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Hollywood still favors men over women to an astonishing degree, Hilary Swank told a gathering of students Nov. 12.
“My male counterpart will get paid 10 times more than me — 10 times,” she said, speaking at the Loyola Marymount University School of Film & TV. “Not double, but 10 times for the same job. We only have this much left for the female actress. I mean, there’s two genders on this Earth. Both are compelling, interesting, diverse, wonderful in all their own separate ways. And yet there’s an influx of male roles and there’s just not for women.”
The two-time Academy Award-winning actress (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby) also spoke about her new Western drama, The Homesman, in which she co-stars opposite Tommy Lee Jones, who also directs. (The movie opened Nov. 14 in limited release.) She plays Mary Bee Cuddy, a pioneer charged with transporting three mentally ill women from Nebraska to Iowa.
“This is a feminist movie,” she said. “It’s about the objectification and trivialization of women and it takes place in the mid-1800s. But us women know exactly what that feels like right now in 2014 — talking about gay, lesbian, transgender issues and how far they’ve come … yet how far we still need to go. How great that Tommy Lee Jones, this person that people see as this rough man, is at the helm of telling this feminist story.”
While lamenting the lack of solid roles for women, she also explained her resistance to television — despite the fact that she is one of the most sought-after actresses for series TV each new season.
“As a performer, I don’t like to play the same thing over and over,” she said. “I like to play it and let it go and move on. That’s also why television hasn’t really been something that I’ve done, either. The idea of playing a character for even two years, to me feels claustrophobic — only because I want to play a lot of different people.”
But Swank says she may soon be seen onstage. “I actually am, funnily enough. This one is new. It’s incredible. It’s really a gem.” She declined to name the play.
Swank also spoke about two of her key roles, in 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry and 2004’s Million Dollar Baby.
“I felt like I got shot out of a cannon during that movie,” she said of her groundbreaking role as a transgender teen in Boy’s Don’t Cry, for which she got paid only $75 a day. She later became a spokeswoman for the gay, lesbian, transgender and questioning youth in New York City, an experience that changed her perspective on the progress being made in the LGBT community.
“It opened up the topic for a big discussion,” she said. “And in talking to these kids, 100 percent of them were either abused physically or heckled emotionally every day of their lives [for] their sexuality. There’s still a long road to walk. These stories are happening all the time, still to this day.”
As for Million Dollar Baby, she cited the training for that film as the hardest thing she has ever done. “I started working out five hours a day — I had to eat 210 grams of protein a day,” she said. “I don’t know if you guys are aware of intake of protein. … I had to eat 60 egg whites in a day and I couldn’t. So every morning I would drink them. I had to eat every hour and a half. So in the night, I had to wake up and drink protein shakes. I put on 23 pounds of muscle.”
Swank was the final guest in the second season of the interview series The Hollywood Masters, moderated by The Hollywood Reporter‘s executive features editor Stephen Galloway in partnership with Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and Television. Other guests this season have included Charles Roven, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Mann, Hans Zimmer and James L. Brooks.
A full transcript follows:
GALLOWAY: Hi, everyone. I’m Stephen Galloway and welcome to The Hollywood Masters Films on the campus of Loyola Marymount University. Our guest today is one of my favorite actresses, whose had an astonishing career, whose life has been as fascinating as her career, whose made films from Boys Don’t Cry to Million Dollar Baby to P.S. I Love You to Freedom Writers. And who has a very, very good new film, The Homesman, which she’ll talk. I’m really delighted to welcome the two-time Academy Award winning actress, Hilary Swank.
SWANK: Thank you. Thank you.
SWANK: Hello. Thank you so much and I’m sorry I’m late. My power went out in my house. I’m not kidding. I know it sounds funny, right? In Los Angeles, modern-day times, but my power went out, so, yeah.
GALLOWAY: Have you ever been late for a shoot?
SWANK: Rarely. Rarely. Even when I have the flu. I take being prompt very seriously, but yeah, the power went out and my gate are electric. So, I scaled them in this. My next job is spider-woman.
GALLOWAY: You were born in Nebraska, but grew up in Washington.
SWANK: That’s correct.
How did you imagine your life then? Did you think of acting?
SWANK: Think about acting? Yes, I actually at eight years old had a teacher, who had us write a skit and perform it in front of the class. And I remember doing this and coming alive and just feeling such a great happiness. Now, I didn’t know at the time that would be what you’ve found your calling, but I just knew it was something that I really enjoyed. And my teacher wrote in the report card to my mom, I think, “Hilary has a talent and I think you should really support it.” And so, I auditioned for the school play that year, The Jungle Book.
GALLOWAY: And who did you play?
SWANK: Mowgli. It was a precursor, the man-cub. Although, I auditioned for Baloo, but they said… They took me aside. I think the librarian was also the drama teacher and he said, “Would you consider the role of Mowgli?” And I said, “Well, that’s a boy. I’m going to have to think about that.” And like, my voice actually… I’ve lost my voice now, but this is very much what my voice sounded like when I was a young girl. And then, I came back the next day after some contemplation and said, “Well, yes. I would be very interested in this role.” So, I was Mowgli the man-cub. My first role.
GALLOWAY: I heard that The Miracle Worker really influenced you.
SWANK: The Miracle Worker was very influential. I think the first few movies I remember seeing that made a huge impact on me, and I know this sounds strange ’cause I was so young, but was The Miracle Worker, which isn’t strange, but The Elephant Man and obviously, The Wizard of Oz. Just all movies, I think, that deal with outsiders, people who want a place to belong and I related to that, especially at that age.
SWANK: I think we’ve all felt, at moments, like an outsider and for me, it was when I was young and I feel like there were moments when, I didn’t know at the time, but I was in the middle of classism. Where I grew up and some of the friends that I’d be playing with didn’t want… Their parents didn’t want me playing with their kids and I just… I don’t know. They’d send me home when everyone…was time for dinner and everyone, all the other kids, could stay. Stuff like that and I just felt like, “Where do I belong? And where’s my place?” And so, I found connection in movies, characters in movies and books. We had a bookmobile that used to come by and I’d get my book…my books and just dive in and I felt like they were my friends. These characters were feeling things that I was feeling, so I could relate to them and I found kind of a kinship to these characters.
GALLOWAY: Which books in particular?
SWANK: I remember really loving The Secret Garden, that was one of them. That was very similar to some feelings that I was going through and I really like the Ramona books. Yeah, yeah.
GALLOWAY: They’re very well-read.
SWANK: They are. But, I don’t remember a whole…
GALLOWAY: Why did they not want you to play with the other kids?
SWANK: I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, it’s crazy to me to think an adult would ever be like that and when I was in my 30s, I was starting to think, I was like, “This is the age they were when they said no, you have to go.” I don’t know. But, they’re the same parents, by the way, when I go home will say…
GALLOWAY: Please come and play with my kids.
SWANK: Pretty much. “Oh, we’re so proud and we always knew.” And I’m like, “You did? Really?”
GALLOWAY: You moved into a trailer park when you were six or seven.
SWANK: Yeah, eight or…
GALLOWAY: How did that shape you?
SWANK: You know what? It was wonderful, for me. There was nothing that I looked at as being negative, at all, for me. I had a roof over my head. I had food. I, you know… You don’t look at things like that. And it wasn’t until people put negative connotations on it that it was something that became a negative. Actually, one of my childhood friends is here right now. Yeah, he’s right there and I’ve known him… My dad’s here, too. So, he can…
GALLOWAY: Friend and dad, do you remember any of this? Well, they’re not answering.
SWANK: Well, they don’t have a mic. The trailer park was by a lake and were awesome. They totally took me under their wing and I’d hang out with them quite often and his dad taught me how to snow-ski and water ski. And so, they weren’t a part of that, at all.
GALLOWAY: What did your parents do?
SWANK: My dad was in the…in the Air Guard and my mom was a secretary for Chris’ father.
GALLOWAY: Who encouraged you to move into acting?
SWANK: Well, it was really my mom. She encouraged it just because I think my mom had a dream, at one time, to be a dancer and she never really saw her dreams through and she, as many women do, you know, she was a mom and she didn’t really… She kind of gave up her ideas of what was best for her in order to be a mom and she’s been an executive secretary, literally, since I was born until this day. She still has the same job and I think she really wanted me to see my dreams realized because it was something she wasn’t able to do. So, she was a huge, huge driving force in having that belief in me and telling me that I could do anything in life, as long as I worked hard enough. And that is such a great gift to give a child because you don’t think any other way. You think, “OK, I want to be an actor. How do I do it?” And she supported it every step of the way, from helping me get my first agent to coming down to Los Angeles. And…
GALLOWAY: Before you were a swimmer and a gymnast.
GALLOWAY: Why did those appeal to you?
