MoviesOnline recently sat down with two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank (“Million Dollar Baby,” “Boys Don’t Cry”) at the Los Angeles press day to talk about her new movie, “P.S. I Love You,” directed by Richard LaGravenese. The film also stars Gerard Butler (“300”), Lisa Kudrow (TV’s “Friends”), Harry Connick, Jr. (“Bug,” TV’s “Will & Grace”), Gina Gershon (TV’s “Ugly Betty”), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy”) and Academy Award winner Kathy Bates (“Misery”).
Swank plays the central role of Holly Kennedy, a young woman who seems to have it all until life deals her an unexpected hand. “Holly found love at a young age,” Swank remarks. “Gerry (Gerard Butler) was her everything – her soul mate, her best friend, her lover, her husband. So when she loses him, all of a sudden she’s alone in more ways than one because I don’t think she quite knows how to handle life on her own. But he knew what she would be facing, so he wrote her letters to help her find herself again.
And through the letters, I think she actually starts another relationship with Gerry in a way. It’s interesting that he’s so vividly there for her even though he’s gone. She even gets mad at him, like when he tells her to get out there and sing karaoke again. But it was a fun journey to go through the ups and downs and emotions of the character to come to where she is at the end, which is, as we all are, a work in progress.”
Swank recently collaborated with director Richard LaGravenese when she starred in the true-life drama “Freedom Writers,” playing inspirational schoolteacher Erin Gruwell. She says the opportunity to reunite with LaGravenese would have been reason enough to do the film. “We had such a great experience on ‘Freedom Writers.’ Richard has always been one of my favorite screenwriters and I have such enormous respect for him as a director. I love working with him, so I would have done anything he asked me to do. But this movie was easy to say ‘yes’ to because I really loved it.”
Last year, Swank co-starred with Scarlett Johansson and Josh Hartnett in Brian De Palma’s real-life crime drama “The Black Dahlia.” Swank’s other film credits include Charles Shyer’s “The Affair of the Necklace,” opposite Adrien Brody; Sam Raimi’s “The Gift,” with Cate Blanchett and Keanu Reeves; Christopher Nolan’s “Insomnia,” opposite Al Pacino and Robin Williams; and Stephen Hopkins’ horror thriller “The Reaping.” She is next set to star as Amelia Earhart in “Amelia,” the biopic about the legendary aviatrix, to be directed by Phillip Noyce.
Sporting a smart blue satin sheath dress and matching handmade pumps, here’s what the talented and always stylish Hilary Swank had to tell us about her new film:
Q: Who’s the dress by? It’s pretty.
HILARY SWANK: Thank you. It’s by Lanvin. This is my niece behind me if anyone’s wondering. Her name is Amanda.
Q: Amanda, nice to meet you.
Q: Great shoes, great shoes.
HILARY SWANK: Thank you. Jimmy Choo. I keep my meter money in there.
HILARY SWANK: Just kidding.
Q: Are you a shoe person? Do you love shoes?
HILARY SWANK: Am I a shoe person? Oh my gosh. You should see. I am such a shoe person. I love shoes. What is it about women? I don’t know about you guys, but I love shoes — I do, I have a thing — I like to have so many shoes that I started taking pictures of them and putting them in plastic boxes and putting a picture on it. But what I did was I limited myself, so I bought only the amount that can go in my closet and anytime I get a new one in, I have to get rid of one. ‘Cause there’s no point anyway. They’re really pretty but are you really gonna — there’s only so many days in the year. No, I only have 360.
Q: How many shoes do you have?
HILARY SWANK: Five. No I said 360 and I realize it’s 365. So I added five. I don’t know how many, but I have a lot.
Q: Sort of like Imelda Marcos?
HILARY SWANK: [Laughs] Sort of.
Q: Are you the kind of person who had a plan for your life from a young age?
HILARY SWANK: It’s funny, because that’s — Holly Kennedy has that so that’s a great question. I’m kind of a Leo through and through. I’m very spontaneous but I’ve always known, well from the age of 9 I’ve always known I wanted to be an actor. So that was one path that I continued down and obviously am still doing. But other than that, I didn’t say — oh, I want to be married at this date, or I have to do this in my life or that in my life. It was really just the acting part of it.
