Hilary Swank is an American actress famous for her award winning performances in films like ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. The recipient of Academy Award for Best Actress twice, this talented actress is open to experimentation with roles and does not shy away from playing unglamorous characters. Her interest in acting was evident from her childhood when at the age of eight she announced to her family that she was going to be an actress. She had a difficult childhood, plagued with poverty, and her story is a classic example of how one can surmount life’s challenges with hard work and determination to achieve great success. As a teenager she would escape into the imaginary world of novels and movies in order to distance herself from her difficult domestic life. She was active in her school and regional theater, and excelled in swimming and gymnastics. At the age of 16 she moved to Los Angeles with her mother to pursue her acting career. She made her film debut with a small role in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and played minor roles in many other films. She got her big break when she was chosen to play the lead in “The Next Karate Kid’, a role which several other actresses were also vying for. In addition to films, Swank has also appeared in various television shows.
Childhood & Early Life
Hilary Swank was born as the second child of Stephen Michael Swank and Judy Kay in Nebraska. Her father was an officer in the Air National Guard while her mother was a secretary cum dancer. She is of mixed ancestry.
She attended Happy Valley elementary school and later went to Sehome High School. An athletic girl, she took part in various swimming and gymnastics competitions, and was also active in the school and regional theater.
Her parents separated when she was 16 and she moved to Los Angeles with her mother. There she enrolled in the South Pasadena High School but soon dropped out.
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She began her acting career in 1991 with a guest appearance in the television series ‘Harry and the Hendersons’. The same year she played the guest role of Aimee Thompson in sitcom series ‘Evening Shade’.
She made her Hollywood debut with a small role in the 1992 film, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’.
She landed her first major role when she was selected over many other actresses to play Julie Pierce in ‘The Next Karate Kid’ in 1994. Her gymnastics training proved helpful in learning the karate moves for the film.
Over the next three years she acted in television movies like ‘Victim of Rage’ (1994), ‘Terror in the Family’ (1996), and ‘Dying to Belong’ (1997).
In 1999, she was offered the role of Brandon Teena in ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. She was relatively unknown at the time of accepting that role, but her brilliant performance catapulted her into overnight fame.
She was flooded with movie offers and acted in the supernatural thriller ‘The Gift’ as Valerie Barksdale in 2000. This was followed by ‘The Affair of the Necklace’ (2001), ‘Insomnia’ (2002), and ‘The Core’ (2003).
The highly successful sports drama film ‘Million Dollar Baby’ happened in 2004 which proved to the world once again the actress’s dedication towards her profession.
She appeared in a couple of lesser known films in the next three years: ‘The Black Dahlia’ (2006) and ‘The Reaping’ (2007).
She acted in the offbeat film ‘Birds of America’ in 2008, followed by ‘Amelia’ in 2009 and ‘Conviction’ in 2010 where she played a single mother whose brother is convicted of murder.
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Her most recent films include ‘The Resident’ and ‘New Year’s Eve’, both released in 2011.
Her Academy Award winning performance in ‘Boys Don't Cry’ (1999) is one of her most brilliant works. She played Brandon Teena, a young transman who is brutally murdered when people realize his sexuality. Swank was commended for her courage in taking up such a controversial role.
She played the role of Maggie Fitzgerald, a would-be boxer in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Million Dollar Baby’ (2004). Her performance earned her rave reviews and several awards.
Awards & Achievements
She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1999 for her portrayal of Brandon Teena in ‘Boys Don’t cry’. The same year, she was awarded The Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best (Lead) Actress for the same role.
In 2004 she won her second Academy Award for Best Actress for her role of Maggie Fitzgerald, a boxer, in ‘Million Dollar Baby’. She also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture-Drama the same year for the same role.
Personal Life & Legacy
Swank married actor Chad Lowe in 1997 and divorced him in 2007 after a decade long marriage.
She was in a relationship with her agent John Campisi for some years, but the couple has since broken up.
She cut her hair very short and lost a lot of weight to prepare for her role as a transman in ‘Boys Don’t Cry’.
She is an animal lover and has many pets.
She is the third youngest actress to win two Academy Awards for Best Actress, only after Luise Rainer and Jodie Foster.