SWANK: Well, I think that swimming actually was… I learned how to swim at a very young age, but it was almost like it was my babysitter because it was… I went to the YMCA after school and they had swim lessons and so I started swimming there. And it was inexpensive. It was like $20 dollars a month and so I think it… That kind of just was the easy way of having me have an activity and then I loved it. I love sports, in general and so I just started excelling and working really hard at it and eventually I was doing it before school. I was doing it after school and then I went onto compete in the Junior Olympics.
GALLOWAY: Were you a competitive person?
SWANK: Yes, and I still am a competitive person with myself. I always find new goals to achieve, new challenges to breakthrough, and I try and do something new every day. And I’m highly competitive with myself.
GALLOWAY: But, not with others?
SWANK: I mean, in a healthy way, yeah. I like I’m obsessed right now with tennis and I play upwards of 10 hours a week. I’m obsessed with…
GALLOWAY: I thought were going to say day.
SWANK: A day? No, that would be absurdly obsessive. If I only had enough time in a day to do that, I probably would. But, I really enjoy playing with someone else and whether it’s chess or tennis or games, I love card games. I love that, but I think there’s something so important to gain from winning and losing and learning how to lose and how you can be better from that. So for instance, when I was a swimmer and I would lose a heat in something I was doing whether it backstroke or breaststroke, were two of my most strongest strokes, I would look at how whoever it was that won and beat me and think, “What did they do? What were… What were the qualities that they had that I can incorporate into my swimming to make me better?” So, I didn’t look at it like, “Oh.” I just thought, “Wow. That was great and how’d you do that?” So, that’s how I kind of look at competition.
GALLOWAY: Have you done roles where you feel you didn’t succeed and did you learn from them?
SWANK: Yes, most of it was really in the very… I mean, look there’s performances even in Million Dollar Baby and Boys Don’t Cry, there’s parts in it when I go, “Oh, I would’ve done that differently.” You know, that’s just… I wish I could go back and do that again because when you’re making a movie, it’s in pixels and it’s not until you’re done that you get to see the whole picture. So and then, it’s too late. You can’t go back, so yes, there’s always times when I see where I can improve. And to answer your question about getting a role and not getting a role, of course, I’ve lost out roles to other actresses. And of course, they’ve lost out roles to me and that’s just a part of life, but I’ve come to a place now where I’m so trusting that opportunities will come. I’m not scared anymore like, “Am I never going to work again?” But, that doesn’t mean that I ever rest on my laurels and sit back and wait for an opportunity to come to me. And The Homesman is actually an example of that, which we can get to later, but, you know, I’m always reading scripts. I’m always looking for opportunities, even when they’re not offered to me. I will have no hesitation to pick up the phone and call a director or call a writer or if there’s someone that I just wan to work with in the future, I set a general meeting and I say, “I’m a really big fan. I want to meet you. I’d love to collaborate with you someday and hopefully you’ll remember that for the next time you have something that I could be right for.” And then, having said that, I just think with opening movies and having people, you know… The whole campaign of an Oscar or whatever, there’s the performances of the other women around me are so extraordinary. And I admire them and I don’t feel like… I think there’s… Even though there’s few roles for women, there’s still enough to go around.
GALLOWAY: Growing up, who did you most admire?
SWANK: Growing up, who did I most admire? That’s a good question. I think probably just people around me doing similar things like I was doing, whether it was a gymnast who was really good or a swimmer who was really good or…
GALLOWAY: Was there an actor or actress?
SWANK: Well, it’s cliché, but everyone’s going to say Meryl Streep.
GALLOWAY: Have you met her?
SWANK: Yes, I did. I’ve met her.
GALLOWAY: What was that like?
SWANK: So extraordinary. I met her actually during Boys Don’t Cry because we were nominated together and we would see each other at a few events. And she was humble and so gracious and so supportive of my performance in the movie and I think that that was, I mean, I felt like I got shot out of a cannon during that movie. I felt like it was the little movie that could. No one knew if anyone was ever going to see it. It was made for $1.7 million dollars and that then all of a sudden, I’m nominated for Academy Award with Meryl Streep. I was… I just…
GALLOWAY: I heard you got paid $75 dollar a day.
SWANK: Yeah, I made $3,000 dollars. I had an Academy Award and had no health insurance because at that time, you needed to make $5,000 dollars a year to have health insurance. Now, it’s $7,500 dollars, so that SAG will… Your union dues. It’s just part of your union, so yeah. I went into… I was sick and I went into get a prescription filled and they were like, “That’s like, $260 dollars or something.” I said, “Oh, I’m feeling better all of a sudden.” [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: You have an older brother?
SWANK: He was… He’s eight years older, so he was well out of the house, already on his…
GALLOWAY: What does he do?
SWANK: My brother, he works in the communications business. He has his own business working with like, AT&T and Verizon, all of them, putting up cell towers, but he’s really a great musician, too. He’s really creatively inclined, as well.
GALLOWAY: So, you come to Los Angeles knowing nobody?
GALLOWAY: How long were you living in your car?
SWANK: We lived out of our car for maybe three weeks. Not a whole long time. Not a whole long time.
GALLOWAY: Was it a nice car?
SWANK: Yeah, I mean, it was… It was… My aunt had kind of loaned it to my mom. It was an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. You know what that is.
GALLOWAY: Did you drop out of school?
SWANK: No, I actually… My mom was… She said, you know, “I understand you, we’re going to do this for you, but you need to get your high school equivalency or your GED.” And I ended up getting both and it was interesting ’cause I finished my sophomore year of school. And when I went in and got…did this testing, it’s like a six hour test or something, it says, “Yes, you’ve learned all that you should had you completed high school.” And I thought, “Geez, that was two years of my life just saved.” [LAUGHTER] ‘Cause I love education. I love school. Don’t let me… Don’t let me get you wrong. It’s super important and I’m learning all the time, whether it’s a language or just in my travels around the world. But, I found high school just… At that age, learning was particularly hard because it was more like you were learning about people rather than anything in a book because it’s challenging.
GALLOWAY: What subject most interests you?
SWANK: I liked English and I liked physical ed. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: So, your mom is standing by a phone box, putting quarters in…
SWANK: Yes, a roll of quarters, before cell phones, calling agents that… She got a book of agents at the Samuel Goldwyn Bookstore and she’d put quarters in and just say, “Hi, my name’s Judy Swank. My daughter and I just moved here. She’s, you know, talented. I think she’s beautiful and would you meet her?” [LAUGHTER] So, great. I mean, is that not a great story? I mean, talk about… People wonder where I get my optimism and no, and most of them would be like, “Oh, we don’t do that. You send in a picture and a resume.” Well, I mean, I think I had a picture, but I didn’t certainly have a resume and then eventually, one day my mom called, it was… The agency was called Harry Gold, at the time, and they said, “Oh, yeah. We’re meeting new talent. We have a, you know, a big cold reading thing Wednesday, so come in at four.” That wasn’t the exact time, but I don’t know the day and I remember going in and they gave me something to read and when I was done… Her name was Bonnie Liedtke, yeah, who like, signed Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio and just a bunch of talent. We’re all from the same generation and she signed me and I walked out, my mom was sitting in the waiting room and I said, “I have an agent.” And we went, “Whoo.”
GALLOWAY: And your first job was on Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
SWANK: Yes, well, I did a lot of TV before that. I would do… I was like, doing half hour sitcom pilots up until then, but yes, my first movie was Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
GALLOWAY: And then you were on Beverly Hills 90210 and they didn’t renew you.
SWANK: And they didn’t renew me. Well, what happened was I signed two years onto Beverly Hills 90210 in the eighth year when no one was watching anymore. I was so excited about it just because I thought, “Wow, I got a real full-time job. This is a big deal.” And, you know, the days of Luke Perry were long gone. You guys are so young. I don’t even know if you ever… even know what I’m talking about. You were like, three. [LAUGHTER] And…
GALLOWAY: They’ve all had plastic surgery.
SWANK: [LAUGHTER] It is L.A. [LAUGHTER] So, we…
GALLOWAY: They like to read about Botox.
SWANK: [LAUGHTER] They’re like, “What?” So, let’s see. So, I remember being called into the office, Aaron Spelling’s office and they… like 13 episodes into my first year. And they said, “We’re going to let you go. You know, this just isn’t working.” And I was devastated. I was devastated because no one was watching it anymore. It was the eighth season and I thought, “I’m not good enough for this show.” Like, you know, I was devastating for me and I was really upset by it and then two months later I got Boys Don’t Cry. So, I wouldn’t have been able to do Boys Don’t Cry had I been on the show. It’s such an important reminder that there’s really… There’s just… There’s no negatives. You just have to trust that what’s happening in your life is unfolding in exactly the right way.
GALLOWAY: Do you believe that?
