”I’m just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream.”
That’s what Hilary Swank told the audience after winning her second Academy Award as best actress for portraying a boxer in Million Dollar Baby. Now, she’s back with another high-profile role, Amelia Earhart in Amelia, which opened Friday.
Swank, 35, has appeared in 21 feature films, counting this one, since her mother drove her to Hollywood when she was 15 so she could pursue her dream. They had $75, slept in their car and shared Grand Slam breakfasts at Denny’s, as her mother, Judy, called agent after agent.
Finally, one let her read a McDonald’s commercial — and signed her. She won her first Academy Award as best actress in 2000 for playing a girl trying to live as a boy in Boys Don’t Cry and her second in 2005 for Million Dollar Baby.
Swank grew up in a mobile home in Bellingham, Wash. She was a loner; many of her classmates’ parents told their children not to play with the girl in the trailer park. So she read books and watched movies such as The Elephant Man and The Miracle Worker. She related to stories about outsiders. At 9 she started acting in school plays.
“My mom said to me that I could do anything I wanted in life as long as I worked hard enough,” Swank says.
She spoke with us by phone about her new film.
Q: After winning the Oscar for Million Dollar Baby, you said you felt the closest to Maggie Fitzgerald than you’ve ever felt to a character. Was there a special connection to this role as Amelia Earhart?
A: I wouldn’t say I feel as close to her as I did Maggie Fitzgerald. Amelia is an icon, someone who, if she were living today, would still be ahead of her time. She was so unapologetic for living her life the way she wanted. Amelia’s a great reminder that life’s short, and you only have one life. Live it the way you best see it for yourself.
Q: Was there actual flying involved for you?
A: For insurance purposes Mira (Nair, the director) and I were not allowed to go up in those planes while they were shooting. They would fly, they would shoot, then they would get my reaction at a later time. I taxi the airplane, but it’s on the ground.
Q: Did you learn to fly for the role?
A: You can’t not learn how to fly to play Amelia Earhart. If I had missed that important step, I just don’t think I would have understood her on every level.
Q: Were the freckles in Amelia yours?
A: I have not one freckle. That’s my incredible makeup artist, Vivian Baker. … I actually liked having them a lot. And they’re perfect, because they cover up any blemish you may have.