Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank has become a household name by choosing unexpected roles from someone of transgender experience in Boys Don’t Cry to a female boxer in Million Dollar Baby. Even in the excessive and sometimes trashy glam of Hollywood, Swank’s freedom in acting has made her a respectable icon without the high-octane drama of drunken tirades, or scandalous, and sometimes grotesque, lack of undergarments. In her latest film, Freedom Writers, Swank shines in the true life story of Erin Gruwell, a teacher who inspires teens in the mid ‘90’s to translate their urban hardships in journal entries. Swank sat down with MF opening up about the new film, her own experience in school and how she stays healthy with all of the incredible success.
MF: I know you didn’t grow up in a violent neighborhood, but you did grow up poor. What part of your life as a child was able to relate to the kids in Freedom Writers?
Hilary: Great question... well, I feel like I was an outsider, I didn't feel hopeless that's the one thing that was the biggest difference. I definitely felt like my mom believed in me, so she gave me a great gift by saying you can do anything you want in life. I didn't feel hopeless, but I didn't feel like I belonged, I just didn’t fit in at school, I didn't feel understood, and I didn't feel like teachers cared. I felt like I was kind of in there, it just was not a good place for me.
The education system in our country is really messed up, and that's really unfortunate for a lot of reasons. The most important thing in the world is education. That's what makes kids figure themselves out, it makes them feel confident, it gives them hope and it makes them realize what their dream is. It's everything… it's sad that teachers aren’t paid very much and it's sad that they're underappreciated. It's sad that you have to pay a lot of money to get an education, and it makes people like Erin Gruwell even the more rare.
MF: Did you feel a responsibility to play the character like she acts?
Hilary: It's a good question because I didn't really want to spend a lot of time with her, I didn’t want to be mimicking. I felt like the last thing you want to do is mimic somebody, you want to really get into the heart of who they are and what their story is. But, Erin's mannerisms are really important to who she is because she uses her body to communicate in a really interesting way. I feel like she brings you in with her hands. She's talking with her hands to describe something, it just comes across differently to her than to just sit here and talk. She looks at you, shakes her head when you're talking so you really know she's listening. I think that’s an important thing as a teacher especially because in the beginning they're like, "Who are you? You're invading my space.” She got in their face and that is a really important thing. The kids had a reaction to her physical being so that was important -- I got an idea of it from the first meeting. You get a real sense right away about how open she is and optimistic.