SWANK: I do. No, I think it’s how you choose to look at it. It’s only negative if you make it a negative. It’s how I believe. I think we have a choice every single day in how we want to a live our life. You wake up and you make your choice of what you want to do with your day that’s going to help you achieve your dream. And you either go after it or you don’t and if something like that happens, you say, “What am I supposed to learn from it?” Learn from it, pick yourself back up, and go back at it. I have to say, I think when you get to a… I believe that the definition of luck is when preparation meets with opportunity. You’ve probably have heard that before, but all of those moments when I was knocked down brought me to a place where I was ready when that moment happened. To me, it’s as simple as that. It’s an alignment.
GALLOWAY: Let’s watch a clip.
SWANK: Okay. I’m like, “Are you guys going to perform it for me?” [CLIP]
GALLOWAY: What was the first meeting like with Kimberly Peirce?
SWANK: You know, I was just kind of scratching the surface of what I wanted to do with the character. My hair was to here, it was super long but I had it all tucked up under my hat and I had on a pair of now my ex-husband’s pants and one of his shirts and I flew to New York to meet her and she virtually had me read almost the whole script and at the end she said I want you to take your hat off and I said no. ‘Cause I didn’t want her to see me with my long hair and she was like, you know, I want you to take your hat off. I wouldn’t take my hat off. Anyway it was great. It was a great work session that we had.
GALLOWAY: Why did you want to play that character?
SWANK: Because it was for me, I mean at the time I didn’t know it was going to be such a catalyst for a bigger talk about gay, lesbian, transgendered people. I didn’t see it as that. To me it transcended gender and it was about love, and about giving love and receiving love. But it was such an enormous challenge, I don’t know if there-I think transcending class is really challenging, but passing as a boy, I mean, I don’t know if there’s a bigger challenge.
GALLOWAY: Why is transcending class challenging?
SWANK: Well, I just think the way we carry ourselves, the way we talk, the way it’s in your bones, it’s in your marrow and I think that when you see people, I just think it’s a hard thing in my opinion to portray someone of different class ’cause it’s not just about clothes, it’s just an upbringing. It’s just a way of seeing the world and living in the world.
GALLOWAY: And did you find that with this character?
SWANK: With, well…
GALLOWAY: The class issue was as big as the gender issue.
SWANK: No, ’cause it was the same kind of class background, so there wasn’t that but for me the physicality of it was completely different then I carry myself. There wasn’t really a piece of me in how I carry myself as that character. Actually a lot of it was emulating my dad who again is sitting right here and when he looked in the mirror and I would just watch him. And then my voice came from-’cause there was no dialect coach. There was no money for anything like that. There was no money to have someone help me tonality at all as well and so I had my cousin Billy who lives in Iowa record his voice reading the newspaper and just tried to bring that quality into the lines.
GALLOWAY: I heard you went around as a man for a month to prepare for this.
GALLOWAY: How did you pull that off?
SWANK: Well, I knew that if I went onto the set and people, they were saying the lines, that they believed me, but I didn’t know if it really meant that I was passing believably or not so I went out every single day in my daily life trying to pass as a boy, and even it got to the point-I got the role when I went to New York and I auditioned, and I cut my hair off there and I started passing immediately, trying to pass as a boy, and I got home and my neighbor thought that I was my cousin from Iowa visiting. And I would just walk around and I’d see, like when I’d go to a restaurant and order food when someone would say hey, she ordered a coke, can you help her? Or he ordered and it was such an incredible moment when someone would say can you help him? I thought what did I do just now? So, I was constantly in a state of observing myself and observing how other people saw me to see what would work and what didn’t and then carry that and hold onto whatever that quality was as I went into filming the movie.
GALLOWAY: Did people treat you differently as a man?
SWANK: Well, yes. But it wasn’t like I was a man either. I looked very much I think like a boy, so it wasn’t like I got some type of-it was interesting to walk in those shoes because you get to see a little bit what it’s like for a different gender and I got to see how much I actually used my gender to get what I wanted. It’s fascinating ’cause you don’t really recognize what you do in the things that we put on.
GALLOWAY: And what are the things you do?
SWANK: Well, just you know, when I walk into a restaurant, I see there’s a long line and you know, and you’re like hi. How are you? You know, you’re not going to do that as a man, right? Or maybe you are, I don’t know, but it may be a little less head shrug. But it’s just those things that we use as women, and our difference in genders and how we use that, but I think what I found to be the most really challenging and harrowing really is the fact that when people couldn’t decide whether I was a boy or a girl, they didn’t know what I was, they weren’t nice. And to think the amount of respect that I got when people could define that I was a girl, and they were comfortable with that. But when I made them feel uncomfortable and somehow that threatened their idea of how they saw the world, they weren’t very nice. They were actually rude and sometimes mean, and maybe even hurtful. And I thought it’s really hard because I know I could go back to being a person that people could define but how about all those people that are living that every day? And that’s their life? They’re not going to go back to being something, somebody that people can define. And to this day, 15 years later it’s still emblazoned in my heart. And actually tonight I’m getting an award at the Outfest awards for being a trailblazer because of this movie and how it opened up the topic for a big discussion and it’s just so beautiful when art can do that. And, yes, this was a true story so, ultimately this story was told at the same time Matthew Shepherd was beaten and killed, yet these stories are happening all the time, still to this day. I became the spokesperson for the gay, lesbian, transgendered and questioning youth in New York City for 10 years after I did this movie, and I’d go and I’d talk to these youth quite often. It was an organization that gave these kids a safe place to go after school. And in talking to them, all of them 100 percent of them were either abused physically or heckled emotionally every day of their lives, in New York City. So, just for the sake of loving someone of the same gender or being confused about their sexuality.
GALLOWAY: Do you think things have improved since then?
SWANK: I do, but like anything there’s still a long road to walk.
GALLOWAY: When you did this what research did you do?
SWANK: The only thing that I had was photographs of her, him. ‘Cause she never really got to define what she was. Whether she was a lesbian living her life passing as a boy because it wasn’t accepted in her society, where she lived. Or whether she really wanted top eventually get a sex change. So, we tried not to define what that was and just went by the words that we actually have. We have her, him, on tape saying to the police who interviewed her after she’s been brutally raped saying I have a sexual identity crisis. So, I had about three minutes of her, him being recorded-
GALLOWAY: So that part in the film is based on her real life?
SWANK: Yeah, recordings of the kind of interrogation that-and I mean it was quite an interrogation. It depicted exactly as real life. And so I had that bit of the voice and photographs.
GALLOWAY: Did finding the right voice help you as an actress?
SWANK: Absolutely. I find that there’s two things — well, there’s three things for me that I really find. One is where does the character carry herself from, or in that case himself. And we all carry ourselves differently. And one of my favorite things is to observe people and I remember my mom saying when I was a kid, stop staring, SWANK. I just was fascinated by people. I watched them eat, how many times they chewed before they swallowed, or they didn’t chew. How did they swallow all that without chewing and how they would walk and what their nervous ticks were and I find it fascinating and there’s an endless, boundless amount of information like that, that you can bring to characters, and finding those mannerisms to me is super fun. All of that homework, I like a minimum of four weeks’ preparation and where the character walks from. So, you know, some people walk slumped and I’d say they kind of walk from the top of their head, and some people walk with their heart, and their heart is straight out and I like finding that. And so, the character’s shoes are a big, important thing to me. I find my shoes with collaborating with my wardrobe designer, and I wear my shoes and I walk around in them and hopefully my costumes if I can and get a sense of where the character walks from. So, there’s that and yes, the tonality too, a quality of how a person speaks and do they speed up a little bit every now and then or do they drop down to their-you know, how to they take a big breather before they talk? Whatever it is, I mean it’s endless the amount of choices. So, tonality, where you carry your body, and did I say there was a third one? Shoes, thank you.
GALLOWAY: Where do you carry your body in your life?
SWANK: I think with my heart. I think I lead with my heart. Everyone always is like, you have really good posture.
GALLOWAY: I noticed that.
GALLOWAY: Yes, do you work with an acting coach?
SWANK: I work with-I never studied which is really a con because a lot of my early work, you can see just how my-I learned from watching myself. So, there’s a lot of bad stuff that is out there that I started in, to try and figure it out. And I never knocked an opportunity. I took every single role that I was given to try and learn my craft. And then I started working actually with Larry Moss right around-actually it might have been probably Boys Don’t Cry. I thought this is an opportunity that I can’t fail in. Not for me really as an artists but because I didn’t want to let’ this person down. This person who had lived. It was a huge, enormous responsibility to play this real life character. It was the first time I’d done any type of playing someone who had lived before so I didn’t take the responsibility lightly and I was referred to Larry Moss by two friends of mine and so we did, like, one on one just breaking down the script and talking a lot about character and all of this stuff. And I still to this day work with Larry.
GALLOWAY: What school of acting does he come from?
