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Though she struggled to gain her footing for almost a decade, actress Hilary Swank finally had a major breakthrough when she earned the Academy Award for her gripping performance in the indie darling "Boys Don't Cry" (1999). A classic "overnight" success story that Hollywood loves to sire, Swank quickly proved that she was no one-trick-pony with quality turns in Sam Raimi's supernatural thriller "The Gift" (2000), the period romantic drama "The Affair of the Necklace" (2001) and Christopher Nolan's excellent crime thriller "Insomnia" (2002). She went on to find her star-making niche playing steely women who succeeded against the odds, best exemplified by her performance as a female boxer who meets a tragic end in Clint Eastwood's moody drama "Million Dollar Baby" (2004), a role that earned her a second Oscar. From there, she etched powerful performances as real-life women such as American suffragist Alice Paul in "Iron Jawed Angels" (HBO, 2004), unorthodox teacher Erin Gruwell in "Freedom Writers" (2007) and groundbreaking aviatrix Amelia Earhart in "Amelia" (2009). In 2006, Swank was the subject of tabloid headlines following her divorce from actor Chad Lowe and subsequent romance with her own...
Though she struggled to gain her footing for almost a decade, actress Hilary Swank finally had a major breakthrough when she earned the Academy Award for her gripping performance in the indie darling "Boys Don't Cry" (1999). A classic "overnight" success story that Hollywood loves to sire, Swank quickly proved that she was no one-trick-pony with quality turns in Sam Raimi's supernatural thriller "The Gift" (2000), the period romantic drama "The Affair of the Necklace" (2001) and Christopher Nolan's excellent crime thriller "Insomnia" (2002). She went on to find her star-making niche playing steely women who succeeded against the odds, best exemplified by her performance as a female boxer who meets a tragic end in Clint Eastwood's moody drama "Million Dollar Baby" (2004), a role that earned her a second Oscar. From there, she etched powerful performances as real-life women such as American suffragist Alice Paul in "Iron Jawed Angels" (HBO, 2004), unorthodox teacher Erin Gruwell in "Freedom Writers" (2007) and groundbreaking aviatrix Amelia Earhart in "Amelia" (2009). In 2006, Swank was the subject of tabloid headlines following her divorce from actor Chad Lowe and subsequent romance with her own agent, John Campisi. Five years later, she was criticized for attending the birthday celebration of Chechnyan president Ramzan Kadyrov, who had been cited for human rights violations, leading her to publicly apologize. Despite such embarrassment, Swank remained one of Hollywood's more versatile actresses who drew upon her working-class roots to deliver one informed performance after another.
Born July 30, 1974, Swank was raised first in Spokane and then in a trailer park in Bellingham, WA, which the actress referenced frequently when expressing astonishment over her journey to earning her first Academy Award win years later. A self-described outsider in school, the athletic young Swank competed at a state-ranking level in both swimming and gymnastics but felt most comfortable when she was lost in a movie or novel. She learned to escape into characters on stage, and became active in school and regional repertory theater. Her mother was supportive of her daughter's talent and dreams of becoming an actress, so when Swank's parents separated in her teens, she and her ambitious daughter moved to Los Angeles. The pair had less than a hundred dollars when they arrived, but her mother found a job and the lanky and striking teen found acting work quickly with a guest starring role on the syndicated "Harry and the Hendersons" (syndicated, 1991-93). She was even more thrilled to reach "working actress" status with recurring characters on "Evening Shade" (CBS, 1990-94) and "Growing Pains" (ABC, 1985-1992). Her feature film debut was her appearance as Kristy Swanson's Valley Girl pal in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1992), after which she shot the direct-to-video drama "Quiet Days in Hollywood" (filmed in 1992; released 1997). It was on that set where she instantly fell in love with co-star Chad Lowe. The two would go on to have a somewhat fabled romance, as they both struggled to make a name for themselves.
