Honor role: Hilary Swank

The oft-awarded actress talks about picking roles and guiding a career.

AWARDS: 2005 Academy Award, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, "Million Dollar Baby"; 2000 Academy Award, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, "Boys Don't Cry"; 2005 Golden Globe, Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture -- Drama, "Million Dollar Baby"; 2000 Golden Globe, Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture -- Drama, "Boys Don't Cry." CURRENT CREDIT: As a widow who starts receiving notes from her late husband, which helps her to rebuild her life, in Warner Bros.' Dec. 21 release "P.S., I Love You." MEMBERSHIPS: Screen Actors Guild. Academy member since 2000.

The Hollywood Reporter: Your personal history is fairly well-known -- at 16, you and your mom relocated to California to help you pursue your acting career. How would your life be different now if you two hadn't made that move?
Hilary Swank: Who knows if (a person changed) one thing in your life where it would bring you? But I tend to think because I wanted to be an actor at such a young age that hopefully I would've ended up where I am today. I love my job. I don't even know if I can actually call it a job (because) when I'm filming movies, it doesn't feel like work. It's a joy and a great passion, and I couldn't imagine my life being any different.

THR: Earlier this year, you worked with director-writer Richard LaGravenese on "Freedom Writers," and you've got another pairing with him for "P.S., I Love You." Was that a conscious decision on your part?
Swank: After "Freedom Writers," "P.S." was the movie I wanted to make next. I love my collaboration with (LaGravenese). One of the things that I love most about this business is the collaborations, and I wanted to do it again immediately. (Those movies) are just so different from each other, which is the fun thing.
   
THR: And though both have elements of drama, "P.S." is somewhat more lighthearted. What's easier for you, drama or comedy?
Swank: You hear a lot of people say comedy is harder, and they both have their challenges. Making them real is the challenge. Comedy comes from a place of reality or you wouldn't laugh. And it's very difficult to find the truth in comedy, so I would say that comedy has a leg up in the difficulty arena.
   
THR: Directors are fairly forthcoming about what they expect from their actors -- how do directors motivate you?
Swank: Making a movie and telling a story is all in the collaboration, and I feel like the director is at the helm of that. It's important when a director knows and understands that everyone works differently and that it shouldn't be a judgmental environment. It should be one in which we can all fall down and our director's there to pick us back up. They really give you that net in which they can catch you.

THR: With "Freedom Writers," you were producing as well as starring -- was it difficult to balance both roles?   
Swank: There are only so many stories that get made in a year and only so many things that I can actually be in as an actor in a year's time, so I started producing to hopefully try to get some of these stories that I love to the screen. "Freedom Writers," was just one of those stories, just like I felt when I read (1999's) "Boys Don't Cry" and (2004's) "Million Dollar Baby" -- I felt this intense pull and connection to what it was about. It's so inspiring, and it's the power of one person and how that person can change someone's life.

THR: Quite a few of your films deal with the themes or issues of social justice. Is that one of the things that draws you to those scripts?
Swank: As a kid, I experienced classism. It was really profound at the ages of 6 and 7 to experience that. We ultimately tell stories that represent parts of us, and telling those stories stems from that part of my past.    
   
THR: Do you find it's a challenge to try to tell an interesting story while also trying to make a point?
Swank: The risk you run is if you're really making a movie to tell a point. I don't think there is a reason to do that. It's more about letting the story unfold in a way that you get all of that in. Telling the story of these freedom writers, for instance, is not to say, "Look at the point of the injustice within school systems." Although that is a part of it, it's really about the power to overcome oppression and how everyone has to do that at some point in their life. And then there's the entertaining parts of how do these people go about doing that.
   
THR: From whom have you taken advice about your career?   
Swank: There are times when I wish I had more mentors. I have an agent and a manager and a lawyer who have all been in the business for a long time and worked with wonderful people. They give me great advice, but I think in the end I've really relied on my own instinct. ... The executives at Alcon Entertainment, where I have my first-look deal, have been wonderful, and I would call them my mentors. Even Richard LaGravenese has become a very, very dear friend of mine.
   
THR: How did winning your first Oscar change your life?   
Swank: It was such a wonderful surprise. I would say what changed is that I started to get more opportunities to do what I love, but they weren't necessarily all the opportunities that I thought I was going to get. Clint (Eastwood) will say the same thing: (Winning an Oscar) doesn't secure anything, and you still have to go out and fight for those things that you believe in and that you love and that you want to be behind.
   
THR: You've already produced, and increasingly more actors are going behind the camera. Do you really just want to direct?   
Swank: I don't know if my passion lies there. Maybe that'll change. Right now, I love reading -- I don't look at a script from a different point of view other than, "How can I tell this story as honestly as possible through this character?" Maybe someday we'll be having a different conversation.
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