Life And Career Facts About Hilary Swank

Hilary Swank has had a fascinating life. The actor, who was born in Nebraska and grew up in Washington state, had to work very hard to get where she is today. A high school dropout who was raised in a trailer park, she eventually ended up a lauded A-list star. Swank's career has taken many turns, and for several years she stepped away from the spotlight altogether.

Aside from acting, Swank has a fashion line, she started her own animal rescue foundation, and she has been a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Although Swank's acting projects have not all been hits, she has always maintained a positive attitude and a gracious demeanor. As she once told The Guardian, "When things are disappointing, I know they are happening for a reason, so I try to find out why and learn from them."

Let's take a look at the life and career of Hilary Swank.

Hilary Swank's humble beginnings

Many actors come from working class backgrounds, but Hilary Swank's childhood and subsequent rise to fame is the stuff of fairytales. Swank grew up in a trailer park in Bellingham, Washington. According to The Globe And Mail, Swank was just eight years old when she was shunned by some classmates whose parents didn't want them hanging out with a girl who lived in a trailer. "That's where I learned classism and experienced classism for the first time," Swank told The Globe and Mail. "I had a roof over my head, I had food, I was warm, I had a home and so I didn't really think of it as anything other than the place in which I lived."

Though she grew up a world away from the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown, she still had stars in her eyes. As per the Los Angeles Times, Swank was still in high school when she and her mother headed to Los Angeles — with only $75 and a car — to try to make a career in show business happen. And it paid off. Not only did Swank become an Oscar-winning performer, but her early experiences infused her performances with empathy. "Growing up in a lower-income family, you don't have the resources to make ends meet and you have to find creative ways to get by," she told the Daily Mail.

Hilary Swank has always been athletic

Hilary Swank is a versatile actor whose work has garnered many awards and much critical acclaim. But acting is not the only area in which Swank has been successful. As a teenager, she was quite the athlete, excelling in both gymnastics and swimming. And we mean she really excelled. As per Hello!, she was not only a ranked gymnast in her home state, but competed in the Junior Olympics as a swimmer. 

Swank continued to participate in sports throughout her life, and her athletic skills proved helpful when training for physical roles such as Julia Pierce in "The Next Karate Kid" and boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in "Million Dollar Baby." In an interview with WWD, Swank spoke about how her athleticism is not merely about staying in good shape. "I grew up as an athlete so working out for me is like breathing, sleeping, eating, drinking water — it is a really vital part of my life," she said.

The first roles of Hilary Swank's career

Even though there's no doubt that Hilary Swank has had a rags to riches trajectory, that doesn't mean she was an overnight success. Swank attended South Pasadena High School, but dropped out to pursue her acting career. Swank found small roles in popular TV series such as "Growing Pains" and "Evening Shade." She made her film debut in 1992's "Buffy The Vampire Slayer," and landed a starring role in 1994's "The Next Karate Kid." But she had yet to achieve real stardom, continuing to take small parts in the ensuing years.

In 1997, she thought she'd finally gotten her big break when she was offered a role on the wildly popular primetime drama "Beverly Hills, 90210." Swank played single mom who dated Steve, played by Ian Ziering. She lasted sixteen episodes before she was unceremoniously fired. It turned out fans didn't like her character, and preferred Steve single. It was difficult for Swank not to take it personally. "They were like, 'Look, it's not working,'" she told Star 2 Entertainment (via Us Weekly). "I was like, 'What's not working? Me? Am I bad? I'm not working because I'm bad?'" 

By then "90210" was in its eighth season, and Swank later mused in an interview with Conan O'Brien that people over the show at that point. "I was devastated!" she said. "I'm thinking, no one watches this show anymore and I got fired off the show no one watches."

Her role in Boys Don't Cry

Hilary Swank finally got her big break in the 1999 independent film "Boys Don't Cry." The film is based on the real-life story of Brandon Teena, a trans man who was a victim of a brutal hate crime. Swank won an Oscar for her portrayal, which may have made up for the fact that she was paid a mere $3,000 for the role.

While the film was a hit when it premiered, it has since sparked controversy. Some trans activists take issue with Swank, a cisgender woman, having been cast in a role that a trans person might have played. Looking back on the role, Swank told IndieWire in 2019, "I think in some ways it's been criticized and in others it hasn't. And I think if people knew the outpouring of letters and people on the streets who have come up to me in tears, thanking me for telling their story. ... I hold on to that."

