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Little things mean a lot to Hilary Swank

She’s the type of girl who doesn’t needs diamonds or fancy cars. If you want to capture Hilary Swank’s heart, it’s the tiny gestures that will make the two-time Oscar winner go weak at the knees.

“I think love is in the little things,” says Swank, 33. “If I’m having a bad day, nothing makes me happier than having the man I love leave me a little note in my jacket pocket saying, ‘I’m thinking of you today.’ That’s so meaningful to me. In fact, it sweeps me off my feet.”

Swank is swept off her feet in her new romantic comedy “P.S. I Love You,” which opens Friday. She plays a young artist married for almost a decade to her soul mate, played by Gerard Butler (“300”). When he dies of a brain tumor, she receives a series of letters he’s left with instructions on how to get on with her life.

Swank’s Holly is also helped by her mother (Kathy Bates), two well-meaning, guy-challenged friends (Gina Gershon and Lisa Kudrow) and a hunky bartender (Harry Connick Jr.).

The film is written and directed by Richard LaGravenese, who also called the shots for Swank last Christmas for her film “Freedom Writers.” Despite the sad topic of losing her husband (who is seen in a series of flashbacks), Swank says the film is not just a weeper.

“You laugh through the tears. The challenge was finding that balance between humor and tragedy,” says the newly shorn Swank, who just donated her hair to cancer patients. “It’s really a love story that makes you leave the theater wanting to hold the people you love a little bit dearer.”

A hopeless romantic?
The film opens with the couple played by Swank and Butler having a terrible fight about money, buying a condo and having a baby — in short, real-life stuff. “I think this film is honest because relationships are complex,” Swank says. “They aren’t fairy tales. Real relationships aren’t what you see in the movies.

“The beauty of seeing them fight is that their fights stem from fear. And that’s real, too,” she says. “Most complications in a real relationship are from being afraid. In this case, Holly has a fear of abandonment. She’s also the type of woman who thinks that her life isn’t big enough and she can’t have kids until everything is perfect. And then her husband dies. She wishes she had made other choices.”

Swank, recently divorced from actor Chad Lowe, says that even the devastation over the split hasn’t soured her on romance. “I’m definitely a romantic at heart and I’m a big believer in love,” she says. “Doesn’t that make me a hopeless romantic? I don’t know, but I’m certainly a romantic.”

She also loves the little moments, like a strip-tease scene Butler does in the movie to entice her. “It was so cute,” Swank says. “He was really nervous leading up to his strip-tease. The script didn’t have specifically written moves. So it was just Gerard doing this G-rated strip-tease, making it funny. Take after take, we laughed so hard.”

There was one scene that left her crying. “Gerard was about to hop in bed with me and he was playing with his suspenders,” she recalls. The clip came off and she was hit hard in the forehead. “It was so random and insane. I did a whole boxing movie and my face came out unscathed. Here I am in a romantic comedy and the suspender clip is flung across the room and hits me so hard in the forehead that the teeth of it stick in my forehead. Blood is pouring down my face. I was laughing and crying so hard.”

The aftermath was that her face was damaged. “This plastic surgeon was like, ‘You will scar. There are teeth marks in you.’ Five stitches later and you can’t see anything, but I have makeup on.”

Butler jokes about it. “Hilary did get bloody,” he says, “but it’s about time someone else got bloody on a film besides me.”

She says Butler was actually mortified when she had to get stitches and take a week off work. “He cried when it happened,” Swank says. “Then he sent me chocolates and flowers. He found out I love waffles and sent me a waffle maker.”

Now that’s romantic.

‘Love is love’
Swank was born in Lincoln, Neb., and grew up in Bellingham, Wash. She was discovered as a child and at 16, moved with her mother to Los Angeles where they actually lived in their car.

Swank eventually began her career in movies, including “The Next Karate Kid” (1994) and on television in “Beverly Hills 90210.” She went on to become the youngest actress in history to win two Academy Awards for Best Actress, for her roles in “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999) and “Million Dollar Baby” (2004).

Winning her first Oscar for “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999) was a shock. “I was an unknown and I was playing a boy,” she says. “But what I was trying to do was find great movies. Years later, I was talking to Clint Eastwood about it and he said it best. He told me, ‘You always aim for the bull’s-eye, but you don’t always hit it.’ ”

Swank shakes her head and says, “It’s not about the win. I’m just glad I’m in a place where I get to wake up and say, ‘Hey, I get to go do what I love today.’ ”

When she won the second Oscar, she says, she still felt like a Hollywood outsider. “It’s the craziest feeling. I still feel like such an outsider — which frankly is how most of us feel in our lives.”

In 2006, she announced she and Lowe were separating after eight years of marriage. She’s currently dating her manager, John Campisi.

“I do believe in love,” she says. “I also know there are a lot of people in the world. I don’t believe there is only one soulmate for a person. You can love someone else. It’s going to be different, but there is still going to be a lot of beauty in it if you’re open to it.”

Would she ever marry again? “I don’t know. We’ll see. I’m not against it. Not at all. I think whatever works for a couple is what they should do. Marry. Not marry. There is no right way to do it. Love is love. It works in many mysterious ways.”