For Hilary Swank, who moved her father into her Los Angeles home three years ago as he underwent a risky lung transplant, it also changed how she dated.
“It’s almost a great way to weed out people,” says Swank, 44, who recently married social venture entrepreneur Philip Schneider. ” ‘Wait, you live with your dad?’ The reaction to that helps you move through things faster.” She and Schneider, who were set up on a blind date, have “that same ethos and belief in being there for your family,” she says. “That started it off right.”
Familial devotion is at the heart of Swank’s latest film, “What They Had,” one of the first roles she took after caring for her father. In the multi-generational drama, Swank plays Bridget, a long-distance daughter coping with her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s. Her father (Robert Forster) argues he can care for his wife (Blythe Danner) better than the Chicago memory-care facility that his son (Michael Shannon), who lives nearby, is advocating. It’s Christmas, and no one has the answers.
Swank says little prepares you for becoming an aging parent’s proxy. “There were moments when I was taking care of my dad where you’re not confident, when you know that in helping make a decision, (it) could be good or bad – and that was something you were going to have to live with, no matter which way it went. So it was scary.”
As one year away from work became two, and then three, Swank, a two-time Academy Award winner (“Boys Don’t Cry,” “Million Dollar Baby”) wrestled with who she was outside of her work. “It made me look at how I defined myself,” she says, and began channeling her creative efforts into her new clothing line, Mission Statement.
Today she’s back to shooting movies around the world. “I’m blessed because prayers were answered and my dad came out the other side a completely independent person again,” she says. Her dad, now 70, still lives with the couple, “but he’s self-sufficient. He’s getting around.”
Swank, who excuses herself for not shaking hands upon meeting (her vampy manicure is still wet), but presses her hands over yours instead, says she still feels like a newlywed. Her August wedding to Schneider was held under the leafy cover of California redwoods, with a reception in a 100-year-old rustic barn illuminated with fairy lights.
Pictures were eventually shared with Vogue, but “it was an unplugged wedding,” says Swank. “We didn’t mind if people took pictures, it was just about being in the moment. When your head is in your device, you’re not in it anymore. And so we wanted people to be present for us.”
These days at work, Swank notices that Hollywood has plugged into a new normal. If anything, she says, one year into the #MeToo movement, there’s a shift away from an idealized male gaze.
“One of the crazy things I used to be asked was ‘You’re so pretty in person, why don’t you ever play a pretty girl?’ ” she recalls. Her response, she says, was twofold. “One, have you ever asked a man that? And two, what’s beautiful to you?”
“It’s an underlying part of the problem because it’s about objectifying and trivializing women – if you don’t look a certain way, you’re not going to be loved; if you don’t act a certain way, you’re not going to be successful. So that’s never (been) asked again. I haven’t been asked that in an entire year.”