SWANK: Well, I mean I don’t even know what the definition of method is because I feel like some people feel like method is living in it all the time. So, to me that’s not what method is. To me method is doing all your research and knowing what your character is inside and out. For instance every single person in this room is specific and you have maybe likenesses to the person next to you, but you have things that are different. You know your favorite color, you know what food you hate, you know your trauma as a child, you know exactly where you were born, you know how you feel about your parents, etc., etc. I try and understand all of those things about my character. I write a little journal about my character and all of those things because you can’t play-I feel like if you’re playing a person you have to play specificity. And so-what was the question?
GALLOWAY: The school of acting Larry follows.
SWANK: Oh, so that’s all Larry, you know? He talks about all of that stuff, and the specificity of it and so, in working with him we, you know, we just sit and read. We really read the script many times and we talk about what’s happening between the lines because often times we say things but it’s not exactly how we feel, right? So a lot of it is what are you really saying?
GALLOWAY: The better the writing the more you get that.
SWANK: Yeah, exactly, so trying to understand what’s happening between the lines and it’s a lot of the work that I think there was more time for in the days with maybe Stanley Kubrick and Mike Nichols and you know, name your director of that time, of that era, and I think they had a lot of time to rehearse. And there’s not as much rehearsal time anymore just because budgets are smaller, and-
GALLOWAY: You like to rehearse?
SWANK: I don’t like to get it on its feet. My rehearsal process was breaking my character down and talking to the director about the character and all of these things and there’s not time for that so I do that with Larry. I don’t even want to know what other people think about their characters. I don’t necessarily want to sit with the other actors and say let’s break this down because I like that there’s-I like the idea of secrets in a scene and not knowing what theirs is and one of my favorite things is when a director whispers your direction to you and they whisper the direction there so you don’t know what it is they’re doing because as we all know acting is reacting.
GALLOWAY: I think that’s the old Kazan trick.
SWANK: I love it, and Kazan’s one of my favorites.
GALLOWAY: Do you have favorite filmmakers?
SWANK: Well, Kazan, Orson Welles, although I would really just say because Citizen Kane‘s one of my favorite movies. I think some of his movies are so abstract and I find them very artistically interesting, but that’s one of my favorite movies. One of my top three favorite movies, so.
GALLOWAY: The other two being?
SWANK: Well, I would say The Graduate, Citizen Kane, and it’s a toss up. I really-it’s a toss up so let me think about that one ’cause I want to use it wisely.
GALLOWAY: You can say two.
SWANK: Well, I love The Godfather but I would have to say The Wizard of Oz still remains one of my favorites just because the idea of it being-all those movies kind of round off real life, magical life but with the undertone of realness in it of needing a heart and a brain and where do we find these things? And do we go to the man behind the curtain and-so that’s what I love about movies is they give us that ability to have something to relate to, or learn from, or just flat out be entertained from. And when it has all three, that’s magic.
GALLOWAY: Did Larry Moss give you any one piece of advice that you cling to?
SWANK: I mean there’s so many nuggets that he’s given me but the one thing that I find is when I’m filming a movie and you’re working really long hours, sometimes you get into 18 hour days and then you have to go home and learn your lines and just get enough sleep to go back into it. And sometimes you are too tired to learn your lines so I try and learn my lines over the weekend. SO, you never have a moment of break. You’re always in it. And when you get tired is when you can forget things. So, I think one of the things that I appreciate is he said what’s the one sentence that defines your character? And I write that on the front of my script and then when I’m working if I’m tired, all those things, everything has to relate back to that sentence. Everything. That’s your through-line. That’s literally your thread through all your scenes and so if I find myself getting lost, what’s this about? Where am I? First of all [COUGH] excuse me, I’ve lost my voice from talking so much and it gets itchy sometimes.
GALLOWAY: The through line for boys was what?
SWANK: The through-line, so the through line, so that when I’m getting tired-did I already say that? You get the point or do I need to expand? I lost my train of thought.
GALLOWAY: What was the through-line for Boys Don’t Cry?
SWANK: Well, I’d actually have to go back to that script since it was 15 years ago and look at it just to be very specific, but it would probably have to do with what I was saying earlier about it transcending gender. And none of it going back to gender, just going back. Even watching those scenes and where I am now as a person and what I was then as a person and how I read the script then and how I would read it now is so different but in watching that-’cause I haven'[t seen that since the last screening in 2000, but watching how-was there denial there from Chloe’s part and the idea that she was being loved in a way and being seen in a way that maybe she hadn’t been before. That she didn’t want to know the truth and so it all-I think probably the through-line was probably it all going back to giving and receiving love rather then defining the gender of it.
GALLOWAY: How did that shape or influence you, working with Christopher Nolan?
SWANK: You know, I’m constantly looking for directors who help take me to another place in my artistry ’cause it’s not something you can do by yourself and it’s so easy when you get tired to rest on your laurels, or your crutches rather, not your laurels but the crutches, the things that feel safe. And I constantly want to break out of that. There’s so much I want to do as an actor. I feel like there’s so much more that I want to achieve and that I can achieve, and I need the help of great auteurs like Christopher. And I call him an auteur because I feel like he’s not just a director. He is really a visionary because he’s been making movies like, 8mm movies since he was five years old. So, he knows where he wants the camera. He knows what lens [COUGH] sorry, he knows what lens he wants at what time. So, you’ll do a scene and in the first part he’s like I’m going to be here on a 50 and then we’re going to cut ’cause I’m going to be roaming on 100 on this part. And that knowledge is so wonderful. To be under that guidance, that’s it.
GALLOWAY: We’re going to look at a clip from five years after Boys Don’t Cry.
GALLOWAY: Million Dollar Baby.
SWANK: Oh, Million Dollar Baby, yeah.
GALLOWAY: Let’s look at that.
SWANK: I thought we were still on that. [CLIP]
SWANK: Thank you.
GALLOWAY: In the post Scorsese, post MTV era, you come back to Clint and he has just the confidence to put the camera here, it’s really cutting between two shots and knowing exactly where the drama is.
GALLOWAY: Did you know him before you met him?
SWANK: No. Did you know him before you met him? [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Very sharp.
GALLOWAY: Well psychically you might have.
GALLOWAY: What was that first meeting?
SWANK: I remember it like it was yesterday. It was, I remember I was waiting in his office for him. He was just nominated for Mystic River. So he was in doing a lot of press. And they had me wait in his office for him, not even out in the lobby. And I remember sitting in there and he came in and he was a tall glass of water. He’s just, I mean, he’s just so refreshing and he’s so handsome. And he’s Clint Eastwood. [LAUGHTER] And I remember just being so starstruck. And I had my, I turned like this ’cause my back was to the door. And he walked in, he came around and he put his feet up on the desk. And he made me feel so at ease. And we just talked. And he talked about my being an athlete and we talked a little bit about the script, but not a lot. Just kind of getting to know each other. And at the end of the meeting, he looked at me and he just said, well you better start training. [LAUGHTER] And I if I, I mean, I didn’t know how to do a back flip. But I think I did a back flip out of his office. [LAUGHTER] And yeah, it was just looking at him and I saw him the other night at an event that we all went to, the Governor’s Awards, and I just… I’m constantly so grateful for the people who believe in us. And it’s a reminder, it’s like my Mom who believed in me and my Dad who believes in me and the people who give you an opportunity along the way. And it was really a pivotal moment I think in my career because Boys Don’t Cry was five years earlier and as we talked about and there was a series of movies here and there. Some worked, some didn’t. And everyone always says, oh is it just a one hit wonder? You ever going to do anything again? And Clint looked at me and he believed in me. And he said, I want to do this with you. And I’m so grateful to him for that.
GALLOWAY: You then embarked on a couple months of incredibly intense training, what did that involve?
SWANK: Well I was a vegetarian for 19 years, so I had, I was thin and I always had a little bit of hard time keeping weight on. So I was like how am I going to do this? And when you’re boxing, you, I was boxing two and a half hours every day. And I was losing weight. And I had to be put on weight. I had to put on muscle. And so I told, I was doing weights and then Clint brought me Grant Roberts, his trainer. And I started working out five hours a day. Two and a half hours boxing, two, four and a half, four and a half to five hours a day. Two and a half hours of boxing and then I’d go do free weights. And I was lifting such heavy weight that I’d have to have two minute rests between sets. And by the time I was done, oh this was the other thing, I had to eat 210 grams of protein a day. I don’t know if you guys are aware of like intake of protein. But and as a vegetarian [LAUGHTER] I had to eat 60 egg whites in a day and I couldn’t. I mean, I could barely eat four. I drank them. This was be a [MAKES NOISES]. Every morning I would drink them and then I got to the point where I still had to have 210 grams of protein, but I could only have 30 grams of carbs. So that I’d start cutting the weight that I’ve put on. To give you an example of that, a glass of apple juice has 20 grams of carbs. So and that was in my day. By the end, I put on 23 pounds of muscle. With great people around me helping me. I’d eat every hour and a half. So in the night, I had to wake up and drink protein shakes. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: What surprised you…?
