Million Dollar Baby: Interview with Hilary Swank

Last Night, Hilary won her second Best Actress Oscar for her highly acclaimed performance in Clint Eastwood’s brilliant drama, Million Dollar Baby, which also won Best Picture, Director, and Supporting Actor to Morgan Freeman.

Failing to mention her husband, Chad Lowe, when she won her first Oscar, for “Boys Don’t Cry,” Hilary said in her acceptance speech: Im going to start by thanking my husband because Id like to think I learned from past mistakes. Chad, youre my everything.”

Hilary also thanked her director, Clint Eastwood, her co0star, the amazing Morgan Freeman, her lawyers, and agents. And she didn’t neglect her trainers at Gleason’s Gym: “You pushed me farther than I even thought I could push myself.”

In the interview, Hilary talks candidly about her life, career, and marriage.

Were you surprised to get the lead role

Hilary: When I read the script, it was such an incredible story. It was one of the best scripts Ive ever read. Paul Haggis, who adapted the stories, did an amazing job. I laughed and I cried and I was inspired. Then I was told that Cling Eastwood was directing it, and I just about fell off my chair, because to have both of those things come together is like a dream come true for an actor.

How did you train for the role

I trained like 4-5 hours every day, six days a week, for three months. I was asked to gain 10 pounds of muscles, and I ended up gaining 19 pounds of muscle. But that’s my job as an actor. If Im supposed to play a boxer, Im going to do the best I can to look like a boxer. I was eating 210 grams of protein a day, and that entailed eating every hour. I was drinking egg whites, flax oil, protein shakes. But I only had to do it for three months, and this experience afforded me another opportunity to dive into another life, a boxer’s life, and that’s what I love about my job.

How do you feel about the 19 extra pounds of muscle

The one thing that was strange is I lost a breast size, because I lost so much body fat, but it came back (examines her breasts humorously).

Were you really punching these girls

I didn’t really punch anybody, although that’s the nature of the job. I punched people when I was training, because I was sparring and I was getting hit. There was the occasional hit. I am getting a t-shirt made that says, I got hit by Linda Reiker and survived it.

How did you maintain that regime

In order to maintain that regime, you have to do it every day. I stopped drinking those egg whites and protein shakes, though Im really athletic. I like to work out. I like to exercise. It’s really an integral part of my life because I grew up an athlete. If you looked at my back now, it didn’t look like that before. When I saw that picture, I said to Clint, that’s me.’ And he looked at it and said, Yeah, that’s you. That’s what you were looking on the set.’ I guess it’s surprising, but it’s not, because you realize your body is a machine and your body can adapt and change. I just have a newfound respect for my body.

What kind of identification did you have with Maggie, as a woman who comes from nowhere and wants to become somebody

I feel you have just described me. I am a girl from a trailer park, and here I am, sitting in a room with you and living my dream. Maggie is probably one of the characters I felt closest to, because Maggie grew up in a trailer park and Maggie grew up with not a lot, and she had this dream and she felt so good boxing. Maggie even has a line in the movie, in which she says: I never felt good doing anything else. If I don’t have this, I don’t have anything,’ I have often felt that with acting. So there are many parallels that we had.

The interesting thing is that Maggie wanted Frankie Dunn to be a part of that, and for me as an actress, to work with Clint Eastwood, a living legend and major piece of cinema history, was dream come true. There are a lot of interesting parallels for me, and I am thankful for this experience.

What’s it like for women boxers because there’s a stereotype attached Was it an interesting psychological journey for you

Actually, boxing was not really anything I really understood. Id never thought about it much. I just thought, who would want to get hit and who wants to hit The whole concept eluded me, but when I started training as a boxer, I realized it was so much more than something physical. That’s why, when people say, Do you think women should be boxing my answer is, I think anyone should be able to live their dreams, and if that’s their dream, they should be able to do it.’ Of course, men are physically superior because that’s just their make-up. But that’s why a woman doesn’t box a man. She fights someone in her own weight bracket.

What’s the most surprising thing you learned about boxing

The biggest thing I learned about boxing is that it is such a mental sport. It’s like a great game of chess. I found that more than the physical challenge was the mental challenge. The biggest hindrances for me were the obstacles I made for myself in my mind. If I said, I can’t, then I wasn’t going to be able to.’ I learned through this experience about the power of my own mind, and how it could be a hindrance to me. So I changed that instantly and said, you can do it, girl,’ and I broke through all of the physical, mental, and emotional barriers. It was a great experience, and I have a newfound respect for boxers as well, because what they go through is really nothing short of astonishing.

