Back in 1981 when two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank was a 7-year-old living in Bellingham, Wash., she got her first kiss. That’s an event, when you speak of romance, that usually ranks as one of the most important in a person’s life.
Not so with Swank.
“Oh, it is important in that it’s something that you have to experience in your life. But I think my first kiss was really yucky. I think it was one of those things where someone else instigated it for us,” Swank says during an interview at the Beverly Hilton hotel to talk about her new romantic comedy “P.S. I Love You.”
Swank, speaking in a juvenile voice, recounts how she was taunted into the kiss by friends.
“Do it! Kiss him! Do it!” Swank says her friends urged.
Swank smiles at the prepubescent silliness of the memory. Most interviews to talk about a new feature film rarely hit such a hot-button topic as a person’s love life. “P.S. I Love You” is different. It is a holding-hands, sharing-a-shoulder, love-the-one-you-are-with kind of movie.
Her character, the ultra-organized Holly Kennedy, has been married to the same man, Gerry (Gerard Butler), for nine years. She knows he’s her perfect mate. She dated only one other person before him.
Then Gerry dies. She shuts down. But the romance lives on as love letters from Gerry mysteriously begin to arrive. Gerry lays out a plan for his widow to find a way to move on with her life.
Swank says her approach to dealing with such life-changing events is a lot different than Holly’s denial.
“I think you have to learn to deal with stuff that happens in your life because it’s going to come back and get you at some point. You can’t run from it. At some point, you’re just going to have to deal with it. I try to deal with it as soon as it happens,” Swank says, her mood slightly more somber. “I’m very much ‘let’s put it on the table and sort it out.’
“If you’re in a fight with someone that you love, whether it be a parent, a child, a significant other, whoever, best friends, work it out before you leave, not holding that grudge, because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. This movie is a beautiful reminder of that. The people that you love dearly, do not take them for granted.”
Swank does think she is like Holly in that the actress has had a plan for her life for as long as she can remember. Those plans had nothing to do with love, marriage or the other parts of daily life. Since age 9, Swank’s plan was to become an actress. And she wanted to find acting jobs that challenged her.
She was only 16 when she began landing small roles on television shows. It was “The Next Karate Kid” in 1994 that established Swank as a film actress. Since then, she went on to win Oscars for her work in “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby.”
The Clint Eastwood-directed “Baby,” a film about a female boxer, was released in 2004. The actress still is in the lean fighting shape she showed off in that production. The belt of her cobalt blue, military-style dress is pulled to the last hole to accommodate a waist that is the size of most men’s forearms. Her arms are thin but defined.
Even with the fighter’s form, Swank eventually gets nervous when a scene requires her to be lightly dressed.
“You know when I’m reading a script, I don’t stop at something like that. I don’t think ‘oh oh.’ I just kind of go with the flow. But, of course, the day before, you’re like ‘tomorrow I’m in my panties and my bra.’ Oh, that’s a weird day at the office,” Swank says, and then she laughs.
She doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about wardrobe before the filming starts. That’s about all she doesn’t worry about. “P.S. I Love You” director Richard LaGravenese (who also directed Swank in “Freedom Writers”) explains how the actress always comes to the set ready to go to work.
“She will take her script and break it down for every scene. She knows every detail of what she wants to do,” LaGravenese says.
Swank, Butler and the director went to great lengths to prepare for the opening sequence of “P.S. I Love You.” In that scene, the couple have an argument that reaches a boiling point, cools down and then gets very heated (but in a good way). They rehearsed the sequence for three days.
“Gerry and Richard and I went into my character’s apartment, and we outlined everywhere we wanted to go and at what time so we could be really quick with it and not waste time on the set rehearsing. We really went in on our weekends and our off times to make sure we got that scene right because it’s such an integral part of the movie,” Swank says.
All of that set the tone for the movie that looks at how a grieving widow deals with love letters from a spouse who dies. Swank is certain that such letters would be more of a blessing than a painful reminder of the lost love.
“What a beautiful gift to give somebody. When he’s going through this huge thing in his life of losing his life, he’s thinking of his wife and of how he can help her move on. It just shows how illuminating love can be when it’s so unconditional like that,” Swank says.
In other words, there is nothing yucky about that.