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Hilary Swank recalls the real-life ‘Ordinary Angels’ that helped her to Hollywood stardom

When Hilary Swank posted the trailer for her new film “Ordinary Angels” on Instagram, she hoped others found the same inspiration she found in telling the story.

The role came to her just months after her father, Stephen, died at 73. He had received a lung transplant in 2014.“His life was literally saved for an extended period of time that he wouldn’t have had here, had he not been given that gift,” Swank, 49, tells USA TODAY. “There’s millions of people in need who are on a wait list. So if you can be a donor, please do.”

The film, in theaters Friday, is based on a true story. In 1994, a hairdresser in Louisville, Kentucky, rallied a community to help transport a girl in need of a liver transplant to Nebraska. The hairdresser raised thousands of dollars and secured a private jet for the trip, but the call with a donor match came during a historic blizzard that shut down the city. The girl had already lost her mother to a rare condition and was raised by her widowed father and grandmother, played in the film by Alan Ritchson and Nancy Travis.

“This woman, who is flawed and imperfect, is a reminder that we can all still be an angel in someone’s life,” Swank says of her role as Sharon Stevens, the real-life hairdresser. “That is something that really inspires me and resonates deeply with me because I can think of the times when people were angels in my life.”

For Swank, those angels helped her embark on a more than three-decade career that has produced numerous accolades and two Academy Awards.“It was 1992 when I drove to Los Angeles with my mom to become an actor,” Swank says. “We had $75. We were living out of our car. We would go to Denny’s and get a $1.99 grand slam breakfast, which we would share, and it’d be our biggest meal of the day.“And I just remember: ‘Here I am, here we go. We’re going to be pursuing this dream of mine.’ ”

Swank notes that both of her parents had a strong work ethic. She also remembers a class assignment to write and perform a skit.“I remember doing that like it was yesterday,” Swank says. The teacher “saw joy and light kind of come out of me, and he encouraged me to audition for the school play.”

“One thing led to another, and here I am still.”

Of course, Swank is “here” with a party of four, including her husband, Philip Schneider, and 11-month-old twins, Aya and Ohm. The actress returned to reading scripts after the actors strike ended last November but says the next project will “need to check all the boxes for me to be able to pull me away” from her children. And she means business: Swank has joined HealthyBaby as chief innovation officer. The company focuses on safe and sustainable baby products, including diapers.

“You don’t get this time back, so I want to be able to be really present with my babies,” she says. “My career was a dream of mine. (The twins) are a dream of mine. I had my focus on my career for a while. I really want to give focus to them, too.”