One of the mot heart-wrenching scenes is when you go back home and present your mother with this incredible gift

The biggest gift I ever got in my life was from my mom. My mom said to me, You could achieve anything as long as you set my mind to it.’ Having my mom believe in me like that just made me feel like there was no obstacle I couldn’t overcome. If I came to a wall, I thought, how high is this wall, and how can I get over it. Maybe I can look for a crack to slide through it, or how do I knock this down.’ Ive been really lucky to have people in my life who see life like that.

“Take It Like a Man,” The original title of “Boys Don’t Cry,” could be applied to your new movie, “Million Dollar Baby” Do you see yourself as a new type of actress who likes to contest Hollywood’s traditional female roles

It’s a very good question. Now I can see the history of the choice I have made. There are two answers to that. First, I do like the idea of having a little piece of changing the way people see women, and that we can be multi-faceted, and you don’t just have to be these pretty things, and there’s strength in being physically strong or living your life the way you want.

On a more personal level, when I started my career, I was really adamant about being taken seriously, about not just being seen as a girl. It’s because of the movies that I watched and the roles that inspired me, which are not necessarily the roles where it’s just the girl on the arm. Eye candy and the girlfriend. Those aren’t inspiring or challenging to me. It was my actual intent to be taken seriously so that I could do roles that pushed me to my limit, challenge me to the extreme, and my passion lies there.

That doesn’t mean that Im going to do that forever. I was 24 when I did “Boys Don’t Cry” and that was young still. I moved to New York when I was 25 and I think hitting my late-twenties, I feel really comfortable as a woman now. I feel really comfortable with my sexuality, and I would like to explore other facets of that. It doesn’t always have to be some radical transformation, like in “Boys Don’t’ Cry” or “Million Dollar Baby,” though that was certainly my intent in the beginning so that I didn’t get typecast. In this business, they can pigeonhole you into some certain box and I just didn’t want to be that. I wanted to be other things. I think Ive achieved that. Well see what the future has in hold for me.

You have said that “Million Dollar Baby” is the best script you have read

When I say that “Million” is the best Ive read, it doesn’t take away from any of the movies I haven’t been in. It doesn’t take away from the strength and importance of “Boys Don’t Cry” or “Insomnia” or “Iron-Jawed Angels,” or other movies Ive done. This is the first script Ive ever done, and Paul Haggis the writer will tell you this too, that we shot his first draft. It wasn’t his second, his third, or fourth. There were no rewrites. It’s really rare to shoot a first draft that doesn’t need any work. Usually, you have to rehearse it and change it, and there are color pages all through the script. Even the producer said it was the first script theyve ever had with all white pages. When you get a script, you usually say, how can we make this better’ But after reading this one, I said, how do I not mess it up. I was afraid I was going to mess it up because it’s so beautifully written, and it’s all there on the page.

Were there discussions about euthanasia What went on on the set

Clint is not a big talker (laughs). But when he does say something, it is either poignant, important, or very funny. Clint tells great stories, but he doesn’t really like to talk about the script. He just said, youre playing a boxer, you need to go train and look like a boxer. That was probably the extent of what we talked about. Clint doesn’t rehearse and he doesn’t over-analyze. He didn’t even choreograph any of the boxing. We just showed up to work and said the lines. It’s an amazing process because it’s not one that Ive ever experienced, yet it was fresh. But it is a Clint movie and I just trusted him and went with that process and it was such a rewarding one.

Do you recall any similar circumstances in your own life, where you had to scrimp and save to attain your dream

I grew up in a trailer park, and grew up with not a lot of money. I have observed a lot from that period of my life, but when my mom and I moved to L.A., we had $75 cash. She was at this crossroads in her life, and we decided to go down, but really didn’t know know what to do. So we just said, let’s go on this adventure.

I was 15-years old, and we lived off our Mobil card. Wed go into the mini marts and get food and charge it to the credit card, and my mom would pay it off $5 or $10 a month. There was about two weeks where we even lived out of our car until we found someone that we knew who lived in Pasadena who let us stay in the house he was selling.

