She’s among Hollywood’s most elite club, winning not one but two Academy Awards.
But things don’t come easily for Hilary Swank, even now, and they never really have.
The 33-year-old actress told her story for about 4,000 of the city’s movers and shakers yesterday at the sold-out The Power Within seminar at the Ottawa Congress Centre.
The event’s roster of speakers ranged from envelope magnate Harvey MacKay to financial affairs fixer Jean Chatzky to Oprah favourite Dr. Mehmet Oz.
But it was Swank who provided the star power, spending 40 minutes giving a carefully prepared speech about the importance of, well, being prepared.
“Remember that getting what you want has nothing to do with fate,” she told the crowd. “Be prepared, be patient, and opportunities will come.”
Standard self-help fare, for sure, but given heft by Swank’s obstacle-peppered life story. Growing up poor in a Bellingham, Wash., trailer park, she noticed parents seemed to keep their kids from spending too much time playing with her, “like our low income was contagious.”
Swank loved sports, competing at the Junior Olympics in swimming. But after performing a skit in front of her class at the age of nine, she realized acting made her heart pound, and she liked it. A few years later her mother famously packed the pair up and moved to Hollywood, spending the first few weeks living in their car.
Each day her mom cold-called agents from a corner phone booth until one agreed to see her daughter and ended up taking her on.
Swank started landing roles, only to get fired from her big break: A gig on the eighth season of Beverly Hills 90210. Swank was later shocked to realize an Oscar-winning turn in the indie Boys Don’t Cry failed to spark a flood of offers.
She earned only $3,000 US for that role, not even enough to qualify for health insurance.
“I had an Academy Award, but no health insurance,” she said.
Later, Swank thought she had landed a romantic comedy only to find out one of the producers couldn’t see her in the role. When Clint Eastwood first hired her to star in Million Dollar Baby, the financing immediately fell through. Swank hired a top boxing coach and trained anyway.
Winning a second Oscar for that film hasn’t made it any easier to score work, something Swank said just makes her try harder to get what she wants.
“And that romantic comedy? I got it,” she said, adding last year’s P.S. I Love You pulled in $125 million US at the box office.
Taking the stage before Swank was wellness wizard Dr. Oz, a heart surgeon and best-selling author.
Oz uses plain language and relatable examples to spread the word that when it comes to avoiding a heart attack “what you had for dinner last night and who you fight with tomorrow morning” are two of the only things that really matter.