Hilary Swank isn’t messing around when it comes to her voting rights. At the L.A. premiere of her new film, What They Had, the actress called on women to force political change by participating in the upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 6.
“Everyone needs to take a stance for what they believe in by using their right and privilege to vote,” Swank told The Hollywood Reporter at the Westwood iPic theaters. “When we don’t show up at the polls, we’re sending a message that other people can be decision-makers, and if we really want to evoke change, we have to come together and vote. Bottom line is, the population of women is greater than men, and if we all voted we’d have the majority.”
Women came out in force on the carpet — and in spirit — for the indie drama about a family coping with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Swank, who stars in and exec produces the film, was flanked by both her onscreen daughter, Taissa Farmiga, and writer-director Elizabeth Chomko.
The project is Chomko’s directorial debut, but to the cast, she operated like a seasoned professional, offering her own life experiences as a reference point, while also giving them the freedom of artistic and personal interpretation.
“She’s ego-less,” Swank said. “She walks in and says, ‘This is my story, but I want you to make it as much your story as it is mine because it’s everyone’s story. Even if someone’s not afflicted with Alzheimer’s, or in their family, we still understand what it’s like to have dysfunction and to have love within the dysfunction.'”
Though the film is based on Chomko’s own grandmother and her family’s journey coping with the disease, Robert Forster, who plays a husband quickly receding from his wife’s memory, praised the director’s ability to give her story to the cast.
“Not only did she write a gem, but she gave the actors the feeling that they were saying their own words — their words,” Forster said. “It’s an art form, to be a director, and she gave actors the grace to feel as though it was their own.”
But Chomko never intended to become a director — at least not for this film. In fact, she hadn’t planned on opening her experiences with Alzheimer’s to the public through any medium.
“I wasn’t willing to let it go — wasn’t willing to give it to someone else,” Chomko said. “It’s too precious to me — to my family. It took me finding some confidence in my own voice and learning that my voice was worth hearing.”
As someone who also knows the effects of a loved one’s memory loss first-hand, Farmiga lauded Chomko’s courage to project her memoir onscreen in wide release.
“It comes from such an intimate and personal place,” Farmiga said. “It’s a delicate balance of trying to tell that story and walk those fine lines between sharing what people are encouraging you to do and what you want to do yourself, and I think Elizabeth handled that juggling game really well.”
Blythe Danner, who portrays the afflicted lead based on Chomko’s ailing grandmother, was not present for the premiere. But inside the screening, the director expressed her gratitude for Danner’s efforts and read a letter from the actress offering a glimpse into her perspective while making the film.
“It was a bit frightening to venture into this land I knew nothing about — having no family members or friends who suffer from Alzheimer’s,” Chomko read aloud from the letter. “But luckily, Elizabeth, who based the story on her beloved grandmother and her battle with Alzheimer’s, was my lifeline to my performance. I put my faith and trust in her hands.”
What They Had hits theaters Oct. 19.