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Home    Review Archives    Posters    Interview Archives    History of Cranky

No Tears for Hilary
The CrankyCritic.com Interview with Hilary Swank

By Paul Fischer

A professional actress since the age of sixteen, when she moved to Los Angeles from her native Bellingham, Washington, Hilary Swank first appeared onscreen in 1992 in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Two years later, she earned a degree of fame when she was picked to star in The Next Karate Kid, but this fame proved fleeting: she subsequently appeared in a number of minor films and did a yearlong stint on Beverly Hills 90210. In 1999, however, she won both acclaim and recognition for her lead role in Kimberly Peirce's independent drama Boys Don't Cry. Based on the real-life story of Brandon Teena, a woman whose decision to lead her life as a man met with dire consequences, Boys Don't Cry emerged as one of 1999's most lauded films, with particular praise going to Swank for her stunning performance. Married to Chad Lowe, the buzz generated from Swank's work in this film has re-elevated her career. Paul Fischer spoke to the extraordinary actress in Los Angeles about Boys Don't Cry, the true story of a young woman whose decision to pass herself off as a charismatic young boy in a small Southern community, has tragic consequences.

CrankyCritic: If you look at your list of credits, this is not the kind of role that one would have expected from you. One imagines that you would have fought hard for it.
Hilary Swank: A lot of people have said to me "Why did you wait so long to play such a good part?" and it is such an interesting question because its not like we get to choose necessarily. A lot of our fate is left up to other people. There have definitely been scripts that I have read before that I have loved and wanted to be a part of, but this business is such a catch 22. In order to get a great role it seems you've already had to be in a great movie. I was just lucky with this experience, because I was afforded this amazing opportunity; they wanted someone who wasn't famous. They didn't want people to look and say "Oh there's so and so playing a boy". They wanted people to get caught up and lost in the story. So this gave me an amazing experience to have the opportunity to have this meaty role, that I've been waiting for and wanting my whole career.

CrankyCritic: So how much did you observe when you went to play a character like this? Did you go around and observe or how much is your imagination?
Hilary Swank: Most of it is observation and part of it is something I bring to it. All my life I have been a person who's really observed people. A lot of my character emulated from my father.
CrankyCritic: How come?
Hilary Swank: Because he's one of the closest men in my life. So when I look in the mirror I look at what it is about me that looks like him, and there are a lot of similar characteristics. For instance, our ears are the same, so when I got my hair cut short and it was buzzed on the side and my ears kinda stuck out, I then realised that my dad's ears stick out. All the stuff that he does in the mirror, when he looks in the mirror and everything that I did as Brandon, where I looked like this and slicked my hair, were all my father.

CrankyCritic: How did you approach the way you, as Brandon, treated the girls in the film?
Hilary Swank: I think that what I did is tried to understand where Brandon was coming from. To me that was a need to be loved and accepted as well as be able to give that back. In addition, I think that Brandon found somebody that he could give his love to and I think that's what he always wanted to be able to do. All of a sudden he got acceptance and love from this person. I think that girls were attracted to him because he was . you know when you see someone living their dream and living their life the way they want to, the joy they exude? I think that they were attracted to THAT.

CrankyCritic: Yeah, and they could have been attracted to you because you know how to treat a woman.
Hilary Swank: Exactly. Because ultimately at one time or another she was a girl and she knows how she wanted to be treated. So I think that she just gave that right back to the girls.

CrankyCritic: You spent a lot of time passing yourself off as a boy during rehearsals. Could you understand what it was like being a boy going through that?
Hilary Swank: I can't be nave and say that I know exactly what it feels like because obviously even though I was changing my outward appearance to look like a boy I still had the same thoughts and feelings as Hilary. Now whether my thoughts as Hilary were a girl thing, I don't think so; I think it's a HUMAN thing. However, I can definitely say that I got to see what it feels like not to fit into a characteristic mould of a girl or a boy. Some people thought I was a boy and some people didn't. Some people didn't know what I was and if they couldn't figure out what I was they didn't want to have anything to do with me. I got ignored, I got treated disrespectfully, and that is a very sad place to be. I'm an actress, so I can go right back to being Hilary and someone that people can define.

CrankyCritic: Which is the same of the character in some ways, because he/he's in a state of confusion and does not fit in a place in which she is not quite sure of.
Hilary Swank: Absolutely, I mean there was something that was happening in my transformation in my going out on the street as a boy. I was constantly reading people's eyes. What they would believe, what don't they believe, how am I passing? You're constantly looking into people -- almost as a mirror -- like how are they seeing me. That's definitely something that Brandon went through. Nevertheless, for me it was just an acting thing . for her or for him, however you want to say it, its life, or death and that's kind of a scary comment on our society.

CrankyCritic: Do you know anybody or have you been around any transsexuals?
Hilary Swank: I do know some; I have a couple of friends who are transsexuals.
CrankyCritic: Have they had the operation?
Hilary Swank: One was going through the operation. You have to go through the whole life test and I know it's an emotional draining experience. We all question whether we are doing the right things in our life as it is, let alone changing it with appearance.

