Playing a real-life legend is no easy feat, but if done well, the role can be career-defining (Jamie Foxx in Ray, Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line). In Amelia, Hilary Swank has her work cut out for her as iconic aviator Amelia Earhart. But no character has ever gotten the best of Swank, and Amelia’s brazen leading lady is no exception. She talks to Oprah.com about how she channeled the pilot, Oscar® buzz and her next big project.
Rachel Bertsche: Amelia is such an inspirational film, especially for women. What do you think was the most inspiring thing about Amelia Earhart?
Hilary Swank: Hands down, to me, Amelia was a woman who made no apologies for living her life the way she wanted. I find in this life we’re so busy living it the way we think our parents or a significant other want us to live it, and somewhere along the way we lose track of what our life is about for us. To me, she was a great reminder of following your heart, your passion, your dreams, without apologies. I didn’t know all of that about her before. She was ahead of her time in the 1920s and 1930s, but I think that’s something difficult for people to do even today.
RB: How did you prepare for this role? I would imagine that doing a biopic has a different preparation process than a fictional film might. What was your process?
HS: There were 16 minutes of newsreel on Amelia, and I learned that the cadence with which she spoke were really important parts of who she was. When you play a person who really lived, you don’t have a lot of fictional license to play around. I think everyone had a different idea of who Amelia really was, so figuring that out was a big part of the character. Obviously the physicality of it was important—the freckles, cutting my hair off, becoming blonde. The way she carried herself was also very specific, and she was a very humble person. So studying her physically. The other side of it was reading about her. There are copious amounts of literature on her. You could spend years reading.
RB: But that sounds fun. The blonde, the haircut…
HS: Yeah! A great part of my job is getting to switch it up.
RB: I read that [director] Mira Nair thought you were a dead ringer for Amelia. What do you think?
HS: I didn’t at all! I don’t see a similarity much. I have olive skin, dark hair, dark eyes, and she’s light-skinned, freckled and blonde. But that’s part of where my passion lies. In the challenge of painting the character honestly, physically and emotionally.
RB: There’s been a lot of award buzz around your performance in this movie. Do you listen to that or avoid it?
HS: You know, it’s really such an honor to get to be able to live my dream. To me, that’s such a reward, to work with Mira [Nair], Clint [Eastwood], Richard [Gere], Morgan Freeman. It’s quite extraordinary in itself. So when people start mentioning things like an Academy Award, it’s really humbling. To think that your work and doing what you love would generate such a compliment is really something extraordinary.
RB: What’s up next for you?
HS: I play a woman named Betty Anne Waters in another true story about a woman who’s alive now and has become a friend of mine. It’s a love story between siblings and really about how the hardship of your upbringing solidifies the bond between brother and sister. Kenny Waters was accused of murder and went to death row, and Betty Anne was a high school dropout who spent so much of her life studying to become a lawyer to help get her brother off death row.
RB: Wow. So is it just a coincidence that you’re doing true stories in a row, or are you going straight biopics the rest of your career?
HS: [Laughing] I know, isn’t that funny? No a total coincidence. But you know, truth is stranger than fiction.