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If you like Hilary Swank's story, you might also like:
Julie Andrews,
Carol Burnett,
Olivia de Havilland,
Whoopi Goldberg,
Ron Howard,
Jeremy Irons,
James Earl Jones,
Naomi Judd,
Sidney Poitier
and Barry Scheck

Hilary Swank can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Hilary Swank's recommended reading: To Kill a Mockingbird

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Hilary Swank
Hilary Swank
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Hilary Swank Interview (page: 2 / 8)

Two Oscars for Best Actress

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  Hilary Swank

Let's talk about your next Oscar-winning role. What drew you to the role of Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby?

Hilary Swank: There are, I would say, one in 50 scripts that you read -- only -- that blow your mind, that are riveting and get under your skin in a really profound way. Million Dollar Baby was one of them. It was sent to me by the producers at Lake Shore, who I had done The Gift with, and I knew nothing about it. I just knew the title, and I thought -- I didn't know if it was about a prostitute or -- I had no idea what it was about. Million Dollar Baby was the name. I just thought -- no idea. And I sat down and I read it, and it was such a page-turner, and it moved me so much. I think probably because, if I had to say, of all the characters I played, it was the one that was most similar to me and my story. It was like it was in my marrow. It was visceral. I just sat there and looked at it, and I was so moved, and I just knew that I had to be a part of it.

And then...

I got to meet with Clint Eastwood, and at the time, I weighed 108 pounds. I have small bones, I'm little, and I just thought, "Oh, I hope he sees me as a boxer." They sent me the script. Yet, Clint needed to approve me; he could have anyone he wanted. I went in and I sat down with him. People, to this day, say, "How did you get it? How did it work out?" He says that he knew my work ethic, and he knew of my sports background, and by the end of our meeting, he looked at me and he said, "Well, you better start training." So I started. I went back to New York, and the following week, I started my training.

Perhaps it's a function of where he is in his career that he has so much confidence. He didn't agonize about it. He didn't wonder if there were 17 other great actresses he could have hired.

Hilary Swank: I have so much respect for him, and I get really emotional because he's such an anomaly. He has so much confidence, but he has no ego. He trusts his instincts. At the time when I met him, he was 74. He's been doing it for so long. Yet, there are a lot of people who have been doing it that long and still don't really trust their instinct.

The one thing that I learned from Clint, of the many things I learned from Clint, is to always trust your instinct, and don't think about it too much. Clint is well known for only doing one to two takes. He says that because he feels like he gets the people who are right for the role and the job, his whole crew as well, and he allows them to do it. He says he just gets out of the way, and he believes that people know when they're working on all eight cylinders and that your first instinct is the right instinct if you've done your homework.

It's almost a Zen quality you're describing of someone at peace with his own decision-making process. Even some very prominent directors want many, many takes. They don't know how to cover what they want.

Hilary Swank Interview Photo
Hilary Swank: Absolutely. Our longest day was 12 hours, and that was a company move. Just to give you an understanding of how amazing that is, I would say a normal workday for me is 15 to 18 hours. That's normal, and you don't think twice about that. He never questioned it. Some people would ask questions, and he'd say, "You're thinking too much. We got it." Wonderful instincts. It's a talent, but it's also a confidence and an understanding of film. Time is money, especially in the film business, and we came in under budget, under schedule. It's very rare when that happens, and it's a boxing movie, where anything could have happened. We could have gone over because of the fight scenes, but that's Clint, and you hear it over and over and over from everyone who has worked with him. That's Clint.

How long did you have to train to put on all that muscle?

Hilary Swank: Every job that I get is an opportunity to learn more about myself and grow as a human being. This was, hands down, the most challenging thing I have ever asked myself to do physically. I started at 108 pounds, and I ended up getting to 129, so I put on at least 19 pounds of muscle, with the help of some wonderful people who, again, believed in me.

How long did that take?

Hilary Swank: Two months.

I trained for five hours a day, two-and-a-half hours in boxing, and then -- it was between four and five hours a day -- two-and-a-half hours of boxing every day, six days a week, and an hour and a half of weight training, to two hours. I needed to eat 210 grams of protein a day, and your body can't assimilate a lot of protein, so I had to eat every hour and a half, and I was a vegetarian. I ate fish at that time, but I didn't eat red meat or anything that could help me. So a lot of my diet was egg whites. I had to eat 60 egg whites in a day. I don't know if you've ever even tried to eat five egg whites. It's fine and everything, but I just couldn't eat that many. So I would just drink them. I would drink flax oil. I would drink protein shakes, but I also needed a lot of sleep at night because my body was going through this change, but I couldn't go to sleep without waking up and eating. So I would wake up, and I would drink my protein shakes, too.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

Hilary Swank Interview Photo
Would you set an alarm?

Hilary Swank: Yeah, or I would just wake up. I had shakes by my bed, and I'd shake them and I'd drink one and go back to sleep.

Was there a trainer or somebody who determined 19 pounds of muscle is what you needed?

Hilary Swank: No. I was actually going for ten pounds. Ten pounds of muscle was my goal, and when I got to that weight, I just didn't feel like it was enough. No one was saying, "You need more or less." It just didn't look right yet to me to make this believable. The wonderful Lucia Rijker, who I was boxing at the end of the movie, she fights at 158, but she came down to 148 for the film to help balance it out, and I just thought, "Right now, it's just not going to work. It's just not going to be believable." So I just continued on that regimen and eventually put on the extra muscle.

That preparation for me was so important in who I am today, because if I woke up in the morning, I ached everywhere. Everything. I just thought, "I'm so tired right now, and I can't go. I can't train today, I can't." And with that attitude, I wasn't growing. With that attitude, I was staying where I was, and I realized that the biggest obstacle was my mind. It was the biggest obstacle, and if I could get out of the way of myself, I would grow. So every time I had that attitude, I changed it, and I'd say, "You can. Today you can, and take it one day at a time, and today, I'm going to get up and I'm not going to think about the other six days of this week. I'm going to get up right now, and I'm going to go to the gym, and I'm going to learn about my boxing, and I'm going to be in the moment." You know, in anything, you hit a wall, and then you have to break through it, and I just had to get out of my own way.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Was there any moment when you thought this is too much? "I can't do this for a role."

Hilary Swank: No. I never thought I can't do this for a role. I just wondered if I was going to be able to actually do it, to make it believable, to go the distance for this role. Am I going to be at the place that I need to be on the date that we have to start filming?

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This page last revised on May 05, 2008 13:17 EST
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