Double Oscar winner Hilary Swank talks about the attraction of P.S. I Love You, nearly being blinded by one of Gerard Butler’s suspender clips and her working relationship with director, Richard LaGravenese.
She also talks about why she wanted to become an actor from an early age and whether she’ll ever write and direct anything in the future.
Q. P.S. I Love You is the type of film that can provoke a different personal response from everyone that sees it. What was yours when you first came across the material?
Hilary Swank: For me, after reading the script I was reminded of what life is about. 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 and I think that we can all relate to that – finding love and losing love… If it’s not through death, even a break-up can sometimes feel like a death. There were many things that I could relate to and a lot of laughter in between.
Q. This is your second film with Richard LaGravenese [after Freedom Writers] – has the relationship developed further?
Hilary Swank: Any time you get to spend a lot of time with someone, it definitely evolves and deepens and thankfully in our relationship it deepened for the better. Richard’s one of my favourite screenwriters, and I think he’s proving to be quite an extraordinary director as well. From Freedom Writers, the progression into this was obviously natural, because I feel we have a shorthand. On the set of Freedom Writers he was always talking about how I’m this goofball, and this girly girl, and how he wanted to show that side of it. So here we are showing that side of it!
Q. Can you tell us about the accident you suffered with Gerard [Butler]’s braces?
Hilary Swank: In his great strip-tease, which was very funny and had me laughing in every take, during his off-camera version of it, he took his suspender clip and – you wouldn’t believe it if it happened in a movie, by the way – he flicked it and it hooked onto a piece of furniture, which was my character’s TV stand in my apartment. He then jumped onto the bed, and this thing had stretched about 10ft! Then this piece of furniture starts walking. The second I think it’s going to come off, it flies across the room and hits me in the forehead.
The thing is, I was kind of laughing and crying at the same time, because I didn’t really know what had happened. I knew I’d got hit in the head, but was it bad, or not bad? I remember sitting there, just covering it and laughing and everybody’s standing around the bed. My make-up artist looked at it and made a face to Richard, saying: “What are we going to do?” I ended up getting stitches and I had a perfect suspender-clip mark on my forehead, with the little teeth in it. The plastic surgeon actually said: “What bit you?”
Q. How did it compare to the worst Million Dollar Baby injury you sustained?
Hilary Swank: You know what, my face went virtually unscathed in Million Dollar Baby. Like Richard [the director] has said, I do a romantic comedy and I end up with stitches! But Gerry [Butler] was so sweet. He was sending me gifts – chocolate, flowers. He heard I liked waffles, and he sent me a waffle-maker.
Q. It’s a very emotional movie at times, so how do you prepare for the more emotional scenes?
Hilary Swank: There wasn’t a physical challenge like on Million Dollar Baby – with the 19 pounds of muscle I put on – or Boys Don’t Cry, passing as a boy. This was obviously more physically like myself than I’ve been in any other movie, so the challenge was the emotional side of it. To really find the humour within the reality of the aftermath of what’s happened, while at the same time being honest to the full range of emotions associated with grief. I have to say, though, it was all on the paper. Then, through Richard’s direction, he just guided you to make sure you’re hitting all the colours and not playing something too funny in a moment that should be a little bit sadder.
Q. You appear alongside Harry Connick Jr in the film and yet don’t get to share any songs with him. Is there a tinge of disappointment?
Hilary Swank: Well, my character has a piano in her apartment and we were sitting in there [on the last day], and he just sat down and started playing. At first it was Richard and me there, and the next thing you know, you turn there are a couple more people, and by the end of it the whole crew was there. He just kept playing and it was amazing.