Q: In the back of your mind, did you think ‘I want to do big action films’ or ‘I want to do sweet romantic comedies’?
HILARY SWANK: No. I just wanted to work as an actor and find challenging things and challenge myself in new ways, but not that I said, ‘now it’s time to find this’ or ‘now it’s time to find that,’ but it’s definitely mixing it up for myself.
Q: Could you talk about your co-star, Gerard Butler?
HILARY SWANK: Yes, isn’t he great? Well he’s a great and wonderful guy and we really hit it off. You know, I consider him a friend. He got into the business so late, he’s just fresh, he doesn’t have any preconceived ideas about how it should work, so he’s really playful. He’s kind of a kid in that way. He has a lot of wonder. And it’s essentially what acting is. It’s just playing, and so it was back to basics — just trying to figure out the scene and breaking the scenes down and the moments between the lines and the playfulness within that. I work similarly in that way and we just hit it off because we’re similar in that way. But I also want to add though that if you didn’t love Gerry, if you didn’t love him in this movie, you wouldn’t go on the journey with my character. So to fall in love with him that deeply in the first 10 minutes of a movie just really says a lot about him.
Q: Was that the first thing that you shot?
HILARY SWANK: We shot in Ireland first, but that was the first stuff that we did in New York. We went to Ireland for three weeks and we worked — almost 3 weeks. That might have included the travel part of it. Then we were working really excruciating hours —18- hours days there to finish what we had to do, because it’s a pretty low-budget movie, and six-day weeks. And Richard is one of those writers that — first of all, I think he’s one of the best writers out there and he’s now proving to be such a great director as well — but he really writes scenes for actors, so — a lot of movies you literally have a fourth of a page in a scene — that first scene we did in New York was 12 pages. That’s 10 per cent of the movie. So when we got back — what I was going to say was that on my days off, my Sundays I just devoted to completely memorizing lines, because also the pace of this movie being romantic and having comedy within it, with that fast pace you needed to really know the lines inside and out, so my off time was completely devoted to these long scenes and learning them. That first scene was our first step up in New York.
Q: That pre-credit sequence is fairly audacious for a movie. How long did it actually take to shoot it?
HILARY SWANK: It took — it was either slated for three or four days because it was 12 pages, but what we did was we went in and we rehearsed it for three days. Gerry and Richard and I went in to my character’s apartment and we outlined everywhere we wanted to go and at what time, so we could be really quick with it and not waste time on the set rehearsing. Because that takes hours and obviously, like I said, it was to conserve all our hours, because hours are money, so we really went in on our weekends and everything and our off time to make sure we got that scene right, because it’s such an integral part of the movie. And then the actual filming I think did take three or four days, maybe three and a half days. It was great because we did the whole thing in one big master with the wide camera, and then did it four pages at a time, breaking it up while we moved the camera around.
[Loud voices from hallway interrupt our interview]
That’s definitely Gerry.
Q: When somebody dies, do you think it’s a good idea to still be getting letters and being reminded in such a vivid way that that person is still around?
HILARY SWANK: I think it’s more a blessing than a curse but certainly it can be a curse because then that becomes a crutch. And eventually the letters are also going to die, and they can’t keep coming so at some point, you know, the realization of that hits her, and getting over that is a big grieving process as well. But what a beautiful gift to give somebody. When he’s going through this huge thing in his life of losing his life, he’s thinking of his wife and of how he can help her move on. It just shows how illuminating love can be when it’s so unconditional like that.
Q: When you’re depressed over some sort of loss, are you a hider or a ‘get out and do something and a forget about it’ person?
HILARY SWANK: Oh. Well, you know, I think you have to learn how to deal with stuff that happens in your life because it’s going to come back and get you at some point. You can’t run from it. At some point, you’re just going to have to deal with it. I try to deal with it as soon as it happens. I’m very much a ‘let’s put it on the table and sort it out.’ I’m also very much of a — if you’re in a fight with someone that you love, whether it be a parent, a child, a significant other, whomever, best friends, working it out before you leave, not holding that grudge, because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow and this movie is a beautiful reminder of that — to hold the people that you love dear and not take them for granted.
Q: I think you’re scheduled to play Amelia Earhart. Is that still happening?
HILARY SWANK: Yeah. It’s happening. I start doing my research in January. That’s my next project.
Q: Are you looking forward to playing her?
