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Away star Hilary Swank on what went into playing an astronaut and those zero-gravity scenes

Emma Green is juggling two families and a lot of responsibility. In Netflix’s Away, Emma (Hilary Swank) is the commander of the first man-led mission to Mars. But she’s also a wife and mother, and leading her crew to Mars means leaving behind her family on Earth. Needless to say, it’s an emotional journey.

EW spoke with Swank about what drew her to the project and what it was like to fake zero gravity.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this all start for you?

HILARY SWANK: First of all, I wanted to be an astronaut before I wanted to be an actor. So I was like, “Wait, what? I could play an astronaut?” I was sent the script, and then I was completely hooked — not only on the fact that this commander was a female leading this mission to Mars, but that that wasn’t the drama of the story. I loved that. But then also that there are all these different races in it, and that we were all working in a place that had no borders, that we needed to become a family and trust one another to make it there. And then there’s this gravitational pull, no pun intended, to Earth and our families there and what we left behind. There’s a myriad of different things that I loved about [the script] when I read it.

Most space stories I’ve seen over the years didn’t spend so much time focusing on the people back home, and as a result, I’ve never really thought about it. Now, I can’t stop thinking about what it would be like to have a parent be out of reach for three years.

Yeah, you really think: Could I do that? And what does it entail? And what would I have to sacrifice? It’s really, when you sit with it, profound when you go into space. It’s a whole other thing.

You were cast first, and then showrunner Jessica Goldberg told me that they brought up Josh Charles to play your husband and you were very into it. You two had never met before, right?


But you knew of him?

Oh yeah. I mean, we all know Josh Charles. It’s a no-brainer. I was so excited when they brought his name up. I was like, “That’s our guy.” And I was so happy that he said yes to being part of this journey with us. He’s like the anchor of the show. He’s the one you go to. He’s Emma’s compass. She has that champion and, again, the drama is not about gender roles, of the husband supporting the wife. It’s not about that — and I love that. It’s just this guy who genuinely has such integrity, and he’s such a good person, and she trusts him implicitly.

What went into the research and training for playing an astronaut?

Well, I wish I could have felt what it’s like to be in zero gravity [via a zero-gravity simulator a.k.a. the Vomit Comet], but I had to take the second tier of training, the pretend astronaut training. We did try and see what it felt like to be in zero gravity, as well as being attached to wires, to try and figure out how to make that look effortless. I also got to go to mission control and speak to the astronauts on the International Space Station, and speak to retired astronauts as well, and just really pick their brains. They were so gracious with their time and their sharing of what it took for them to get there, and the perseverance and the fears and the hopes. And I think that’s the one really connective tissue to the story of the mission to Mars and the story of human beings on Earth, which is hope. It’s what I think we’re all redefining in our world, globally, right now, as we’re working through the coronavirus. We all hold on to hope. That’s the connective tissue within everyone. And that’s certainly the connective tissue of the show.

So when you guys were filming the zero-gravity scenes, was it literally just wire work? Because I can’t get over how flawless it all looks.

Yeah, it was all wires. There were times when you would be connected — you’d be sitting at a table and you’d have your feet connected and you still had to bobble around and pretend that you were weightless. All of that was something that we had to try and figure out, but it takes a lot of effort to do!

Away is streaming on Netflix now.


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‘I have no regrets’: Hilary Swank on love and being back in the limelight

Hilary Swank was not expecting to make life-and-death decisions when she travelled to Iowa for her grandmother’s funeral on March 13. Then the pandemic hit.

“On our way back, everything became ‘self-quarantine’ and ‘self-isolation’, and my dad previously had a lung transplant so we couldn’t risk flying back to LA,” recalls the two-time Oscar-winning actor, now starring in the Netflix drama Away.

“Long story short, we bought a used car in Iowa and started driving back. We stopped at a friend’s house in Colorado, initially for four or five nights, as they weren’t there and said we could stay as long as we wanted. We ended up staying a few months!”

Now back home in Los Angeles, Hilary, 46, sounds joyful as she recounts the experience over the phone. “It turned out to be such a blessing, because instead of being in LA, where even the hiking trails were closed, we were connected to the outdoors and nature and just hunkered down in a safe place.”

While this little adventure doesn’t sound anywhere near as intense as the expedition undertaken by her Away alter ego, US astronaut Emma Green, Hilary recognises the irony in talking about her character’s isolation in space while sitting at home under LA’s Safer-at-Home order, with one of her four rescue dogs nestled by her feet.

“It’s crazy with all the parallels of the show we’re now experiencing,” she acknowledges. “Who would have ever imagined when I read this pilot script that I’d be sitting here promoting a show about family and separation during a pandemic?”

In Away, Emma Green is leading an international crew on the first mission to Mars. As well as celebrating the incredible advances humans can achieve, the series also focuses on the personal sacrifices they make along the way. For Emma, it’s reconciling her decision to leave behind her husband (Josh Charles) and teenage daughter (Talitha Eliana Bateman) for the three-year round-trip flight. The series also explores the complex relationships among the crew members as they struggle with their place on the mission and back home.

“When I read the script, I was taken by it for so many reasons,” says Hilary excitedly. “We have a female commander of this mission, but we’ve come so far with equality, that’s not even the main drama of the show.

“Emma is married to a man who is engineering the mission, and they are equals and walk shoulder-to-shoulder in life, but he’s not emasculated by her and that’s also not a big deal,” she adds. “The real drama is these people who are on this journey coming from richly different racial backgrounds and all working towards a goal together, while having this gravitational pull to Earth and their families, which makes this a love story too.”

