Categories Articles & Interviews

Hilary Swank’s Next Act

After a two-year acting hiatus, Hilary Swank is leaping back into public life—this time at the helm of a luxe activewear line she calls Mission Statement.

“When I was in my twenties and thirties, I felt so alone in my insecurities,” Hilary Swank says. “When you hit 40, you’re like, Oh, we all have our insecurities. You just feel less alone in them.” Two years after that landmark birthday, with her trademark blinding smile and perfectly shiny chestnut hair—her skin free of both makeup and, the actress suspects, sunscreen (did she put it on this morning? She can’t recall)—Swank still exudes the athletic physicality and dash of aw-shucks earnestness that, onscreen, enables her to disappear into gritty, often glamour-free roles (including her two Oscar-winning turns, in 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry and 2004’s Million Dollar Baby).

Sitting knock-kneed on a pool chair at her pal Chelsea Handler’s sleek Bel-Air home, Swank is discussing the realizations she arrived at over the last two years, during which she hit pause on acting to be with her father, Stephen, during his successful recovery from a lung transplant. “While I was with my dad in the hospital, there was a lot of quiet space,” she says. But quiet space isn’t really her thing. “To be able to just sit down sometimes and allow an hour to pass, even just sitting in nature.…” Swank wishes she were better at that. “This is probably where I could use work,” she admits.

Instead, Swank spent her downtime—if tending to an ailing parent really qualifies as such, which it doesn’t—building her charity, the Hilaroo Foundation, which pairs at-risk youth with rescue dogs at an ongoing series of L.A.-area day camps. She was also plotting a new enterprise: a luxury athleisure collection, Mission Statement—something she’d contemplated before but had never had the time or mental resources to see through.

Her new role as a designer and entrepreneur, she says, is not a total departure from moviemaking. “You start with an idea, a story, and you have to find the right people to write it, create it, produce it, manufacture it—it’s a perfect parallel.” In this sense, fashion was, as she says, “a natural progression, into that collaborative spirit.” She was the sole financier at the outset (she hopes to complete a round of financing by the end of the year) and enlisted “my crew”—including her cofounder, former Marc by Marc Jacobs president Carolyn Risoli, and codesigner, Dot Keedy—through cold-calling and informal coffees. “I didn’t have a group of agents around me to do it,” Swank says. “It was all me, on my own.”

As for the name, “I called it Mission Statement because, in a day and age when so many women are objectified and trivialized—you have to look a certain way to be loved, you have to act a certain way to be successful—I really want to encourage women to take an hour for themselves every day to figure out what their truest authentic self is and work toward it, whatever that is for them.”

This kind of talk could sound almost predictable coming from a Hollywood A-lister, but Swank not only exudes authenticity, she also happens to be well qualified for the role of coach. Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and raised, by her own description, “in a trailer park, in humble beginnings” in Washington state, she started swimming at age three and by 13 was in the pool five hours a day, training for the Junior Olympics. (She was also a state-ranked gymnast.) At 16, she left the pool to seek an acting career, but fitness remains “like water and food,” she says. She works up a sweat four to five days a week, whether through two-hour tennis sessions (her “total obsession” of the last couple of years thanks to an ex-boyfriend, French former tennis pro Ruben Torres), weight lifting, or hiking. The result: one of Hollywood’s most undersung hardbodies, now featured prominently in Swank’s #FitnessFriday Instagram videos. It’s nearly impossible not to think ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ after watching the svelte star joyfully pump iron, dive into a lake during her latest triathlon, and leap from a trapeze platform. soon will give her a wider platform from which to inspire. It will not only sell her clothes but also spotlight the inspiring journeys of other women she encounters. “I think one of the pluses of social media,” Swank says, “is the ability to see how other people have struggled, like, ‘This was my obstacle and this is how I overcame it.'”

Fashion fans will be relieved to learn that Swank not only wants to help us “step into our greatness”—she wants us to look genuinely chic doing it. Unlike other celeb-fronted athleisure brands (Kate Hudson’s bright, fun Fabletics; Beyoncé’s sexy-sporty Ivy Park), Mission Statement is selling subtlety: muted colors—no trendy photo prints or yoga-esque squiggles here—plus hidden features (headphone slits, retractable thumb holes) and fancy materials that verge on one-percenter luxe—oh, to sweat it out in 100 percent cashmere! These are workout clothes for women like Swank herself: understated, successful, and serious about their recreation. The line ranges from around $125 for an Italian-made sports bra to $1,150 for a stretch-lambskin hooded jacket, with highlights including laser-cut tennis dresses, paper-thin windbreakers, open-backed off-duty jackets, and slim track pants, plus gauzy cashmere layering pieces that you could also confidently wear, say, on the red-eye to New York.

To be clear, Swank has not abandoned her day job entirely. With her dad back at “100 percent,” she says, she filmed the true-life drama 55 Steps in May, playing the lawyer to Helena Bonham Carter’s schizophrenic woman battling to control her care, and she’s signed on for a starring role in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s as-yet-unscheduled Starz dysfunctional-family series, The One Percent. Next fall, she’ll join Channing Tatum, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, and Adam Driver in Steven Soderbergh’s NASCAR heist, Logan Lucky. In choosing her roles now, she still gravitates to dramatic, true-life fare with an inspirational bent and “projects that have a physical aspect to them,” says Swank, drawing a neat through-line between her film career and her latest venture.

Credit Mission Statement, or her father’s gradual recovery, but offscreen Swank no longer assigns herself a single definition. “I’ve always said, ‘I’m an actress.’ And yes, it’s what I do, but it was an interesting moment for me, when you say, ‘No, right now I’m a person, I’m a daughter, I’m going to be a designer of this line and a founder of this company.’ You realize, Oh, I’m a multifaceted person.”