SWANK: You’re like this…
GALLOWAY: What surprised you about boxing, did you know anything about it before you…?
SWANK: No. You know, I felt like it was a really brutal sport. That’s how I felt. And then like anything, any time you get an opportunity to step in someone else’s shoes or see through someone else’s eyes, it just broadens your whole perspective of the world and in that instance, it was boxing, because again, it’s… I have such enormous respect. It is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Boxing three minute rounds, I thought three minutes, that’s not very long. [LAUGHTER] And so you do it. You’re getting punched in the stomach. You can’t breathe. You have to constantly move. You can never stop. How do you find your strength in that? And it was really my first moment even though I had swam all those years competitively and I was a gymnast competitively, but it was really a defining moment in me for my life, in my life, where I recognized that there’s no bigger obstacle than ourselves. Our mind is our biggest obstacle. There’s no bigger obstacle than you saying to yourself I can’t do it. Or I can do it. It’s the difference of one word. And if I said I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t be able, I would just kind of flail around that day. And if I just got out of my own way and allowed people who were around me to help me, you know, with boxing, that’s what boxing taught me. It was such a great parallel of life and also the idea of when I was in it about being in the moment, because when you’re boxing and you hit somebody, you can think huh, you know, you get over, you get over, you have to get over the fact quickly that you just bloodied someone’s nose and but the second you’re taken out of the moment, you can like you can hit someone and go that was a great hit. And then you’re down. Or someone can hit you and you go how did they do that? You’re out. You can’t even think, you can’t even react to that thing. You have to be precisely in the moment in order to box. And I just love that. I just love the idea of right now we’re here, be here. Or don’t come. [LAUGHTER] You know what I mean? Like if wherever you are, it’ll come. The future’s going to come. You know, the past is gone. I know it sounds cliché, but you’re here. Like be in it. And so boxing was a really good analogy for me to try and carry that in my everyday life all the time.
GALLOWAY: When you work with Clint, he’s performing as well as directing, how does he do that, does he go to monitor to see?
SWANK: No. He didn’t even have a monitor. [LAUGHTER] He would like carry this thing around his neck like a little portable monitor where he would just like… But when he was watching the other actors when he wasn’t in the scene, he’d just sit next to the camera and just kind of watch like a, you know, a little sporting event. [LAUGHTER] And then he’d just, you know, he would give very few direction. And then he’d kind of go okay, that’s enough of that. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Did you have any long talks before you actually started filming?
SWANK: No. Uh uh. Again, there was a dialect. And I, they allowed me to work with a dialect coach before going onto filming. But there was no dialect coach allowed on set. And he virtually said, do what you want to do. If you want to have a dialect, do it, if you don’t, don’t. You know how to prepare for the character. I hired you ’cause I believe in you. You’ll do your homework, you come to set, you’ll be ready. I mean, he feels like he hires artisans and they do their work. And his set is run like that too. From every person has their job. It’s a huge collaboration. It’s the most professional set I’ve ever been on. And one of the most fun sets I’ve ever been on. Because when you go, you know, it’s he gives slack, but if you’re not ready, you get, you know, one or two moments to not be ready. And then on the third one, you get one of his stare downs. [LAUGHTERTER] And then you don’t ever do it again.
GALLOWAY: I heard he doesn’t like to do a lot of takes.
SWANK: One or two. One or two. And sometimes when you want to just because you just want to try something new, you, you know, you’ll say why? And you just sometimes I just said, ’cause I just want to try something new. He would go well okay. [LAUGHTERTER] And other times I’ll say well, if you think I can do better and he goes no. [LAUGHTERTER] Moving on. So he clearly has an eye, you know, like no other.
GALLOWAY: Are you nervous when you work with somebody like that?
SWANK: Yes. I was very nervous filming that movie and one, because I was working with the great Clint Eastwood. And Morgan Freeman. Two icons in this business. I didn’t want to be one of these things is not like the other, you know, from Sesame Street. [LAUGHTERTER] Yeah, you guys are young enough for that one. [LAUGHTERTER] And I so I felt an enormous responsibility to just be able to step up to the plate and play with them. And I also felt a really an… Like I’d been given an opportunity to I guess prove myself again. And I didn’t want to mess it up. That’s not a really great place to work from as an artist. But it just it was what it was. It was the reality of my situation at that time.
GALLOWAY: Do you turn to anybody for advice when you’re working beyond your acting coach?
SWANK: Probably not. I probably could that probably could be something that I work on, sharing those insecurities a little bit more. But I kind of feel like if I talk about them too much, then I give life to them. Instead of just saying, you know what you’re feeling. You know where it’s coming from. Work through it. [LAUGHTERTER]
GALLOWAY: And at what point did you see the finished film, did you watch dailies while you were doing it?
SWANK: No. Mm-mm. No.
GALLOWAY: Do you like to?
SWANK: I do. I do like to. But I’m trying to think did I on Million Dollar Baby at all? I don’t think so. I think Clint even was like I don’t watch dailies. [LAUGHTERTER] So I was like okay, well I guess that would be awkward if I was watching it and you’re not. But I do like to watch and I usually watch about maybe a week or less. Only because I want to see again, I’m a visual learner. I’m all about visuals. So if I’m, if there’s something that I think that I’m doing, whether it’s the way I walk, if, you know, if I what we talked about before. If I can see it, I can say oh maybe I’m overdoing it or, you know, it might not be something that I’ve talked to about the Director. It might just be something that I’ve, I’m trying to bring to my character and I just want to see that it’s there. And then once I see that I, the first couple times and I kind of tweak it a little here and there, you know, no one’s going to notice that in four different scenes.
GALLOWAY: Can you watch yourself objectively and then make those corrections?
SWANK: Yeah, I mean, I’ve learned that dailies are you can’t judge a performance off dailies. I’ve seen dailies where I thought wow, that scene is great. And then you watch it in the movie and it doesn’t quite work. So you can’t judge the actual scene as a whole, but you can look at specifics within it. Things you’re trying to do like I said, creatively and mostly how I carry myself or an inflection, the tonality of my voice. All the things that I was discussing with you that are important to bring to a character for me. And those things either, you know, bring it up a little or bring it down a little. And then I just try and hold it.
GALLOWAY: So the film comes out and you win your second Academy Award. [LAUGHTERTER]
GALLOWAY: How did that change your life, within a few years you’ve gone from being a completely unknown actress who has not been renewed in 90210 to being a two time Academy Award winner.
GALLOWAY: You like to observe people, does it make it harder to do that or…?
GALLOWAY: Does it limit your freedom in certain ways?
SWANK: Right off the bat it does, because you’re right in the limelight. You’re right off the podium. And so but things happen so quickly. Now especially with social media that, you know, you’re kind of you win an Oscar and a week later, there’s new news. It’s over. And so for me, actually it’s a really funny story. Well I think it is. I’d been going to the same facialist since I was like 16, because I was working and the makeup artist would say, oh you need to get facials. So I started going to get facials. I went to her and then when I won my Academy Award for Boys Don’t Cry, I was 25. And when I showed up, I mean, she’s known me for how long? She said, did you come in a limo? [LAUGHTERTER] I was like no. What? Did you come in a limo? To have my facial? And I just thought it’s so funny the perspective of people. Like you win an Academy Award and you’re like I don’t know, riding around in limos. [LAUGHTERTER] So for me, and I say that because it’s just no, I’m a person. And I’m, I was living in New York City at the time. And when I did Million Dollar Baby and I moved there right after Boys Don’t Cry. I moved there in 2000. I have a place to go and I take the Metro. It’s fastest way to get there. And people definitely, I think people, they don’t, one, they’re not looking around very much. They’re in their book or in their phone or in their own world and the newspaper and but sometimes, you know, you get that…
GALLOWAY: Oh wow. [LAUGHTERTER]
SWANK: You know, that kind of thing.
GALLOWAY: Do you then pretend you don’t notice or…?
SWANK: Do I pretend? Oh no, I’m like… Yeah. [LAUGHTERTER] No. I’m, you know, I, it’s yes, I would say that one thing that I had to do after winning Academy Award is just adding a little bit more time to my day to go do things. ‘Cause if I go to the grocery store, there’s inevitably going to be someone who’s like, you know what? I’m a really big fan. That movie made a big difference in my life. Can I have a picture? So that time to talk to them and take that picture just takes a little more time. So I would just say, that’s what happened is you just have to add a, pad your day a little bit.
GALLOWAY: You started moving from acting to producing as well, at what point…?
SWANK: Oh, but I do want to say one thing.
SWANK: I think the second we lose touch with real life and riding the subway, taking the Metro, you know, being with people, I don’t know how you tell people stories. So to me, it’s all about that.
GALLOWAY: Don’t you find that harder in L.A. than in New York?