The Nebraska-born, Washington State-raised actor was a nationally ranked athlete while at high school, competing in swimming and gymnastics, but confesses that her first real dream was to be an astronaut.

“I just loved the idea of space,” says Hilary. “The stars were bright where I lived and I’ve always been an adventurer, so the idea of that unknown grabbed my heart and spirit.”

Eventually, she found a new passion – acting – but Hilary never does anything by halves, so when she got the opportunity to play her childhood dream, she threw herself into research. This included visiting NASA’s Mission Control in Houston, and speaking with astronauts including Peggy Whitson, the first female commander of the International Space Station.

“They were all so humble and self-deprecating,” she marvels. “When astronaut Mike Massimino came to visit our set, he was wearing these funny socks, with astral space stuff on them, and I stole that for Emma!”

There were plenty of challenges for the actor when it came to playing a character living in zero gravity and wearing a 16-kilogram space suit. “You’re also being hung on wires by the lowest part of your hips, and they’re being used as a pendulum,” she continues. “It’s like patting your head and rubbing your stomach; you’re talking at normal speed but moving slowly, and inevitably that slows down your voice without your noticing.”

Hilary was 16 when her parents separated and she moved from Bellingham, Washington, to LA with her mother to pursue an acting career. In 1997, she landed what she thought was a breakthrough role, a two-year contract to appear in Beverly Hills 90210, but was let go after six months. Two weeks later, she auditioned for the role of Brandon Teena in the film Boys Don’t Cry, based on the true story of a transgender man from the Midwest whose murder made headlines.

That role earned Hilary her first Oscar for Best Actress, and in 2005 she won her second, starring opposite Clint Eastwood as an aspiring boxer in Million Dollar Baby. It prompted her memorable acceptance speech, in which she declared, “I’m just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream.”

“I work hard to make something happen by going down every road and turning over every rock, but if it still doesn’t happen, now I know for sure, this is not meant to be,” Hilary reflects of that experience. “It was great for me to have that catalyst to learn that lesson at a young age.”

She’s embraced the same philosophy when it comes to her personal life, having met her first husband, actor Chad Lowe, when she was only 18. The couple divorced in 2007 and Hilary remarried in 2018, after mutual friends set her up with entrepreneur Philip Schneider while they were both in Germany for work.

“I’ve done a lot of growing up since those formative years with Chad,” she says. “I think I had to go through all those experiences to know what would make me happy when I got to this point.”

Five years ago, Hilary put her career on hold after her father, Stephen, was placed on a lung transplant list. “They gave him three years to live if he didn’t get a transplant, and when you get the transplant, it can take up to a year to see if it’s going to work. I was in the blessed position where I could take time off work and move him in with me.

“There were a lot of complications that meant I ended up taking three years off work, as I was his primary caregiver. That was not exactly what I had anticipated, but I was grateful in the end. I got to stop working for the first time since I was 16, and step back and find out who I really was besides what I do.”

During her father’s convalescence, Hilary also attended to growing her charity, the Hilaroo Foundation, which brings together vulnerable young people and rescue animals to increase the resilience and wellbeing of both. She also founded her own fashion label, Mission Statement, focusing on smart travel separates, which she felt were missing from her own wardrobe.

While many have referred to Hilary’s return as a “comeback”, she glosses over the label. “My dad wasn’t supposed to make it this long, but he was there to walk me down the aisle and he’s here now, so it’s really emotional to think of all we’ve been through,” she says softly, her honey-coated voice full of sentiment.

“It circles back to this show and what it’s really about for me, because each day we have a choice in how we want to walk in life, right? I just try and remember that and, looking back at the last five years I have shared with my dad, I have no regrets at all.”

Away launches on September 4 on Netflix.


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Hilary Swank on Taking a Break From Acting to Become a Caregiver: ‘Make Sure That You’re Taking Time for Yourself’

Hilary Swank is surrounded by wildflowers on top of a mountain in Colorado. We are shooting her Health cover on the property where she and her husband of two years have chosen to self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic. With her four dogs, she looks completely at peace—something that is apparent even from afar during this socially distanced photo shoot.

The 46-year-old is so relaxed on this mountaintop, it’s easy to forget that she’s one of Hollywood’s most esteemed actresses. As a two-time Academy Award winner for Best Actress, Hilary has had a career that many only aspire to. In her memorable acceptance speech for Million Dollar Baby, she said, “I’m just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream.”

While that’s true, it doesn’t paint the entire picture. Hilary didn’t just dream about being an actress—she worked her butt off to make it happen. In fact, she worked nonstop from the age of 15 until the end of 2014, when she made the choice to take a break for personal reasons.

Hilary’s dad needed a lung transplant, and she was determined to stay by his side. She had initially thought she’d take a year off. But she was committed to helping her dad until he fully recovered, and that wound up taking three years. That’s the thing about Hilary—she doesn’t do anything halfway.

Thankfully, her father is doing well, and she’s slowly begun to return to acting. Earlier this year, she appeared in the thriller The Hunt. And in September, you can catch her as the lead in Netflix’s new series Away. Her character’s dedication to her dream of being an astronaut parallels Hilary’s own devotion to her craft. And while she says she was excited to get back to work, she also acknowledges that she’s returning to it with some new life lessons. Continue reading Hilary Swank on Taking a Break From Acting to Become a Caregiver: ‘Make Sure That You’re Taking Time for Yourself’