From creator Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) and showrunner/executive producer Peter Elkoff, the ABC drama series Alaska Daily follows Eileen Fitzgerald (two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank), an undeniably talented investigative journalist whose fall from grace pulls her away from her glitzy career and lands her in Anchorage, Alaska at a daily metro newspaper in a strip mall. And while she may be upset about the position she’s found herself in, she quickly throws herself into an important story that will affect her both professionally and personally.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Swank, who’s also an executive producer on the project, talked about what drew her to this character, the trepidation that comes with signing on for a TV series, playing someone who’s a truth seeker, what she learned about journalists, the hope of shedding a light on the importance of the cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women that go unsolved, how there’s a part of Eileen that doesn’t trust anyone. She also talked about how lucky and grateful she feels for the path her career has taken, and that she’s not surprised that so many people ask her about whether she’ll be on Cobra Kai.
Collider: I love you on this show, playing this character. You always play such interesting characters. What drew you to this one?
HILARY SWANK: Well, thank you for that compliment. This one, for me, was first and foremost about the fact that the story dealt with these missing and murdered Indigenous women. It is of the utmost importance and it’s a story that matters. I’d like to see it get out there and get more eyes on it and get people talking about it. And then, this woman is a truth seeker. She’s an advocate. She wants to see that justice prevails. All of those things are very beautiful to me. I like that she doesn’t suffer fools. We usually see men in these roles, so it’s really nice to have something that I can step into that’s just brave.
When you do a TV series, you can’t know fully what’s going to happen. You can’t know exactly where the story will continue to go, or who she might ultimately become. Is there also a component that has to do with who you’ll be working with and the vision of it all because of the fact that there are so many unknowns when it comes to signing onto a TV project?
SWANK: That is such a great question, and 100%. I feel that now more than ever because with streaming, you get your episodes a lot earlier. As an executive producer, you’re able to really collaborate and be a creative, in that process. And in this process, it’s very, very different. It’s very fast-moving. There are a lot more cooks in the kitchen. Creatively, I only saw the pilot. I didn’t get to see anything else. You’re really at the mercy of what’s put in front of you. It brings a little trepidation, but you just hope that everyone keeps to what they promised, and you’re all on your way.
You’re certainly in good hands for this kind of material with someone like Tom McCarthy. As an EP on this yourself, what has that collaboration been like, working with him and your showrunner, Peter Elkoff? What has that little dynamic been like?
SWANK: We’re working 15-hour days on set. Early on, I had an idea from the writers room, what they were wanting to do, but it’s about pivoting, all the time, and it’s taking different forms and shapes as it morphs. Every character is bringing something nuanced that wasn’t thought about before. It’s just been constant motion. That’s the beauty of this medium.
One of the most exciting things about this show is that it’s about a newspaper and a newsroom and the reporters that work there. It’s just nice to see a newspaper that’s still actually in business. I also found it particularly interesting that this is an investigative series, but from the human perspective, which is something we don’t often get. Do you think that really helps set this show apart, having that human element to it all?
SWANK: Yes, I do. I feel like one of the things that’s difficult and challenging for journalists is the fact that no one sees the humanity behind them. And so, getting an opportunity to show these journalists, their humanity, their banter, and their back-and-forth behind the scenes has been nice.
I love the fact that we see these reporters work to get a story, but we also see them struggle with their own human emotions about whether they should or shouldn’t run a particular story.
SWANK: Right. Yeah. That’s well said. There are humans behind these stories, and they do have feelings and thoughts and lives.
There are multiple layers to this, with Eileen being a reporter, an investigative reporter, and a disgraced reporter, and now she’s in this new location of Anchorage, Alaska. How would you say each of those things really informs who she is and what we’ll see from her this season?
SWANK: It’s in her bones to investigate the truth. She is a truth seeker, and she demands that from people. As we evolve, I just find that deeply inspiring. I think the world, and especially our country right now, is tired of being hoodwinked. There’s no more space for that. That’s gonna be something that people appreciate as well.
Is there anything that you learned in any research or preparation that you did, that really informed the character for you and that you’ve carried with you while you’ve played her?