In 2020, Swank was a bit more candid when speaking about being cast as Brandon Teena. "I mean, trans people weren't really walking around in the world saying, 'Hey, I'm trans,'" she told Variety. "Twenty-one years later, not only are trans people having their lives and living...but we now have a bunch of trans actors who would obviously be a lot more right for the role and have the opportunity to actually audition for the role." After playing Teena, Swank became a spokesperson for The Hetrick-Martin Institute, an LGBTQ+ youth organization.

Hilary Swank has earned many awards

Hilary Swank, while not the most prolific actor of her time, has received much recognition for the roles she has played. In particular, 1999's "Boys Don't Cry" and 2004's "Million Dollar Baby." Swank took home the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for both of these movies. When Swank won for "Boys Don't Cry" she beat out Hollywood heavyweights like Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep. In her acceptance speech, she gave a shoutout to her mom, saying, "It looks like living out of our car was worth it!" She notably forgot to thank her then-husband, Chad Lowe, who was in the audience crying with joy.

But the Oscars were not the only place Swank received accolades for her stunning onscreen work. Her performance as Brandon Teena earned her a Golden Globe award, a Bafta award, an Independent Spirit Award, and even a nomination for an MTV Movie Award in the category of Best Kiss, along with co-star Chloë Sevigny.

Swank's role in "Million Dollar Baby" was just as lauded, earning her a second Oscar, a second Golden Globe, another MTV Movie Award nomination, and many other accolades both domestically and internationally.

Her foray into fashion

In 2016, Hilary Swank branched out into fashion design, launching a line of athletic wear under the label Mission Statement. Swank's creations were born out of her own dedication to fitness, and wanting to find versatile clothing that lined up with her on-the-go lifestyle. The collection included such items as leather leggings, washable cashmere sweaters, and little black dresses. Swank explained to Vogue, "I was looking for clothes that could take me from my workout into [the rest of] my day, and I couldn't find them. There's athleisure, but people just look like they're wearing their workout clothes all day."

According to Swank, becoming an entrepreneur had some things in common with her comfort zone, the film industry. She told Forbes, "I feel it parallels making movies in that you start with an idea and have to find the right artisans to collaborate with bringing that vision to the world." As for the name of the clothing line, Swank explained, "The underlying purpose of the brand is to encourage women to live their own personal Mission Statement."

The ups and downs of Hilary Swank's love life

Many actors have love lives that are rife with tabloid fodder, but not Hilary Swank. She is more the type to settle down for long-term relationships, evidenced by her marriage to actor Chad Lowe. Swank and Lowe met at a party in 1992, and Swank said it was love at first sight. Lowe agreed, telling People, "It was like the old cliché where you see somebody, lock eyes across the room, and time stands still" The couple dated for several years before tying the knot in 1997.

Swank forgot to thank Lowe during her first Oscar acceptance speech, and years later he was still defending her. He told Howard Stern in 2007, "I felt bad for her because I knew, you know, I knew immediately." He added, "And I felt for her more than I felt for myself." Sadly, the two ended their marriage in 2006, and it was later revealed that Lowe had been secretly struggling with addiction. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Swank said, "Would I say that his substance-abuse problem caused our divorce? No. Would I say that his substance-abuse problem helped us? Absolutely not."

In 2007, Swank began dating entertainment agent John Campisi. The two stayed together for five years. Swank went on to date former tennis pro Ruben Torres, to whom she was briefly engaged, but the union was short-lived. She is currently married to entrepreneur Philip Schneider, having wed in 2018. The couple announced in October 2022 that they are expecting twins.

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She was the butt of an Office joke

In 2009, "The Office" aired an episode in which the entire subplot revolved around whether or not Hilary Swank was hot. The episode, titled "Prince Family Paper" featured the Dunder Mifflin gang sitting around debating the hotness of Hilary Swank, complete with photos of her taped up on the walls, impassioned speeches, and even graphs. At one point Kevin (Brain Baumgartner) proclaims, "She looks like a monster." Another part features Kelly (Mindy Kaling) declaring, "If you are saying that Hilary Swank isn't hot then you are saying I'm not hot because obviously I'm not as hot as Hilary Swank!" before running off in tears.

In an interview segment with Time called "10 Questions for Hilary Swank," the actor was asked if she'd seen the episode. "I'm not a big television watcher, but definitely everyone made me aware of it," Swank said. "It's flattering anytime someone mentions you. But I don't think of myself in terms of that." A very graceful response. When asked about her thoughts on the state of women in Hollywood, Swank dug a bit deeper and replied, "There is so much [emphasis] put on the way we look, which is interesting, going back to 'The Office' question. Are you hot, or are you not? It really does a disservice. There's so much more to life than looking a certain way."

