Categories Articles & Interviews

Hilary Swank on ‘Conviction’ and Scripts that Scare Her

The movie “Conviction,” which opens today in selected cities, stars Hilary Swank as Betty Anne Waters, a working-class high school dropout whose brother was wrongfully convicted of a 1983 murder. Waters gets her education and puts herself through law school to exonerate her brother (played by Sam Rockwell), while losing her marriage and custody of her two young sons along the way. The movie is based on a true story.

We spoke with Swank, a two-time Oscar winner, about her latest role.

Speakeasy: What made you decide to take on this role?

I was just taken by this love story, this brother-sister love that I think we all yearn for in our life, whether it’s through a sibling or a significant other or a child or a parent; whatever it may be. I was taken by this selfless act of a human being for another human being.

At one point, Betty Anne’s sons say that she’s given up her whole life for her brother and she’s surprised; she doesn’t even realize she’s done that.

I know, because it doesn’t even cross her mind that that wouldn’t be something she’d do. At the core of what Sam [Rockwell] and I and Tony [Goldwyn, the director] recognized and really got from Betty Anne is that she said –- and it speaks volumes about who she is as a person -– ‘I just did what anyone else would do.’ And we’re like, ‘Uh, no, actually, most people wouldn’t do that.’

What parallels did you draw on in your own early life in order to portray her?

Betty Anne and I come from very similar backgrounds, coming from a lower-income family. When you come from that place, you don’t have the monetary resources to help in the myriad ways that it does, whether it be education or something comes up in your life, like when Kenny finds himself in prison and they can’t afford to hire a lawyer. So Betty Anne was used to finding creative ways to figure out these problems, which is something that I completely relate to, having to get something done through sheer will, strength and determination. Of course, I can’t compare to her; I never had to do anything quite as extreme as she.

When you first came to L.A. as a teenager, didn’t you and your mom live out of your car?

But that was to achieve a dream. That wasn’t saving somebody’s life.

What criteria do you look for in a screenplay when evaluating whether you will take on a role?

Whether it scares me or not! If, when I read it, I feel that, whoa, fear inside of, ‘this is challenging beyond all,’ then I know it’s something I have to be a part of. I can’t get it out of my psyche.

What’s up next for you?

Right now I’m attached to a movie that Gabriele Muccino [who directed “The Pursuit of Happyness”] is directing, which I’m really excited about. Like I said, I like to collaborate with people who help me raise my game and I’ve been wanting to work with Gabriele for a long time.