Following another season on primetime as a regular on the short-lived "Camp Wilder" (ABC, 1992-93), Swank landed her first major break when she beat out thousands of actresses for the coveted lead role in "The Next Karate Kid" (1994), the final installment of the martial arts film series and the first to star a female as Kesuke Miyagi's (Pat Morita) young protégé. Swank's athletic background made for a good fit, but even her prowess and likable earnestness could not save the film in an era before female action heroes like Jennifer Garner and Lucy Liu resonated with viewers. Undaunted, Swank went right back out on auditions and added another handful of straight-to-video thrillers and Lifetime made-for-TV melodramas to her growing resume while patiently waiting for the perfect project to showcase her potential. When "Leaving L.A." (1997), a procedural drama set in a morgue in which Swank had a regular cast role, was canceled after only six episodes, she was offered a cast role on the eighth season of Fox's flagging young adult drama "Beverly Hills, 90210." Swank brought a much needed spark of reality to the worn-out show with her role as a single mom/waitress and love interest of playboy Steve (Ian Ziering), but her character was written out of the show during her first season. While crushed at the time, her unceremonious departure was offset by her marriage to Lowe that year. And though she could never have dreamed it at the time, ultimately this dismissal set Swank on a new path, making her available for a more pivotal project that would change her life forever.
Just weeks later, Swank auditioned to portray Brandon Teena in "Boys Don't Cry" (1999), the fact-based story of a transgender young man from the Midwest whose murder made headlines. The beautifully realized independent film from director Kimberly Peirce presented numerous challenges for Swank, who cut off her long hair, worked with both an acting coach and a trainer, and created a male alter ego which she adopted full-time for close to a month prior to production. The onscreen results were astonishing, with Swank conveying the complex swagger and fragility of the character - making even the most close-minded, unsympathetic viewers stop and contemplate. Not surprisingly, she earned raves for giving one of the top film performances of the year and her Cinderella story of "from trailer park to red carpet" became the stuff of legend. A stunned and gracious recipient of the Golden Globe and Academy awards for Best Actress, Swank expressed gratitude and amazement for her long, twisting journey thus far and, not surprisingly, was promptly besieged with offers after the award season dust had settled.
For her follow-up, she receded into the supporting role of an abused wife in the ensemble of Sam Raimi's Southern Gothic, "The Gift" (2000), before returning to leading lady status with a rather stiff performance as a French noblewoman in the failed period drama, "The Affair of the Necklace" (2001). Amid murmurs that her Oscar breakout had perhaps been a case of beginner's luck, Swank continued to choose her roles carefully and found success in a supporting role again; this time alongside Al Pacino and Robin Williams as a rookie cop put in charge of a murder investigation in the eerie Alaskan thriller, "Insomnia" (2002), directed by Christopher Nolan. A starring role as an astronaut in the sci-fi thriller "The Core" (2003), a contrived disaster flick about the impending destruction of the earth after its core mysteriously stops rotating, was a critical and financial flop. Swank rebounded with a strong performance as women's suffrage leader Alice Paul in the widely praised HBO telepic, "Iron Jawed Angels" (2004), for which she earned a Golden Globe award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Mini-Series or Television Movie.
Sticking close to her proven success embodying physically and emotionally strong figures who succeed against the odds, Swank was well cast in Clint Eastwood's drama, "Million Dollar Baby" (2004). A relatively quiet bit of casting before its release, Swank came out swinging yet again, delivering another Golden Globe and Oscar-winning performance which would permanently put to rest the "beginner's luck" whispers. As Maggie Fitzgerald, a tough and determined but undisciplined female boxer looking for someone to believe in her, Swank succeeded in both carving her body into a taught fighting machine and at the same time, wearing her character's emotions openly on her sleeve, delivering her most compelling performance since Brandon Teena. The film also marked Swank's biggest commercial success, with over $200 million dollars earned at the box office and recognition among mainstream theatergoers. The film did receive its share of criticism from conservatives who called for a boycott over the right-to-die ending; an ending that managed to miraculously remain a secret for most moviegoers, despite political pundits having a field day over the subject matter.
