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Hilary Swank: I Wish I’d Been More Secure

Hilary Swank earned two Academy Awards for transforming herself into the characters she’s portrayed — the gender-busting Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry and the tough, determined boxer in Million Dollar Baby.

Now, Swank is working her magic once again in Amelia, looking eerily like the legendary aviator who disappeared on a historic flight around the world.’s Jeanne Wolf found out that Swank went beyond Earhart’s short hair, freckles and distinctive accent to find the woman whose determination and courage has stayed with her.

The power of Amelia.
“She lived her life the way she wanted to live it, and she made no apologies for it. Even now that’s really rare, especially for women, because it’s still a male centric world. Amelia died in her 39th year just weeks before her 40th birthday. After diving deep into who she was and her huge influence, I guess what I took away is — you only live once so you might as well be doing what you love. I think if Amelia was alive today she’d still be ahead of her time. My life’s just richer walking around with her in my heart.”

Getting airborne.
“You can’t be Amelia Earhart without flying a plane. When you’re a kid, there are so many firsts that you are experiencing all the time, like how to read or how to ride a bike, and they are euphoric. But when you’re a grown-up, there’s not a lot of firsts anymore. I learned how to fly for the film and it was euphoric because it took me back to that feeling I had learning how to ride a bike. You are completely immersed, and it’s dangerous, it’s adventurous, it’s all of the things that I love that I think Amelia loved.”

But it wasn’t easy.
“I don’t sweat a lot, but I would come back from a two hour flight lesson and I would land and my back was drenched in perspiration just from the pressure of concentrating. I flew 19 hours. I wanted to get my pilot’s license, but for insurance reasons I couldn’t really go up alone on a solo flight while we were filming. Now, I would like to keep flying and really become a certified pilot.”

Understanding her character’s infidelity.
“Amelia did have a romance while she was married, but I don’t know if you’d really call it cheating. She kind of wrote her own prenup, which her husband George Putnam accepted, and said, ‘Under these conditions I’ll marry you.’ It was a very open relationship and I appreciated that she could be so honest about it. I feel like if we could all be so upfront and forthright about our feelings, our emotions, our desires and our needs, it could help manage the expectations we have for our own relationships. But it’s really challenging to be that honest even with the people you feel are supposed to be loving you unconditionally. I guess the question is, ‘How can we be honest and still have committed caring relationships?'”

The price of fame.
“Amelia said something like, ‘I feel like I’m jumping through hoops, a horse jumping through hoops.’ Sometimes, when you’re famous you do feel a little bit like you’re in a circus. Amelia was one of the very first celebrities, if you want to call her that, who had her own clothing line and her own luggage line and did commercials and magazine covers. But she did it to finance her flying, which she loved the most. I spend a lot of time promoting my films but you just have to remember why you’re doing it — so people will watch them and give you more opportunities to do what you love to do.”

The long road to becoming a star.
“I was a troubled kid. I felt like an outsider. I didn’t feel like I belonged, especially in the classroom. I just wish that I would have been more secure. It’s that trap of thinking there’s nothing beyond high school. Then I paid my dues for nine long years before I finally got that career changing role in Boys Don’t Cry. Now, I long to play characters that challenge me and scare me and make me learn new things about the world, about myself and about my art. I think Annette Bening said, ‘You’re only a virgin once.’ It’s kind of a funny way to put sudden success in perspective, but it’s true. I’m a girl from a trailer park. I never imagined winning an Academy Award, much less two. I just wanted to act.”

The person she owes the most.
“My mother is really an amazing woman. We got in our old car with 75 bucks to our name, drove to Hollywood, and lived on credit cards and stayed at friends’ houses until I got a McDonald’s commercial. She has given me the biggest gift you could ever give someone. She told me that I could do anything I wanted as long as I worked hard enough. And she believed in me.”

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