Belfast Telegraph

Hilary Swank in The Black Dahlia

Fame comes with a 'double-edged sword'

Hollywood star and two times Oscar winner Hilary Swank was born on the wrong side of the tracks - perhaps that's why she's so attracted to playing strong, determined characters. She tells Robin Walker why she never wants to be just 'arm candy'

Hollywood star and two times Oscar winner Hilary Swank was born on the wrong side of the tracks - perhaps that's why she's so attracted to playing strong, determined characters. She tells Robin Walker why she never wants to be just 'arm candy'

She's no stranger to Hollywood fame, but two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank says she doesn't understand the fascination with celebrity dirty washing.

The 32-year-old actress has made a name for herself playing outsiders, but she's been feeling the heat this year following the break-up of her marriage to fellow actor Chad Lowe.

"I don't understand this whole culture of this fascination with celebrity," she says.

"At one time I think paparazzi wanted people to look good. Now there's this fascination with someone picking their nose or cleaning up after their dog."

Hilary defied her trailer-park upbringing to gatecrash Hollywood and her captivating acting skills saw her win an Oscar for her gender-defying portrayal of Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry seven years ago.

Despite fame and fortune, she still wishes it was just about the acting. "There is a double-edged sword in everything, but I really don't know what all this has to do with movies."

While playing boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby earned her a second Oscar last year, she's happy to play a supporting role in new mystery thriller The Black Dahlia.

Directed by Brian De Palma, The Black Dahlia is about one of the great unsolved crimes of Los Angeles.

Based on James Ellroy's true-life book, it delves into the unsolved murder in 1947 of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, whose mutilated body was found dumped in a street. Short was a fledgling Hollywood starlet who is played by Mia Kirshner.

Scarlett Johansson plays the girlfriend and Hilary's a femme fatale of sorts who draws two investigating detectives (played by Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart) into a tale of corruption, obsession and depravity. The brutal story is a look at Tinseltown's dark underbelly and has long fascinated the city.

This is just as noir as it gets, Hilary says. "It was just such a great experience, I loved it, even though I come in on about page 62.

"I am really a complete supporting actor but it was so much fun. It's my first movie with Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson, but Brian De Palma was fantastic."

Even so, it's her private life which seems to be getting all the headlines.

She confessed in Vanity Fair magazine recently that her husband's drug and alcohol problems contributed to the breakdown of their eight-year marriage last year. She's reported to have moved out of the marital home in the fashionable Manhattan enclave of Greenwich Village, and she's since been linked to top Hollywood agent John Campisi, who was her date to the Academy Awards in March.

All this interest in her private life is relatively new for an actress who used to be renowned for her work and not her celebrity status.

"I never went into this business for the acclaim of it or the dressing-up part," she maintains. "I love people and stories, so all that is a side-effect that happened and still blows my mind."

In fact, she says she feels quite sideswiped by all this success and stardom.

Born in Nebraska, at one stage she and her mother lived in a car while a teenage Hilary tried to break into acting in Los Angeles.

"Seriously, I see these shows and I think I'm in the wrong house. I'm just Hilary from this little town, I'm like 'how did this happen?'."

Now, with two major critical and commercial hits to her name, Hilary can be choosy about her parts.

Next up she has a much bigger role as a myth-breaker in dark drama The Reaping.

Her character in The Reaping has to battle with religious fundamentalism in Texas. "There are dramatic religious qualities to this movie and a lot of analogies to life too," she explains.

"I think the really interesting thing about life and why I'm in this business, is that everyone has their own story. I just love getting underneath that," she says. "I find that really powerful.

"I really try to figure out the person, inside and out. I try to find the humanity in characters, the qualities we all have as humans."

Like her previous choices, these two latest roles reflect her desire to play unusual characters, she says.

"I'm lucky that I don't have to make career choices any more because of money," she says.

Both roles also continue a determination to defy any kind of sex symbol typecasting - no surprise considering Hilary won her first Oscar for playing a girl who simulates being a boy and her second as a tenacious female boxer.

"My most annoying question is 'Hilary, are you ever going to play the pretty girl?', she groans.

"I shied away from playing just 'the girl' roles because I didn't find them inspiring," she says. "I want to be challenged. That's where my passion lies, not just playing the arm candy."

Currently Hilary is filming probably her most uplifting role to date, playing an inspiring school teacher in Freedom Writers.

"It's a true story about a teacher named Erin Gruwell and it accounts for my weird hairdo," she smiles.

"She's coping with divorce by having 'great friends and great family in my life', and I think that it is all about the work to me.

"I wake up every day and I'm really grateful, I can't imagine doing anything else. I'm so lucky to be working on movie sets, and it is usually with people who blow my mind."

The Black Dahlia opens on September 15.


From Belfast Telegraph