The Hollywood A-lister went on to co-star in the disappointing film noir biopic, "The Black Dahlia" (2006), acting as the femme fatale who is a dead ringer for an actress whose murder is being obsessively investigated by a pair of corrupt, hard-edged cops (Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart). The same year, Swank and Lowe's 13-year relationship ended and the actress was soon linked to her agent, John Campisi. Tabloids had a field day, as Lowe was portrayed as the wronged husband who had stood by his wife throughout her struggles and watched as her star had eclipsed his; Swank was seen as the ungrateful wife who after achieving her dreams, moved on to greener pastures. It was to be the one moment of scandal in Swank's otherwise squeaky clean life, and whatever the truth of the matter, both stars spoke well of one another as they moved on separately with their lives.
Returning to her heroic everywoman persona, she went on to executive produce and star in the inspirational inner-city teacher tale "Freedom Writers" (2007), which was a moderate success but a little too formulaic to be memorably affecting. The same year, she curiously headlined the horror film "The Reaping" (2007) but experienced her biggest box office success of the year with the romance "P.S. I Love You" (2007), starring as a grieving young widow whose deceased husband (Gerard Butler) has left her a list of tasks to do in order to help ease her out of grief and into a new life. The following year, Swank's flair for empowered women led to her casting by director Mira Nair as the tragic aviatrix Amelia Earhart in the biopic, "Amelia" (2009). She followed up with another heroic leading role in "Conviction" (2010), playing a woman who spends a decade putting herself through law school in order to represent her brother (Sam Rockwell), who is incarcerated after a wrongful murder conviction. Swank's solid performance earned substantial critical praise, as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture.
After starring in the direct-to-DVD thriller "The Resident" (2011), which was released theatrically in Britain, Swank was one of many stars of the ensemble romantic comedy that included Halle Berry, Zac Efron, Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl and Michelle Pfeiffer in "New Year's Eve" (2011), directed by Garry Marshall. In October 2011, Swank made unfortunate headlines after she appeared at the 35th birthday celebration for Chechnyan president Ramzon Kadyrov, an accused strongman and former rebel soldier who had been repeatedly cited for human rights violations that included torture and murder. Following criticism from human rights groups, and subsequent mishandling of the situation by her public relations people, Swank apologized for her appearance, stating that she was unaware of Kadyrov's abuses. She went on to express that she deeply regretted participating in the lavish concert and sought to limit the damage from the controversy by donating her earnings to various charitable organizations.
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CAST: (feature film)
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When asked if she had ever done martial arts before "The Next Karate Kid": "No, never. I had flexibility in gymnastics, and I took instruction and worked hard, hours and hours a day. I wanted to do all my stunts." And did she? "Oh, God, I've got plenty of bruises. Yes!"---Hilary Swank in Parade Magazine, August 7, 1994.
"It took about four weeks for me to detox from masculinity... I felt like I had lost every ounce of my femininity and I honestly didn't know if I'd ever get it back."---Swank on playing Brandon in "Boy's Don't Cry", quoted in Talk, October 1999.
"I figured out why it was so easy. I had so much fear and anxiety about it, but when we did it, it was so professional, it didn't live up to my fear. It was just make-believe."---Hilary Swank, on the brutal rape scene in "Boy's Don't Cry", to Stacy D'Erasmo of Out, October 1999.
"I hope ['Boys Don't Cry'] can help people be inspired to be themselves and to live their dream. And live every single moment fully."---Hilary Swank quoted in USA Today, October 21, 1999.
Swank was named one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People for 2004
"The second after I won the Academy Award [for 1999's Boys Don't Cry], I felt inhibited, like I was being watched under a microscope, she says. "People weren't necessarily putting that on me so much as I was putting that on myself. It took a while before I could relax and enjoy acting again."---Swank quoted in Premiere, December 2004/January 2005.
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