SWANK: It’s harder to do that in L.A.?
GALLOWAY: Yeah, I mean, if you lived in…
SWANK: To be, well yeah, there’s no Metro here, but… [LAUGHTERTER]
GALLOWAY: People are being driven in their car, so it’s harder to have that interaction.
SWANK: No. No, I mean, yes, you’re not walking, so you’re not in the thick of it, but no, I mean, you can still go out and, you know, have a life. You know, you don’t go from your house to your car to your house to your car. I mean, you’re out. So but it definitely doesn’t lend you yeah, the freedom of walking in a city. As readily available to people, but…
GALLOWAY: You’ve played a lot of real life characters.
SWANK: I’ve played a lot of real life.
SWANK: Conviction. Betty Anne Waters. Erin Gruwell in Freedom Writers.
GALLOWAY: Well Freedom Writers…
SWANK: Iron Jawed Angels.
SWANK: Yeah, I mean, I pretty much have made a career out of playing real life people. [LAUGHTERTER]
GALLOWAY: Is it easier or harder?
SWANK: Mm… I think there’s pros and cons, like there is to anything. The pro is that sometimes I have the person there who’s alive that I can talk to and pick their brain and get a little nuggets of information that are so valuable. And other times, it like with Boys Don’t Cry or with Amelia, they’re not there and you feel a responsibility. You’re walking in someone’s shoes and you don’t, again, that’s not something that you don’t have the freedom to fictionalize it. You can’t say well I decide, you know, I’m going to play it with a Boston accent. [LAUGHTERTER] You have to be specific to that. And so there’s not as much freedom sometimes.
GALLOWAY: Let’s take a look at one, Freedom Writers, and let’s talk about what went into that because that is a real life story. This is a clip from Freedom Writers. [CLIP] [APPLAUSE]
GALLOWAY: Hilary said why did I choose this clip and I like this clip because of the acting, it has a clear end point, and your reaction showed that.
SWANK: I see.
GALLOWAY: And you were curious why I chose, I thought you just said there are other scenes that you preferred.
SWANK: Well no, I mean, no, there are other scene, not that I would prefer, but there are just so many, there’s so many great scenes, but there’s I just and you’re right, it’s too long. And Richard LaGravenese writes 14 page scenes with no cut.
GALLOWAY: And this is Richard LaGravenese who’s a great writer was it his debut as a Director or had he directed?
SWANK: No, he had directed, wait…
GALLOWAY: One other film?
SWANK: Another film before this. I just don’t remember the title right offhand. Maybe it’ll come to me.
GALLOWAY: But it’s very intense, very clear.
SWANK: Yeah, it’s yeah, you’re right.
GALLOWAY: And I think the acting’s very good.
SWANK: And as well thank you. [LAUGHTERTER] I think something that I do love about it is I’m so especially right now in where I am in my life, I’m at I think it’s because I am actually able to define this, ’cause a lot of people say, why do you choose the roles that you choose? And I’m in this place right now where I’ve finally I think been able to come to the point where I recognize that when she says, she says it. I see you. I see you. And I think that that’s our quest in life is to walk around and have someone see us. To not walk around, but you know what I mean. To live. [LAUGHTERTER] To live and be seen for our true authentic selves. And also trying to define who our true authentic selves are. Where do we start and where do other people’s ideas of us start? It’s a constant struggle. I think for everybody. And then when we do find that, finding people who see us and respect that and I think so I do…
GALLOWAY: That line has a real impact and that’s what I thought when I saw it and they chose the same clip at Telluride, because you want to be seen and that’s kind of rare.
GALLOWAY: Do you feel Directors see you?
SWANK: Yeah, I think what’s great about that relationship between an actor and a Director is you have to really blow away all your thing, the safety things that you put up, you know. Oh yeah, I’m good, how are you? Good. You need to blow all that away and get to the reality because you have to work so intimately. And you have to get to the heart of that character. And sometimes you have to get to the heart of that character through your heart. Your own heart. And, you know, it’s what makes us similar and what makes us different. And all of those things that you talk about and so it’s a intimate relationship.
GALLOWAY: What happens when those…?
SWANK: It’s very different than any other relationship.
GALLOWAY: When they don’t see you, do you feel that your acting is less good?
SWANK: I don’t know. I’m trying to think if I felt like I haven’t been seen by a Director before. I feel like sometimes I’ve been seen and maybe not the way I feel like I should be seen. In other words, like are they really seeing me? Or do they just see an aspect of me that they choose to see? Do you know what I mean? But no… I feel like I’ve had a really great intense relationship with every single Director I’ve ever worked with. I can’t say there’s one that hasn’t been deep and profound in its own way.
GALLOWAY: I know with writing if I’m writing a profile whatever, the ones who really see and the ones who don’t, regardless whether they like or dislike a piece, some of the ones who dislike it see it better and it’s a great thing and a rare thing.
SWANK: Well you said the directors I work with. I mean, certainly people that probably don’t like a performance of mine and there’s certainly movies that I’ve done that don’t work, they’re not the ones you’re showing. [LAUGHTER] You know, like let’s talk about this one movie of yours that didn’t work. And we’ll talk about why it didn’t work, which actually might be actually interesting, because I think [LAUGHTER] when we talk about the things, no really, when you talk about the right, when you talk about the things that don’t work and you learn from your mistakes.
GALLOWAY: Have you had that experience of seeing a film that’s been cut in the way that you feel ruins your performance or damages it?
SWANK: I wouldn’t say “ruins,” but I would say there are moments, there are scenes that had been cut from movies where I think helped define the character and the choices that I’ve made within that character. That were once taken out, you might go why did she do that? Well you had you seen that three minutes that got cut about 30 minutes earlier…
GALLOWAY: Would you then argue the point or do you just drop it?
SWANK: Do I bring it up or do I drop it?
SWANK: Well sometimes I’ll say if it’s an early screening, is there a way to bring this? Oh and they, we like any other creative process, you talk out why it didn’t make it. And then they brought caused this problem, that problem, which outweighed this one problem. And you kind of come to the realization of why they did it. But, you know, it’s a conversation and sometimes they’re just trying to appease you and talk you off a cliff. Like oh this is why and does that suffice? And other times they think they really want you to, you know, for the most part, you had a baby together for all intents and purposes. You created this thing together and I think the respect and value your opinion.
GALLOWAY: With this thing, did you meet the real life person you’re playing?
SWANK: Oh yeah, Erin Gruwell. And what’s funny is her voice is like my voice right now, ’cause she’s always talking. As a teacher and she and she’s wonderfully opinionated. And she’s tireless in her quest to help youth. And so she gives seminars all the time now on her teaching method. And she has the Freedom Writers Foundation as well, with a lot of the kids that were in her class, who never graduated high school by the way. Hers did, but none of those kids were expected to graduate high school I should say. None of their families have graduated high school. They were pretty much destined for the life that people put on them. You’re not going to amount to anything, you’re a gang member, we’re not going to give you any attention, you’re not a good member of society. I don’t see you. And they acted like that. And then someone came in going back to our thread here of believing in somebody and this woman said, I believe in you, I see you. They all graduated high school. Some went off and graduated college. And now they’re working in her foundation. I mean, talk about the beautiful way of manifesting someone believing in you.
GALLOWAY: Did you actually go into any inner city schools and spend time there?
SWANK: No, I actually did, I had about eight days to prepare for this movie ’cause I came right off the heels on another one that was, that went over, because of Hurricane Katrina. So…
GALLOWAY: Yeah, I heard you got caught up in Hurricane Katrina.
SWANK: Yeah. On one of those movies that didn’t work as well.
GALLOWAY: Were you whisked out or were you actually there when…?
SWANK: No, what’s funny is they were like oh it’ll blow over. [LAUGHTER]
SWANK: We were there and then it hit and we were above New Orleans, ’cause we were up closer to Baton Rouge and so we were out of it a little.
GALLOWAY: So did you meet any…?
SWANK: But we still didn’t have electricity for three weeks.
GALLOWAY: Did you meet any of the kids who lived through this real life kids or…?
SWANK: Through the Freedom Writer kids?
SWANK: Yes. I absolutely did. Because at that point, they were grown up and they would come to set and hang out and… It’s just, it’s to me it’s that extraordinary moment when you look at someone who had given up on themselves because everyone else had given up on them and that flicker of life is back in their eyes and they know the, they’ve amounted to something and they have confidence again and they’re valuable members of society. And they feel it and they know it and they’ll never go back to that place of despair.
GALLOWAY: You’ve worked with Directors who come from different professions, Clint Eastwood who was an actor.
SWANK: It’s so great to tell stories like that too, sorry. It’s so great to be able to tell that story and to be able to talk about it. I just feel so blessed for that. Erin sounds like me going back. And when I saw that I was like oh yeah, that’s me. So I tried to make my…
GALLOWAY: Was she happy with the film?
