Personal detailsName: Hilary Swank
Born: 30 July 1974 (Age: 39)
Where: Lincoln, Nebraska, USA
Height: 5' 7"
Awards: Won 2 Oscars, 2 Golden Globes, nominated for 1 BAFTA
All about this star
Hilary Swank's early roles did not bode well for a future career as a "serious" actress. Making her screen debut in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, then headlining in the third sequel to The Karate Kid before winding up in that thespian graveyard Beverly Hills 90120, she was surely destined for artistic oblivion. Even after winning an Oscar for her extraordinary performance as the doomed cross-dresser Teena Brandon in Boys Don't Cry she was immediately forgotten by the public, most of whom never saw that notoriously "diificult" movie. So it was a surprise to most when, in 2004, she made a sudden and decisive return in Clint Eastwood's multi-nominated Million Dollar Baby, an Oscar-winning comeback supported by a very high-profile modelling assignment for Calvin Klein. Clearly that first Oscar had been no fluke - Swank's abilities could no longer be denied.
Of Spanish and Native American extraction, Hilary Ann Swank was born on the 30th of July, 1974 in . . . well, therein lies a question. Reports have been severely confused by the audition process for Boys Don't Cry. In order to win the confidence of director Kimberly Peirce, Swank told her that, like the real Teena Brandon, she was 21 and had been born in Lincoln, Nebraska. In fact, she claimed, she'd be born in the same hospital. Later, Peirce would discover that Swank had lied and confronted her, with Swank cheekily (and quite correctly) replying that that's exactly what Brandon would have done. The part was hers, but the lies caused problems for biographers. Swank was certainly not 21, she was 24. As for her birthplace, her management maintained that she was indeed born in Lincoln. Swank herself would often refer to herself as a mid-Western girl, and state that one of her grandfathers was born and raised in Iowa, just two hours drive from Falls City, Nebraska, the small town where Teena Brandon disastrously went to start a new life.
What's sure is that Hilary's father was employed by the airborne National Guard and, when Hilary was still pre-school, took his family - wife Judy, a secretary and later an executive, and son James - to live in Bellingham, Washington. With a population of 60,000, this was the closest sizeable American town to the Canadian border, nearer to Vancouver than Seattle. It was a beautiful spot, set between the sea and the Cascade Mountains, looking out to the San Juan Islands in the bay.
Soon, her father would change jobs. Deciding there was money to be had dealing in trailers, when Hilary was 6 he shifted the family into a trailer-park and began life as a travelling salesman, now operating mostly as an absent father. Attending Sehome High School (known for their aggressive but absurd Sehome Fight Song), young Hilary would excel at sports, particularly in the gym and pool. Indeed, as a swimmer she would compete in the Junior Olympics, while as an all-round gymnast she'd come fifth at the Washington State Championships.
But, despite her excellence in these physical disciplines, Hilary had a greater love . . . acting. When she was 8, one of her teachers had asked her class to write a skit then stand up and act it out. Swank had found the experience revelatory and, by the age of 9 was starring as Mowgli in a production of The Jungle Book (not the last time she would successfully pose as a boy). From then on, she would be a regular in school plays and local theatre, eventually being named Best Junior Actress by the Bellingham Theatre Guild. She would be constantly reprimanded by her mother for staring at people and mimicking their actions and expressions.
Despite the accolades, her school-life was not all plain sailing. As most of her schoolmates sprang from a higher social class - at least, they did not live in trailer parks - she would take a fair degree of abuse. Later, she would recall one incident when a group of her supposed friends ran past her and threw a screwed-up letter at the back of her head. On the bus home she was horrified to read the words "You think you're so cool, but you're not. You think you're so pretty, but you're ugly. You think you're so talented, but you suck". God only knows what her enemies might have written.
With her heart set on an acting career, Hilary was now to be lent a hand by ill-fortune. Her parents' marriage had been turning sour for some considerable time and, with Hilary now 15 and James old enough to cope, they separated. As Judy had just lost her job, she found herself at a major crossroads in her life. She had nothing in Bellingham, so she decided to seek a new life in Los Angeles, where Hilary might also ply her desired trade. So, with $75 between them, the pair took off for California in Judy's Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.
To begin with, it was far from easy. All down the coast and for the first two weeks in LA they slept in the car. Living off Judy's Mobil card, they spent much of their time in coffeeshops and automats at Mobil stations. Soon a friend would provide a roof over their heads, but this was in a house in the process of being sold. With viewers due each day, Judy and Hilary would have to vacate it each morning, making sure no one would suspect they'd been there.
Quickly, both of their main aims were achieved. Judy found employment and Hilary found an agent.