Hilary Swank is a woman who has played a boxer that ends up paralysed and a boy/girl who ends up being raped and murdered, but it takes a rom-com set in New York to nearly kill her for real.
Warm and confident, with a wide smile that appears regularly, Swank is in town to promote latest movie PS I Love You, which follows Holly Kennedy, a woman in New York who goes on a personal journey of self-discovery when the love of her life Gerry (played by Gerard Butler) dies and she starts receiving beyond-the-grave letters from him guiding her in how to move on via a series of adventures. But an accident involving a pair of braces could have very well sent Swank to join her on-screen husband in the afterlife.
“In his great striptease in the film, in his off-camera version he took his suspender clip and flicked it and it caught on a piece of furniture in my character’s apartment,” remembers Hilary, laughing. “He then jumped onto the bed and this thing is now stretched like about ten feet. And then this piece of furniture starts walking and the second I think ‘that’s gonna come off any second!’ it flies across the room and hits me right on the forehead!” she hoots.
“I ended up getting stitches and I had a perfect, perfect suspender clip mark on my forehead with little teeth in it. The plastic surgeon was like ‘what bit you?!’”
PS I Love You is certainly a departure from the previous, more physically orientated roles Swank has opted for in the past. “For me, reading the script, I was reminded of what life is about because it was a reminder that you just want to hold those ones that you love dear because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. It’s such a great love story – I think we can all relate to that.”
She also acknowledges that this meant there would be different challenges within the telling of such as story. Rather than building muscle or passing as a boy, Swank would need to give a believable portrayal of a woman in the middle of grieving. “The challenge was the emotional side of it to really find the humour within that reality in the aftermath of what’s happened while at the same time being honest to the full range of emotions related with grief”.
But PS I Love You isn’t without its fair share of funny moments. Swank smiles as she recalls a set where jokes were constantly flying around. “Because of the nature of this movie with so many characters, I called it the revolving door of actors, because I was there every single day and in would come someone new. Kathy Bates would come for a few days and then Gerry for a few days, and then Jeffrey Dean Morgan for a few days and Lisa Kudrow – it was such a great cast and it was so much fun for me to play with all of them. There was a lot of laughter on set!”
Perhaps a more nerve-wracking challenge was the moment where Swank’s character Holly ends up singing karaoke, daunting enough at the best of times, but when you have multi-million album selling singer Harry Connick Jr. looking on it is maybe just that little bit more terrifying.
“I’ve got news for you, he says I can’t sing!” laughs Hilary. “You can see from my singing in this movie that I don’t have an album coming out!”
One of the key factors in this movie is the chemistry, not just between Holly and Gerry but also between the actors and director. Richard LaGravenese, who worked with Hilary on Freedom Writers, is according to the actress, one of her favourite writers who she loves collaborating with.
“I think he’s proving to be quite an extraordinary director as well,” she enthuses. “Also he is so wonderful because on the set of Freedom Writers he was always talking about how I’m this goofball and girly-girl and how he wanted to show that side of it – here we are showing that side of it!”
Swank will next be hitting our screens in the comedy-drama Birds of America, about a man who struggles to balance his life while trying to make amends for the actions of his free-spirited siblings. There is certainly no predictability to what she might do next. “Ultimately I never know what my next thing is going to be; I’m not searching for one thing in particular,” she explains. “I just want to challenge myself and work with people that inspire me.”