Q. Did he ever critique your character’s karaoke efforts?
Hilary Swank: Well, you can see from my singing in this movie that I don’t have an album coming out any time soon [laughs]. But it was a lot of fun for me to do that. My character didn’t have to be a good singer. Singing Judy Garland’s The Man Who Got Away, Richard had written it that she lip-synchs. He had a couple of reasons for that. He was like: “Who would ever want to try and sing Judy Garland, because nobody can do it like Judy Garland?” But we’d probably done about eight takes and I said I didn’t feel I’d done it all. I asked if could I sing it – it’s not like my character is a good singer, so it’s not like I’ll be doing her an injustice. So, I decided to let it all go and just be in this moment. It’s one of the most fun parts of my job, those scary moments. I tried to let go and the next thing I know I’d heard: “Cut!” It was like I’d been plopped back in the room, because I’d travelled somewhere else. I loved it and that’s the take that’s in the movie.
Q. Were there many pranks on the set of P.S. I Love You to keep the mood light?
Hilary Swank: This was one of those sets where there were a lot of jokes flying around. I would say Harry Connick Jr was the biggest prankster, the biggest joker – but 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, then Gerry, and then Lisa Kudrow…. It was so much fun for me to play with all of them and there was a lot of laughter on set.
Q. Are you a fan of writing or receiving love letters yourself?
Hilary Swank: Of course! I find in this e-mail and texting age that getting a hand-written letter is even more special. I think writing letters is a lost art, but nowadays it’s something that means even more, because it’s so easy to communicate in so many different ways. But I find a love letter can even be a little post-it note stuck in your pocket, with a sentence or a few words.
Q. Where would you take a true love for a trip yourself?
Hilary Swank: Probably breakfast in bed, with a newspaper and a good book. I haven’t seen bed in a long time. There’s a lot of places I’d like to go. I’ve travelled most of the world. In this business, I’ve been blessed to see a lot of places. The Maldives, maybe…
Q. Was there ever a point where you considered doing something other than acting?
Hilary Swank: At one point in my life, somewhere around six-years-old, I wanted to be an astronaut. But other than that, I wanted to become an actor at nine. I’m more than grateful, and I feel more than blessed, to be actually a working actor now.
Q. Was there any particular trigger at nine that made you decide this was for you?
Hilary Swank: Well, there were a couple of things… I had a teacher who had us write a skit and perform in front of the class. I remember we had to write all the different characters, and I remember standing there, at nine-years-old, playing all these characters out, and just loving it – this feeling I’d never felt before. Now I look back, and realise it’s that thing when you find your calling, and that moment happens… I think that’s what that was. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Q. You’ve played a variety of different roles now, so is there a certain thing in every story that jumps out at you?
Hilary Swank: I’m never looking for the next thing to keep people on their toes, and keep them guessing what I’m doing next. I’m always just trying to find something that pulls me and scares me and challenges me to work with people like Richard [LaGravenese], and the cast members in this movie who just help you. Ultimately, I never know what my next thing is going to be, and I’m not out there specifically searching for one thing in particular. I’m just looking for something that’s new and different. It could be a drama or a comedy, I just want to challenge myself and work with people that inspire me.
Q. Are you sent a wide range of scripts, or do you get a lot of boxing movies now?
Hilary Swank: It’s a good question and I get asked it a lot! But there aren’t a lot of girl boxing movies, so I’ve never been given another one. And there aren’t actually a lot of stories about people with a sexual identity crisis. So it’s not like I get sent those a lot either. I’ve never been sent a script to play another boy either, although some people have, and they switch it for a girl. There are just very few scripts out there that are actually good, believe it or not. I would say maybe one in 20 scripts is good, and one in 50 is great. So finding those gems is the challenge.
Q. Do you have any aspirations beyond acting in terms of writing, producing, or directing?
Hilary Swank: I don’t. I have a production company now, with Molly Smith who produced this. Other than producing or acting, I’m certainly not a writer – I won’t be writing anything any time soon. Maybe some day in the future, directing, but it’s not something I’ve given much thought too. I love my job, I love being an actor and stepping into the shoes of different characters and exploring their lives. It’s enriched my life extremely. I’ve learned more about myself and the ways of life through being an actor. Being a producer is an addition to that, it’s an opportunity for me to continue to tell stories that I believe in. But we’ll see down the line.