Why she took a break from acting

In 2014, Hilary Swank took a break from acting. Considering the fact that she had been working steadily since she was a teenager, the time off was well-earned. But Swank did not use the time to relax and recharge. As per Health, she took care of her father after her underwent a lung transplant.

In a 2018 interview with Stephen Colbert, Swank spoke about her father's lung transplant. "It's the hardest surgery a person can undergo, and I thank all the people who make themselves a donor. It saves lives." She went on to say, "I took three years off to be with [my father] and help him through that life journey."

When Health asked what her advice would be to other caregivers, Swank noted all of the emotional and physical work it can take. "Make sure that you're taking time for yourself and that you vocalize what your needs are to the people who are around you so they can help support you," she said.

She literally rescues dogs

Hilary Swank is not only caring when it comes to her family; she also has a soft spot for animals, especially dogs. And rescuing dogs is an endeavor that is particularly important to Swank. During a Q&A with The Bark, she said, "I feel there's a connection between dogs and humans that is super profound. ... Besides the dogs I've rescued and shared my home with [Lucky, Karoo, Rumi and Kai], I've also found forever homes for thousands of dogs."

Swank's passion led her to start her own foundation called Hilaroo. The Hilaroo Foundation aims to pair rescue animals with children in need in order to foster connection and teach responsibility. Per Entertainment Weekly, Swank also created and co-hosted a 2014 TV special "Fox's Cause For Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular," which featured a long list of celebrity guest-stars in a celebration of rescue dogs. Viewers were able to donate to the Petfinder Foundation.

Coincidentally, Swank literally rescued a woman's lost dog in June 2022. As the Times Union recounted, Albany resident Chelsea Blackwell's dog, a dachshund named Blue, went missing. Blackwell was frantic, asking strangers if they'd seen Blue and came upon a scene that turned out to be a movie set. She asked around and was told by a camera operator that yes, her dog had been found by none other than Hilary Swank. Blackwell and Blue were reunited and took a selfie with the Oscar winner.

She spoke out about the gender wage gap

It's an unfortunate fact that there is a gender pay gap in the US. Reports show that in 2022 women make between 82 and 99 cents for every dollar a man makes. It may seem like a small gap, but there simply should not be a gap at all. Equal pay for equal work does not necessarily apply in Hollywood either. This is something Hilary Swank was vocal about on an episode of Chelsea Handler's "Women's Dinner Party."

On the show, Swank tells a shocking story about a role she was offered after having won her two Oscars. The male lead was offered $10 million and Swank was offered $500,000. The other women at the table, including Connie Britton and Ava DuVernay were appalled. "So, I said no and then they went and found a newcomer who did it for $50,000," Swank said. "So, they made a savings of $450,000... probably to give the guy his bonuses," she added wryly.

Her recent roles and new series

Although Hilary Swank took some time off from acting, she came back strong and continues to work steadily. In 2020, she starred in the Netflix series "Away," as an astronaut who must leave her family behind to complete a dangerous mission in space. Swank also ventured into voice acting in 2019 lending her voice to the popular animated series "BoJack Horseman."

Swank is currently starring in ABC's "Alaska Daily" as a journalist working in Anchorage, Alaska. The series, which also streams on Hulu, sheds light on the disturbing violence and sexual assault of Indigenous women in Alaska. Swank spoke to Newsweek about what attracted her to the role, and why she is passionate about it. "I knew about the missing, murdered indigenous women, I knew about that. But the story was just [shocking]," Swank said. "[A]nd yet so many people don't know about it and it's happening right now, right this second, and no one's doing anything about it, it is horrific and something needs to be done."

She took her time starting a family

In October 2022, Hilary Swank announced her pregnancy with twins at the age of 48. She made her announcement on Good Morning America, telling the hosts, "This is something that I've been wanting for a long time and my next thing is I'm gonna be a mom." As the live audience erupted into cheers, she added, "I'm gonna be a mom and not just of one, but of two."

Motherhood has long appealed to Swank. Per Us Weekly, she told reporters in 2006, "I just love kids and that would be an important thing to happen for me someday whenever the time is right." It seems that time has finally come and Swank and her husband, Philip Schneider, couldn't be more thrilled. But before becoming pregnant, Swank was defensive when it came to outdated ideals surrounding women and motherhood. She told the Daily Mail in a 2020, "I feel like so much of the time women who either choose not to or can't have children are somehow seen as not maternal or not mothering and it is a conversation that needs to be had." 

Between her work in rescuing dogs and the care she gave her ailing father, it's clear Hilary Swank has a nurturing soul and will be a wonderful mother. What's more, Swank revealed a miraculous detail on "The Drew Barrymore Show": her twins are due on her late father's birthday. How beautiful is that?