SWANK: Yeah. I tried, that was a tonality to give you an example of tonality of how that sounded different from the other clips that we had seen. That hoarse voice.
GALLOWAY: You’ve worked with Directors who have often been actors, writers like LaGravenese, you’ve thought of directing but haven’t yet.
SWANK: I wouldn’t say I’ve thought of it because people ask, would that be something that you’d like to do? Because I have a production company now and I became an actor as we talked about earlier because I love people and I love their stories and what makes us unique and what makes us different. So I want to continue to tell stories whether it’s a for me as an actor or just me as a producer, a different story that I’m not in, not a vehicle for myself, and some day perhaps directing would be a part of that. I’m not actively looking for a script to direct, but if I read something that I felt like I had a very clear vision for, I would definitely be open to it.
GALLOWAY: Do you still have the same passion for acting?
SWANK: Yes. And that’s the thing. I love, love, love it. When I’m doing it, I come alive in a completely different way. It feels literally like my calling. I love it. I can’t get enough of it. The bureaucracy around it is I can get enough of. [LAUGHTER] It can be really a challenging business.
GALLOWAY: What do you mean bureaucracy?
SWANK: Just the business. The business in general. It can be really challenging sometimes. And we can sit here for a whole hour talking about it. Or the whole day really. I mean, it’s just, you know, it’s just like…
GALLOWAY: One example what you mean by that.
SWANK: Well it’s just I’m just saying it’s just, it’s a business and, you know, why my male counterpart will get paid 10 times more than me. 10 times. Not double, but 10 times for the same job. You know, just the bureaucracy. The things that you hear. Like well we only have this much left for the female actress. That kind of thing. You know, that’s one example.
GALLOWAY: You see films that are carried by women that are doing very well, it’s still bad.
SWANK: And, you know, it’s…
SWANK: It’s also the fact that I’m, I mean, we, there’s two genders on this Earth. Both are compelling, interesting, diverse, wonderful in all their own separate ways. Some that are similar, some that are not. And yet there’s an influx of male roles and there’s just not for women. I can’t complain because I’ve had handfuls of them, so but I would like more opportunities. I’d like them to be fewer and far between. You know, I’m, I mean, meaning more opportunities. And, you know, people will say to me, geez, we haven’t really seen you for a year and a half. It’s like well ’cause I haven’t found a role that I found compelling. And that’s frustrating because they can be created. But they’re just not all the time.
GALLOWAY: Well I want to talk about the next film you did find compelling.
GALLOWAY: I want everybody to get ready for questions because we’re going to go to that after this, so let’s take a look at The Homesman, which hasn’t been released yet, but shortly will.
SWANK: Friday, November 14th. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Go and see it. [CLIP] [APPLAUSE]
SWANK: Thank you.
GALLOWAY: I didn’t choose that clip, I wish we’d been given a longer clip.
SWANK: Oh thanks.
GALLOWAY: I love the scene and I love…
SWANK: A clip of you, well that’s another conversation.
GALLOWAY: It’s the whole film’s very unadorned and it’s a very warm performance.
SWANK: Thank you.
GALLOWAY: And I’m not going to tell everyone the twist in the movie, but when it happens, I was very disappointed. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: How did it come about, this movie?
SWANK: This brings us back full circle to what I was saying we’ll come back to The Homesman. So I, my, I have two great agents who have such great taste. And I always say, you know, please I want to read, I want to read even if the movie’s not being made, if it’s being shelved, if it’s in the library, whatever. My agent came across this script.
GALLOWAY: Who are the agents?
SWANK: Jim Toth and Michael Cooper. And this one actually was sent to me by Michael Cooper. And he said I read this script and I really like it. For a lot of reasons, I want you to read it. I read it right away. And I sent an email to Tommy Lee Jones and I just said why I loved it. And…
GALLOWAY: Who directed it and was developing it.
SWANK: Yeah. That’s right. He co-wrote it and directed it, yeah, and obviously co-starred. So he said, let’s meet. And we set a meeting and he likes to say I agreed to do it at that point. And I like to say, he agreed to cast me at that point.
GALLOWAY: And was it a tough film to make?
SWANK: Very. Mostly the elements. We were filming in New Mexico in February, March and April. I don’t know if any of you are from Mexico. [LAUGHTER] Okay, so you know that there’s all four seasons in one day during that time of year. And I would add wind as a fifth season and hail as a sixth. [LAUGHTER] And so, you know, we were in there was, we weren’t in, it was all exteriors, all of it. So a few like that inside, but it was, you know, wind slats and the wind was still coming through and it gave you a real, the impotence, the real understanding of what, why these characters lose their minds and why they go crazy. At the end of the night, we got out of it. We got a warm bed. We got warm food and a hot bath and then we went back out into it. But it is was challenging. And all the physical stuff, learning how to ride a horse, drive mules, plow a plow. Like what they did back in the mid 1800’s with your hands and steer the mules at the same time. So I did a few stunts on the horse and I did a stunt called singing. [LAUGHTER] So that was a challenge too.
GALLOWAY: Are you a good singer?
SWANK: You saw.
SWANK: You tell me.
GALLOWAY: Well I don’t remember the singing. [LAUGHTER]
SWANK: Wow, I guess I’m not very good. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: What kind of research did you do to prepare for this?
SWANK: I sang right before I propose to Bob Giffen. A little ditty. On my makeshift piano that’s made out of cloth.
GALLOWAY: Yeah, that was a lovely touch that it’s not a real piano.
SWANK: I’m not a singer. But you know when directors ask you can you sing? You say yes. [LAUGHTER] Do you know how to box? Yes. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Research, what did you do for this?
SWANK: Well I was born in Nebraska as we all know. My family’s all from Iowa. This takes place in those two states. I come from a generation of farmers. I come from I was just reading an account that my Dad brought of the history which I didn’t read until about four days ago when he arrived to come to the premiere. And it was like an exact account of The Homesman. I couldn’t believe it. So I knew the history. Especially of how those two states were settled and the history really of how America was settled. So I didn’t have to do a whole lot of research. But I did look into the mental illness aspect of it. And see some of the barbaric things that people did.
GALLOWAY: Well we should say that the thrust of the story is that the Hilary character has to transport these women who’ve gone mad across the country with the help of Tommy Lee Jones.
SWANK: I kind of said in that scene. Right.
SWANK: And just the way they dealt with mental illness at that time.
GALLOWAY: What surprised you about that era when you learned about it?
SWANK: That it was so similar to our era now. And the reason why I say that is and it’s funny, I like watching people’s reactions talking about observant. When I say it to a woman, usually they go… And usually men go…
GALLOWAY: Really, that’s interesting.
SWANK: And I’ll tell you why.
SWANK: ‘Cause I love talking about this and talking about that with different genders is the fact that these women, to me this is a feminist movie. To me it’s about the objectification and trivialization of women. And it takes place in the mid 1800’s. But us women know exactly what that feels like right now in 2014. So even though talking about gay, lesbian, transgender issues and how far they’ve come, same with equality for women and how far we’ve come, yet how far we still need to go. So that was something that I really, really related to. And loved right off the page. I thought how great and how great that Tommy Lee Jones, this kind of, you know, this person that people see as this like rough man is at the helm of telling this feminist story. I love that. I loved how that in itself defied stereotypes.
GALLOWAY: What were your conversations with him about the film and the character?
SWANK: You know, again, we didn’t do a whole lot of talking. Tommy Lee is very similar to the Clint Eastwood school of one or two takes. Sometimes he’d do three just for luck as he’d say. We didn’t do a lot of talking about it. I mean, it was on the page. I read the book. And any questions I’d have, he was happy to answer. I asked him a, you know, a very kind of a few very specific things, mostly about the singing funny enough. But, you know, he was welcomed any questions. No question was stupid. You know, a great camaraderie we had together.
GALLOWAY: Yeah, you feel it.
GALLOWAY: Let’s go to some student questions and don’t forget to introduce yourselves.
Q: Thanks so much for being here with us today. I really appreciate it.
SWANK: Thank you.
Q: My question is what do you look for in a good director? And what can a Director do to help you out most?
SWANK: I don’t know if it depends, I mean, if the Director has had experience, I okay I’ve got ability to watch their films and kind of see what their eye sees and see how they tell a story and how they shape a story. But sometimes you don’t always have that ability if you’re working with a first time filmmaker, which, you know, I would never want to knock that opportunity to work with someone who would be the next great visionary. So I guess when I sit down with them, I’d like to hear what the story’s about to them. And hear them talk about the story. And what their vision is for the overall story, what they’re trying to accomplish and just see if their through line kind of matches my through line really. And what was the second question?
Q: And what can they do to help you out most? Maybe help you prepare.
