I recently caught up with Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell to talk about Conviction, an inspirational true story of a sister’s unwavering devotion to her brother who was arrested for murder and sentenced to life in 1983. Betty Anne (Swank), a Massachusetts wife and mother of two, dedicates her life to overturning the murder conviction. Convinced that her brother is innocent, Betty Anne puts herself through high school, college and, finally, law school in an 18 year quest to free Kenny (Rockwell).
I’m a sucker for these ‘inspirational, based on a true story’ type flicks, they really showcase what can be made possible through determination. Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence and like no other genre of film they highlight the best and worst sides of human nature. Conviction hit’s US cinemas October 15th. Not too sure on a UK release date yet.
Your characters obviously have a huge bond on screen, how did you illustrate that?
Hilary Swank: The heart of the story is this love story between these two siblings, they were each others everything, with the lack of parenting they literally became each others lives. They were so connected, I think that we all in our lives want to find love like that. That’s essentially what I really connected to, this idea of a love story between these two people.
Sam Rockwell: Yeah I was actually telling my friend about a movie I was cut out of, it was a war film called Men Of War. I had done some research on that film and I sort of likened Kenny’s and Betty Anne’s relationship to soldiers at war, they had been through something together, they would jump on a hand grenade for each other. I think with their childhood they went through such hard times that they were symbiotic because of that. They were inseparable like that bond soldiers have.
What did you learn from playing such a remarkable woman?
Hilary Swank: I was reminded of what’s important in life. I was reminded that family is everything. We can get so caught up in so many other things moving through life and until your life is threatened like how Kenny’s was or with your health you’re really not reminded of that, so I was just reminded of what is really important. To also try and carry a little bit of that selflessness, Bette wears her heart on her sleeve, if I could carry some of that grace in my heart I would be a better person.
How did you prepare yourself emotionally for that?
Hilary Swank: You have an extraordinary responsibility when you’re playing somebody who has really lived. If you don’t do justice to this story which is so beautiful and inspiring I don’t think I could live with myself. Bette is my real life hero, to let her, Kenny and their family down it would be the biggest regret of my life. So with the preparation I knew I wanted to meet Bette at some point but I didn’t want to meet her right away. I wanted to understand her heart, her drive, her selflessness, the humility, all the onion layers of Bette Anne, I wanted to try absorb that before I actually met her and her outward appearance. I wanted to understand the internal Bette. Tony Goldwyn (director) and Pamela Gray (screenwriter) had spent copious hours with her and had audio tapes of her so I would listen to these tapes 24/7 inside and out, I would listen to the nuances of her talking about her childhood, to when she had her children, adopting a dog, the story’s of Kenny and when he was arrested and listen to how her voice changed. She was so gracious with her stories and so detailed. I did that for about 6-8 weeks, then Sam came on board just three weeks before we were filming so he had to do a crash course and the first thing he said was ‘I wanna meet Bette Anne and the family’ so I said ‘I’m going with you’ (laughs). So it was perfect that I hadn’t met her yet because that was a great bonding experience for Sam and I meeting Bette Anne and her family where she lives.
How was that for you preparing to play Kenny?
Sam Rockwell: I had heard audio tapes of him and the stories that the real life Bette Anne told us were really informative. I read letters he had wrote in prison, I could visualise him when Bette Anne told these stories, they were very vivid. Tony Goldwyn, Pamela Gray and I were on the same page with who he was, he seemed like a real charmer. That thing in the bar really happened, he took his clothes off and danced (laughs), that’s not no Hollywood addition, he was really the sort of guy who would do something like that.