SWANK: That’s continuing to evolve. You don’t have the same luxury on TV that you do in film, of time to create your character, and all of that. It’s a continuing evolution. One of the things I took from journalists that I really appreciate is the fact that you think you’re interviewing them, but then all of a sudden, you realize that they have complete control over what’s being said, and that you shared way more than you thought you would and didn’t even realize it. I think that’s an interesting tidbit to carry
The show addresses the really important issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. It’s something that has been overlooked and forgotten for far too long. What have you learned from digging into that aspect of it? Are there things that you hope audience will get from seeing how serious this real-life issue actually is?
SWANK: Oh, God, yeah. That’s the whole point. Telling these stories that matter is to have people recognize that it’s not a fictionalized part of our story. It’s very real. It’s happening right now. I knew about it before the show. A lot of people don’t know about it. A lot of people have no idea that it’s happening. One of the day players that we were working with, in episode three, his mom went missing five years ago, and she was murdered. No one did anything about it, and no one’s doing anything about it. I don’t know how many people would put up with that and say, “Oh, well.” The amount of anger that must come with the injustice of that, this is our country and we need to be doing something for our neighbors and for our fellow Americans. This is also happening in Northern America and Canada. We just need to do a better job. So, yeah, I do hope that this sheds a light on that and keeps that conversation going and promotes change.
I love the team of Eileen and Roz. There’s something just so fun about watching them together and it feels like something that is absolutely necessary in a story like this. What can you say about what your character will learn from her?
SWANK: What’s super fascinating is that they’re such different people, both hell bent on figuring out and solving the same thing. It’s so beautiful to see two people go about something so differently, and be able to be successful at it. Nothing has to be done one way, in order to make it work, and I think that’s really healthy for people to see. A lot of people would be like, “Wow, if you’re not really driven like Eileen, then you’re not all about your work.” Roz has a more balanced life and a calmer approach, and she’s probably more polite. It just goes to show that there’s more ways to do things than one.
I also really love the relationship between Eileen and Stanley because he’s a father figure, but because he’s not actually her father, he can be entirely honest with her, even if she doesn’t want to hear it. Does she feel supported, having him in her corner?
SWANK: I think so, but there’s a part of Eileen that doesn’t trust anyone. She’s like, “You said something, so I’ll keep you to that. And if you don’t, then you’re out.” She’s pretty by the book that way. If you break her trust, it’s gone. And she’s a New Yorker. He already broke her trust once, and this is his second chance with her. She has a lot of respect for him, but she also knows where she’s come from and knows that she deserves respect too. There’s beauty in that.
I first met you at the premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the Village in Westwood, years ago.
SWANK: Oh, my gosh! How funny.
Around that same time, you also did Camp Wilder. How do you think you, at that age, would react to knowing the journey your career has taken since then? Are you someone who always had big dreams?
SWANK: I think I just have always loved people. I love people, and I love what makes us different and what makes us similar. I like walking in other people’s shoes so much, and I still love it as much as I always have, maybe even more. I just feel so blessed and so grateful that I’m still able to do it, and that it’s something that you can continue to grow and evolve with, especially with the choices I make in characters.
Did you have goals in mind for your career, early on, or has all of this been a surprise, as far as where it’s all gone?
SWANK: I knew I always wanted to do movies because movies are what I watched when I was younger that made me see the world in a way that inspired me and challenged me, and was something that I could also relate to. I wasn’t a big TV watcher, so I wanted to be in the movies. And when I broke into business, only movie stars did movies, so I was like, “Well, how do you become a movie star, in order to do movies?” I was just lucky that I broke in at the time that independent film came along and movie stars weren’t wanting to do those, in the beginning, because it was too risky and they didn’t make any money. I got the opportunity to break into that, and that was extraordinary.
I would say that you’ve definitely done a pretty great job.
SWANK: Well, thank you.
You recently said that the number one question you get asked is whether you’ll be in Cobra Kai. Are you surprised that there has been such an interest in you reprising that role? Is that something you ever expected?
SWANK: It’s not a surprise. It’s a big show and they have all the Karate Kid characters on there, so it’s not a surprise that people would ask. I just don’t know the show. I haven’t watched it.
As an EP on this show, are you part of the conversations about where things would go in the future? Do you have an idea of what a second season would be?
SWANK: No, we’re just trying to get through the first season. We’ve just finished the fifth episode. I don’t think that the creatives are that far yet. They’re still trying to figure out the first season that’s right in front of us.
Alaska Daily airs on Thursday nights on ABC and is available to stream at Hulu.