, but that wasn’t the situation in taking on Gail Getty.
“In this case, there wasn’t that much of a difference because most people don’t know Gail Getty,” Swank says. “She’s not a public figure, so you have more creative license. At the same time, I wanted to portray her in such a way that is respectful and understanding of the plight she went through.
“I clearly empathize with her as a woman, with her journey, but it is not like Amelia Earhart or someone who was in the public eye. But, you do feel a responsibility when you play a real-life person.”
Swank felt enough responsibility that she sought out the few films, videos and books featuring the woman who took it on herself to become very active in the fight to get her son back when her family failed to step up and deal with the kidnappers. Swank knew about the Getty House and the Getty Museum but didn’t know a whole lot about the Getty family.
Her research began when she got a call from executive producer Danny Boyle, who directed three of the episodes, while she was working on a low budget film in Chicago.
“Danny called me up and said, ‘I have something I’d love to collaborate with you on.’ And I said, ‘OK. I’m in.’ And he (says) ‘Well, you want to know more?’ I’m like, ‘Yes, but I’m in.’ And he started telling me in great detail about them and what he was the story that he wanted to tell,” Swank says. “And he said, ‘You know, you’re not in the pilot, which is what I’m going to give you, but trust that you’re in two and three but then you get heavier in four and on.’ And I said, ‘Again, you had me at hello.'”
She used that research as a basis for her performance, but Boyle didn’t want his performers to be playing their real-life counterparts. The actors were instructed to concentrate more on the script by executive producer Simon Beaufoy.
“Gail was written in such a heart-anchoring way that I just went by his story as my guideline of who she was and the arc of show she was,” Swank says.
Because “Trust” is a series, Swank didn’t have the advantage of a full script – as when doing a feature – to understand where her character starts and where her journey takes her. The scripts would come in and Swank would face an emotional crossroad she never saw coming. That’s why one of the big keys for Swank to play Gail Getty was to look at her own life. That made the turmoil and fight by Gail Getty feel very real to Swank.
Early in her career, Swank appeared on TV shows like “Camp Wilder” and “Beverly Hills, 90210,” but the majority of her work has been in feature films. That’s because she always found television to have a claustrophobic feel, since it requires an actor to play the same character for long periods of time. Swank likes what she calls the “Clint style of acting,” referring to how her “Million Dollar Baby” director, Clint Eastwood, often only shoots a scene one or two times and then moves on to the next one.
“I like to play a character, let it go and then go on to the next person,” Swank says. “This way, being in a 10-part miniseries, I got the ability to dive into each emotion more than you are usually allowed to on television. Getting to explore these emotions was a great opportunity.”
And, the TV production was a welcomed way to get back to work after the long hiatus.
10 p.m./9 p.m. Central Sunday, FX