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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: 6 / 8)

Two Oscars for Best Actress

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  Hilary Swank

How long were you living out of your car and staying in vacant houses?

Hilary Swank: I would say maybe eight weeks altogether.

I remember watching my mom. She had a roll of quarters, and she would just call agents, "My daughter is really great. She's really talented. You should meet her." They'd say, "Great. Well, send a résumé in and a picture." I, of course, didn't have either of those, and finally, my mom found somebody who said, "Okay. Well, yeah. We actually are meeting people, you know, Wednesday. Come in at 2:00." And I went in, and they had me read a McDonald's commercial, and I didn't know what was expected of me when I went in, but I remember reading it. I remember it like it was yesterday, and the woman's name was Bonnie Liedtke, and she said, "Great. That was great. I would love to be your agent," and I remember going out. My mom was sitting in the waiting room, nervous, and I said, "Mom, I have an agent," and Bonnie was my agent up until I became an adult. She worked with children. So, she was my agent for, I guess, five years.

It's certainly an illustration that it may not be easy, but you can do it without all the head shots and résumés and seven years of acting classes.

Hilary Swank: That's right.

I didn't have an Ivy League education. I didn't have a head shot. I didn't have training, formal acting training. I just had my mom who believed in me and who instilled a wonderful work ethic and belief. So I'm really grateful for that. In the years between now and then, I have recognized the importance of learning my craft and wanting to go deeper and never wanting to rest on my laurels and what I've achieved, and I believe that learning is one of the most important things in life. I take classes when I can, not only in acting, but any other thing that I can. I'm learning Italian. I read. Anything that has to do with life is only going to help me as an actor. So, any way that I can travel and learn more, I take that when I can.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

What was the first break after you got to L.A.? Aside from finding an agent, what was your first break?

Hilary Swank: I got a couple of lines on a sitcom, Growing Pains. I think the first time I was on Growing Pains, I pulled a bunny out of a hat and said, "Ta-dah," and that got me my SAG card. Then I was on Evening Shade, and they just kept bringing me back. I had recurring characters on sitcoms.

By then, you and your Mom were living in your own place, I hope.

Hilary Swank Interview Photo
Hilary Swank: My mother got a job, and we rented a room from a single mother, and we lived with her for I think a year, maybe a little more than a year, until I started working too, and my mom and I rented a house together.

Was your dad out of the picture at this point?

Hilary Swank: Yes. My parents were separated at that point, and my father was still in Washington State.

Were you visiting him on any regular basis?

Hilary Swank: No, I was not. I didn't see him during that time.

Did you have a brother?

Hilary Swank: Yes. My brother is eight years older than me. So at the point when my mom and I moved to Los Angeles, he had already been out of the house and was starting his family. My brother and I have never been really close, mostly because when I was younger, he was away at military academy. He was going to school and wasn't really living with us. By the time I was eight, he had already moved out. So it was not like we had a really close sibling relationship as it is, but I have a lot of respect for my brother, as I know he does for me.

Could you tell us about being cast in Beverly Hills, 90210?

Hilary Swank: I was cast on Beverly Hills, 90210 when it was in its eighth season and no one watched it anymore. Yet, I was still very grateful for the job. I never, ever knocked an opportunity to learn my craft. I did a handful -- every single year -- I'd do a pilot. You know, a pilot is something that you get that they make, and they only pick up maybe four of them. They probably make 50 of them. So every year, I was thankful enough to get a pilot. Not all of them obviously got picked up, but then I got on 90210, and I was very grateful for the opportunity to continue to learn, even though it was something that was kind of old news. I signed a two-year contract, which is a very big deal. As a working actor, you have that security. I would say security is not the number one thing that most actors have, 'cause you never know what's going to happen tomorrow. So having a two-year contract was actually wonderful. It gave me the opportunity, like I said, to continue to grown and learn. And about maybe 14 episodes into the first year, I was fired. I remember going in and them saying, "This isn't really working. It's not working." I was devastated. I went home, and I thought, "I'm not good enough for 90210 in the eighth season! What does that say about me?" It's actually one of those great lessons in trusting fate, because about maybe four months later, I got Boys Don't Cry, and I wouldn't have been able to do that, had I not been fired.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

That's a good lesson to learn. But that wasn't your first lead in a feature. Could you tell us a little bit about The Next Karate Kid?

Hilary Swank Interview Photo
Hilary Swank: I was 18 years old when I was cast. It wasn't my first movie. My first movie was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, I started my career in comedy. I was always auditioning for dramatic roles as well, but I was constantly told that I was too funny, I was too "half-hour," I wasn't dramatic enough, which I think is really interesting. The Next Karate Kid was obviously a very big break for me and a wonderful opportunity. I was a huge fan of The Karate Kid, the first one. I was a kid when I saw that and thought, "How wonderful to be a part of this!" Not really much else to say about it, other than I was really happy.

Your athleticism must have come in handy for that role.

Hilary Swank: It certainly did. Some jobs that I've had, I've been thankful for my background in sports.

Did you believe them when they told you, you were too "half-hour"?

Hilary Swank: That's a great question.

There's criticism everywhere, and not all of it's constructive. So you walk a fine line of trying to figure out what is healthy and what's not. If someone says, "Your lips are too big," which I've heard, was that constructive? Is there anything I can do about that? No. If someone says, "We feel you're too half-hour," that's great that that's their opinion and that's why I didn't get that job, but I'm not going to take that upon myself and say, "Okay. Well, then I'm just going to do comedy, and I'm only going to go in for comedy." So it's a fine line of figuring out what do you take in and have to help you grow. It's a business, too. You can't close off and become bitter at things that people say, even though you might not always want to hear it. So I would take some of the things in, and incorporate that into my craft, or to my auditioning, or to whatever it may be. And then other things, I'd have to really say, "Oh, that really stings. That's a real bummer to hear that," but not allow it to close me up, to continue to stay open, and say, "But that's their opinion."

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

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