HILARY SWANK: Very much. What a wonderful woman, what an inspiration, and a pioneer too.
Q: Is the script locked? Can you film that with the strike currently going on?
HILARY SWANK: The film’s almost done but in the hopes that . . . we’re not filming that movie until late February, so while I’m doing my preparation and breaking down Amelia, who she was and doing all that research, hopefully I pray that the writers get what they need and we can start working on that. It’s very minor work that needs to be done on the script.
Q: Does it offer a solution to the mystery of what happened to her?
HILARY SWANK: No. It’s not really about — there are so many things that are left unsaid about where she is, and a lot of people who have a lot of different ideas, but it’s not really exploring that in the movie.
Q: There was a Canadian stage musical that was done about her a few years ago.
HILARY SWANK: I just met with a Japanese woman and she said, ‘I just saw a musical about Amelia Earhart two days before I left Japan.’ So I was like, ‘Wow!’
Q: This movie is based on a book and I was wondering if you had a favorite book of 2007?
HILARY SWANK: You know, I loved that book, “Eat, Pray, Love.” (“Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” by Elizabeth Gilbert). That was a great book, and I love to travel and I’ve been to a lot of those places and so obviously it was good timing for me.
Q: How important are first kisses?
HILARY SWANK: Oh, important in that it’s something that you have to experience in your life, but I think my first kiss, I was 7 and it was really yucky.
Q: Did you instigate it?
HILARY SWANK: I think it was one of those things where someone else instigated it for us. [Laughs] ‘Do it, do it, do it!’
Q: What do you think about love letters?
HILARY SWANK: I think they’re beautiful. I think love letters are great, even if they’re short little notes left in a coat pocket or something.
Q: Do you have any input into your wardrobe?
HILARY SWANK: You always have some input just because you’ve done all this work on the character and you try and incorporate things about your character into your wardrobe because we all pick out our clothes and have a personal reason why we love what we’re wearing. So that’s a really, really important part of the developing of the character for me. And it takes weeks to do that. It’s something that people don’t think about when they watch a movie. It’s all these little things that make up a movie and that’s certainly a really important part for me. Cindy Williams who did the wardrobe also did the wardrobe on Freedom Riders, and that came up this year. Richard and I did that back to back so I had a real great second shorthand with her. And Richard loves the golden age of cinema. He loves those old movies with Audrey Hepburn and Bette Davis so he was really inspired by that and wanted that to be — he gave that direction to Cindy.
Q: Do you get to keep any of your wardrobe?
HILARY SWANK: Very little but sometimes. Especially if there’s doubles sometimes, you know, if you’re doing a karaoke scene where you break your nose. So those pieces you get to definitely keep.
Q: Does a love letter sent by e-mail have the same potency as one written by hand?
HILARY SWANK: You know, I think that writing letters is definitely a lost art, and there’s something extra special now when somebody actually sits down and writes a hand-written letter. But it’s nice to get a love letter any way.
Q: Harry Connick, Jr. has some great lines and delivers them so pricelessly. I keep thinking there must be outtakes where you’re just losing it.
HILARY SWANK: You’re so right. There are outtakes where we are literally losing it and I always feel like those performances — you know in a year when you watch all the
movies and the ones that really stand out are when you watch a movie and you can’t see anyone else playing the role. And I don’t think anyone else could have played that role like Harry did. When you read the script, it was challenging because it’s so dry — I thought how could anyone do that and not be an asshole. How are you going to fall in love with this character? And he made that character so lovable and so great, and he was hilarious. There are literally outtakes of me laughing so hard I’m crying.
Q: Gerard Butler is known for his six-pack abs, but after this movie you’ll be known for yours.
HILARY SWANK: In this movie? I have a six pack? I do? Thank you. Are you thinking of Million Dollar Baby?
Q: Do you get nervous when you get a script that says you’re going to be semi-naked or just in your bra and underwear?
HILARY SWANK: Um, you know when I’m reading a script, I don’t stop at something like that. I don’t think, oh oh. I just kind of go with the flow, but of course the day before, you’re like — tomorrow I’m in my panties and my bra? Oh, that’s a weird day at the office.
Q: Thank you.
HILARY SWANK: Bye you guys. Have a great day!
“P.S. I Love You” opens in theaters on December 21st.