CrankyCritic: Do you see Boys Don't Cry as a gay-themed film?
Hilary Swank: Absolutely! It's naive to say that it's not a gay film but it's also a lot of other things. What is interesting about it is a huge commentary on our society? I think it is about a hate crime that happened to a gay person or a transgender but ultimately in my connection to it, because I am not gay nor a transgender, my reaction to it was that here's a person struggling throughout a lesson. It's a coming of age story. It's finding yourself. The courage to be yourself and finding love. I think it is more than that but absolutely it does deal with gay issues, and it is nave to say that it's not that at all.

CrankyCritic: How did you deal with your love scenes with Chloe Sevigny?
Hilary Swank: The movie was so emotionally gruelling and physically exhausting. These were the only scenes where you are finding the real joy this person had, that and the transformation. So many people have so many hang-ups about people of the same sex having sex or making love. Ultimately I think that what Chloe and I tried to do is to transcend gender and get an intimate connection between two souls.
CrankyCritic: Did you talk about that?
Hilary Swank: We didn't talk about it -- but that is what I tried to do. I don't know what her motives were. We didn't talk about each other's motives.

CrankyCritic: What was the hardest part for you to play this character?
Hilary Swank: There were a couple of different scenes. The hardest scene to film was the rape scene. The stripping scene was also really hard, as you could imagine. Not only because what it entailed. But to really, really think that this happened to a real human being, like any of us, is almost way too much for me. So I had to disconnect that it happened to somebody.

CrankyCritic: What about research?
Hilary Swank: My research was so extensive. It took four weeks of daily research, I read novels, books, autobiographies on transgender people, gender benders.

CrankyCritic: What was it like to watch yourself?
Hilary Swank: I have seen it a few times now, but it is not like watching myself in any other venue. It's so completely different from me.

CrankyCritic: I believe Fate played a hand in your career.
Hilary Swank: Yeah, my first role was in Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- my character's name was Kimberly. Second role that I did was in the Karate Kid and my last name was Pierce.
CrankyCritic: Wow.
Hilary Swank: My feeling is that there are a lot of signs in people's lives. I believe in signs and listening to your intuition and being quite with yourself. I think that sometimes we can get too crazy and too hooked on outward appearance and to hooked on what we think other people want from us. But when you really listen and you're quite with yourself, you hear these things and see these signs. Believe me, I would have never put it together, but Kim's step mum told me that. I definitely listen to my heart because that makes me much happier as a human being.

CrankyCritic: Where did the actor in you come from?
Hilary Swank: I grew up in Washington State and wanted to be an astronaut for the longest time.
CrankyCritic: Do you enjoy space?
Hilary Swank: Well, yeah, I just think that it is amazing and I think that it makes us realise that when you see a picture of Earth, how small we are and what a small part we really play in this whole thing. That has always been a fascinating thing for me. Just to see what else is out there and to see the whole world in a larger perspective. But I came from a lower class family and my parents never talked about education and college, so having that actually happened was really slim. Not that I actually knew that at the time. What happened was when I was eight-years old our teacher had us write a little skit and we had to get up and read it. Suddenly something just came alive in me and I felt so alive and thought it was so much fun and wanted to do this with my life. I did this at eight-years old and I went home to my mum and said, "I think that I want to be an actress" and she said, "Oh, that's nice honey, go play." So I started doing school theatre, my first role was Mogly in the Jungle Book. I didn't even audition for that role; I wanted to play the Black Panther. Then I started doing theatre in the local town and my mum realised that it was something that I was really interested in and really taking seriously. She came to a crossroad in her life were my father and her were separated and she asked if I wanted to move to California and we did. I was sixteen.

CrankyCritic: How long have you been married?
Hilary Swank: About two years a week ago. He really has been my anchor though all of this. Doing this film, as I've said, has been emotionally draining at times. There were times when I didn't know if I could make it through.
CrankyCritic: How did that feel?
Hilary Swank: I was working eighteen-hour days. It was consistently being someone else, hiding all my natural moves and using totally different facial expressions. As you can see Brandon and I are totally different and this so tiring. Using a different voice, emotionally just thinking about this really happening to someone and really trying to find that emotional truth so that I could do the story justice. Day in and day out, six days a week away from home. I was in Dallas, Texas. It just gets tiring and three weeks thought I felt that I lost every ounce of Hilary. I felt like I was never going to be able to find myself again and that was really scary.

CrankyCritic: How long did it take you to be where you are as an actor? Are you prepared at all, I mean the buzz is on?
Hilary Swank: I am definitely getting a response that I have never had before and I am getting people who are throwing scripts my way. I've been getting offers and things and it's an interesting place I've never been before. You know I started acting professionally when I was sixteen years old and started working right away. I am terribly blessed because there are a lot of actors who don't even have an agent and they're very talented. I started working in television and in movies; I've been going back and forth with both. In addition, like I said . just waiting for a role like this to come along so I could stretch myself as an actress and as a human being.

CrankyCritic: Are there more good roles? It must be difficult for you to find something that will grab you now as much as this one did.
Hilary Swank: Absolutely, but I just keep hoping that there will be something that will challenge me. Probably not as much as playing someone of the opposite sex. I love to transform myself. I would love to play a mentally challenged person or a paraplegic.

 

The Cranky Critic® is a Registered Trademark of, and his website is  Copyright © 1995-2012 by, Chuck Schwartz. All Rights Reserved. Articles and interviews by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All Rights Reserved. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of and ©, ®, their respective studios. Used by permission. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

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