SWANK: I would say allowing me to really have a sandbox, meaning that I can play and not feel like I have to be perfect. ‘Cause I don’t feel like any performance can come out of that. Really to be able to say, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Because sometimes in those mistakes comes the greatest realization. And really having this back and forth and being open. And I will tell you what I feel like one of the greatest characteristics of a director, it wasn’t really what you asked, but is understanding how each actor works. So let’s say there’s five actors here. We may all work differently. Like I said, I don’t like to rehearse it on my feet. I don’t want to do the scenes, because I like the Clint Eastwood-Tommy Lee Jones school. When you do it the first time, it’s usually work, you know, something great comes out of that first moment, that magic. Some other people might really need to rehearse. So understanding each person’s language and what they need to get their best performance. And helping them get that. So if that person needs to rehearse, finding time to do that rehearsal for them. This person, me, wants to just talk character, finding that time to talk character.
GALLOWAY: Do you prefer film where you don’t have that much, you haven’t done much stage, have you?
SWANK: Film’s my favorite medium.
GALLOWAY: It is.
GALLOWAY: Are you thinking of doing anything on stage or…?
SWANK: I actually am, funny enough. And it’s not really I love it as a audience member. But as a performer, I don’t like to play the same thing over and over. I like to play it and let it go and move on. That’s also why television hasn’t really been something that I’ve done either. The idea of playing a character for even two years to me, to me feels claustrophobic only because I want to play a lot of different people.
GALLOWAY: And would theater be a new production or a classic play or…?
SWANK: I, oh this new one is new. Yeah, it’s incredible. It’s really a gem.
GALLOWAY: Can you tell us what it is?
SWANK: No, ’cause I might not end up doing it and I would feel bad.
GALLOWAY: Next question.
Q: Let’s lower the mic for the midget. [LAUGHTER]
SWANK: Or you can just tilt it.
Q: I means were…
SWANK: Or that works.
Q: I hope the cough drop wasn’t too strong. They’re a little intense, but hopefully…
SWANK: No, I needed stronger clearly. I was hacking up a lung up here. [LAUGHTER]
Q: I feel truly blessed to have you on campus this afternoon, so thank you for coming.
SWANK: Thank you.
Q: So this summer I had the opportunity to intern at the Cannes International Film Festival, so I was fortunate enough to actually see the premiere of The Homesman.
SWANK: Oh great.
Q: Of course a very intense and important film in which your performance truly striking.
SWANK: Thank you.
Q: My question then follows, what, how was that preparation for that role particularly unique for Mary Bee Cuddy?
SWANK: From my other roles?
Q: Yeah, yeah.
SWANK: Well I will say that another thing that drew me to the role, the movie, other than the movie being a feminist movie for the reasons we talked about was that Mary Bee to me is a woman who has values and morals and manners. I think a lot of things that we’ve lost touch with in society now. And she wants to do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. So these things to me were super just beautiful and a reminder of getting back to those important things. But she’s also so multifaceted. She’s vulnerable. She’s, she has moments where she’s deeply afraid. And I think understanding her emotionally was probably other than the physical stuff I told you about, horses and plows and the stunts that I had to do on the horse. Just understanding that emotional side of her and that fight for independence, yet wanting to walk shoulder to shoulder with a man. So really getting under the emotional colors of her was my biggest preparation for this movie.
Q: Hope you enjoyed your time in New Mexico. [LAUGHTER]
SWANK: Thank you, I did. I love New Mexico. Maybe more in the spring.
Q: Hi, Miss Swank. Hi. [LAUGHTER]
Q: I’m a sophomore screenwriting major. Italian in theater, double minor.
Q: And I’m glad that you’ve taken up tennis. I play here on campus. So that’s good to hear.
SWANK: Oh great.
Q: For your role of Kate in You’re Not You, how did that change your perspective, not as an actress, but as a person?
SWANK: Great question. Do you guys know my film, You’re Not You? Yup? Okay. So that opened about five weeks ago now, maybe less, four? And again, that, now that’s not a true story. It’s a fictional story, but I will tell you it became a true story to me because I worked and researched with a bunch of A.L.S. patients. And they were so generous in sharing their details. Very private, intimate details. From the moment they were diagnosed up until where they were at that moment. Because they said to me, you’re telling my story. And in that moment, it became a true story. So again, became the responsibility of taking something that was really I didn’t know much about A.L.S. I just knew Lou Gehrig had it and it was a disease named after him. Then the whole A.L.S. ice bucket challenge came about. And that didn’t even lend itself for people to really understand what the disease was about. A lot of people just tuned in because they got to see their favorite celebrity being doused in ice water. And that’s fine ’cause it raised millions of dollars to help try and find a cure for a disease that we don’t even know how it came about. So this movie and the Stephen Hawking’s movie gave an opportunity to which I haven’t seen it, I can’t wait to see.
GALLOWAY: It’s very good.
SWANK: Yeah. I can only imagine. What an incredible man. But and he’s living with A.L.S. for like 50 years, which is…
GALLOWAY: Stephen Hawking.
SWANK: Yeah. Did I say his name wrong?
SWANK: Yeah, Stephen, you were just clarifying for me.
GALLOWAY: Oh Eddie Redmayne. [LAUGHTER]
SWANK: Oh yeah, Stephen, that’s right, has been living for 50 years with A.L.S., which is very, it’s like an anomaly. Because you usually have about five years to live once you’re diagnosed with A.L.S. But having said that, we were able to give a visual to understand what this, what A.L.S. is and how it literally paralyzes your body yet your brain is completely intact and functioning on all cylinders. And how it your body becomes this jail. And the physicality of the, of learning that how what happens and where your body degenerates first and becomes paralyzed and how you carry yourself differently and not forgetting, ’cause obviously as humans, we use our bodies and they just kind of happen. You know, your hand just goes up every once in a while going oh yeah, I can’t use my hand. I can’t, and then all of a sudden, talk about tonality. You’re, you know, your tongue also become, goes into paralysis. You can’t swallow anymore. So how that changes the way you speak. How that influences every single part of a performance. And again, just working with the nurse that worked with these, with a lot of A.L.S. patients, she was extraordinary in helping me learn actually when you, you know, when your toe goes and how you drag your foot when using a walker. And all of that. Did, you asked about the physicality, right?
Q: No, yeah, that was very thorough.
Q: Thank you. [LAUGHTER]
SWANK: Okay, good. Thanks.
GALLOWAY: Next question please.
Q: Thank you.
SWANK: It’s all about the specifics. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: If it’s the last question.
Q: Yeah, I think I’m the last question. Hello.
Q: As someone who has made it a career of playing these really strong vibrant women, how do you see sort of from when you won your first Oscar to now the roles for women have changed? Like what’s been better and what’s worse about the roles that women are being offered?
SWANK: I don’t know if there’s any better or any worse. I would just say that sometimes there’s an influx of more roles, opportunities, and then, you know, some years there’s not. And it’s just a matter of being on top of it and trying to search them out. Like I was saying earlier, I don’t just wait for those roles to come to me. P.S. I Love You is a really good example of a film that had been shelved for a long time. It’d been in the Warner Brothers library for, I don’t know, something like 10 years. He just kind of wrote it and then…
GALLOWAY: Also LaGravenese, right?
SWANK: Yeah. We did those two movies back to back in fact.
SWANK: But it was a movie that I had read and knew about. And right after Million Dollar Baby, they said, Warner Brothers was like, what do you want to do? And I said, well you have this movie in your library that I really, really like. And they said, oh no, not that one. What other, you know, what is there anything else? I said, I’m like [LAUGHTER] what about that one? And it kind of took a little coursing to come around to it. But it’s just I don’t know why that they’re around sometimes and other times they’re not. And I really wish I had the gift of writing. It’s just not my, it’s not a skill of mine. I have to as an artist wait for people to create opportunities for me. And that’s really frustrating sometimes, because I can go a year without working in that creative way and it feels like a part of my soul dies.
GALLOWAY: What do you do when you’re not working?
SWANK: Well I have I like to make it sound like there’s nothing I’m doing. [LAUGHTER] But I one, I have my production company, so I’m constantly searching for projects for my company.
SWANK: I have a charity. I have my charity that I work on. I do a lot of rescuing of animals and my charity brings children who have been given up on, youth who’ve been given up on and animals who have been abandoned together to help heal each other. So I’m constantly busy, but I still, I, when I’d also like to be busy. I’d like to do a movie at least a year. One movie a year would totally suffice in feeding my soul and when I don’t have that creative outlet, everything else just isn’t as fulfilling I guess I would say.
GALLOWAY: Well thank you, on behalf of L.M.U. and the Hollywood Masters, thank you very much.
SWANK: Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Great questions. Great interview. Lovely questions from you all too. What?
GALLOWAY: A great audience.
SWANK: Yeah, a great audience. Really responsive.
GALLOWAY: We’re having little reception outside and you can all say hello.
SWANK: Thank you.
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