The house was completely empty so we blew up air mattresses and slept there at night, showered there. Then, we put all of our stuff back in the car so that they could try and sell the house during the day. Eventually, my mom got a job and we rented a room from a woman for 500 bucks in Burbank and lived there for about a year. Then, somehow miraculously, I got an agent because my mom made these calls, my daughter’s really talented and beautiful.’ I went in and read a MacDonald’s commercial for my first agents, and they said, Oh, that was pretty good,’ and they signed me.

I was with that agency for five years, and I just started working as an actress. My mom and I moved into a little house together, and then I was 18 and got “The Next Karate Kid,” I moved out and my mom is still living there and working and happy. She would never let me buy her a house. My mom is probably the most courageous woman I know, and she’s so full of strength and likes to take care of herself. She’s a self-made woman, and she instilled a lot of these qualities in me. I am very thankful to her.

What was your first reaction to Clint, the director you described as the man with little words

I can about Clint all day. When I heard that he was interested in me, I about fell off my chair, because Clint has been making movies longer than Ive been alive. Ive grown up watching his movies and have been inspired by this man. So when I first met him, I was really struck speechless, which is pretty hard for me. Clint is actually the first person that ever made me blush. I turned as red as an apple, but then, instantly, I felt really at ease. He just puts you at ease.

It’s interesting because there was also a time when I lived in the Oakwood apartments. A lot of actors have lived there. When I lived at the Oakwood Apartments, Id drive by Warner and Id see all the posters and Id think, Oh, someday I want to work on that lot.’ I drove past Oakwood on my way to meet Clint on the Warner lot, and I just thought Wow, this is amazing.

As I was sitting waiting for him, I was flipping through the script and there’s a line that talks about the power of a dream that nobody sees but you.” And it just brought full circle when I was living in the Oakwood Apartment, when I was living in the car with my mom, and now Im living my dream and the power of that, and I am about to meet Clint. I feel there is a parallel between my relationship with Clint and Maggie’s relationship with Frankie. It is really the same. I feel it’s a dream come true to work with Clint.

How was your work with Morgan Freeman

Morgan is amazing. I have not talked at all about Morgan yet. But Ill tell you, I love him, too, he’s so full of grace. I just feel lucky to have worked with both Clint and Morgan.

What kind of relationship do you have with your husband

Ive been with my husband Chad (Lowe, Rob’s brother) for over 12 years now. I met him when I was not even two months into my eighteenth year. We really have gotten to grow together and experience things together, and we continue to grow together. He’s so supportive of my career. My mother’s supportive of my career. My father’s supportive. But, of course, you run into people who take my really optimistic outlook and think that, whatever they want to think about it. You can’t please everybody. You just try and go through your life doing the best you can. But when it comes down to it, I really love people and I love their stories. I know everyone has a unique story, and that’s why I love acting. I learn about those people and their stories and like to tell their stories.

How did Chad fee about you playing non-traditional female roles

It might have been more challenging thing for him to see me passing as a boy and living my life as a boy, as Brandon Teena, when I did “Boys Don’t Cry.” Chad said that he was inspired by that. He’s really respectful of my work ethic and I am of his. He was just always saying, It is amazing to me that you get up everyday and you go and do that.’ But to me, that’s just my job.

What are the foundations of your marriage

In this business, a lot of relationships don’t work, and I think it’s because one or the other partner is not respectful of the other, and what they need to go through. I am just as respectful of Chad and supportive and inspired by his process, as he is of mine. Im a pretty darn lucky girl because of that. Chad is directing a film now, but there is no role in it for me, unfortunately.

Barbra Streisand said recently that the most important thing in her marriage is kindness. Could you talk about that

Chad and I have been together a long time, and kindness is absolutely important. I think everyone probably has their definition of what makes a relationship work, and for Chad and I, it’s been communication, and part of that communication is kindness and patience and respect. You have to continue growing together and somehow weve just managed to do that through communication. We have always been really open with one another and willing to work and willing to look at things that you don’t always want to look at in order to mend it. We just try keeping that channel open, and I think through all of that is where respect comes in.

I just turned 30 several months ago so Ive almost been with Chad as long as Ive been with my parents, which was a big revelation to me. I feel like we kind of grew up together and it’s nice to have that history with someone, and it’s nice to have that in my life. Chad’s my family and my life and it’s nice to always have that. It just makes you feel secure and safe.