Dropping by the Essex County Airport in Jersey for a women aviators appreciation day in response to her performance as the iconic Amelia Earhart in the Mira Nair directed biopic, Hilary Swank astonished as nearly the spitting image of the lanky legendary tomboy.
Settling down to field a few questions about the movie after being showered with gifts and accolades from the fearless female pilots known as The 99s, who were flown in from around the world for this special occasion, Hilary got right into her ‘girls don’t cry’ naked affection for the bold aviatrix babe she confesses to still carrying around in her heart, and with no apologies. Though there were times on the set when she was nearly reprimanded for her overwhelming enthusiasm for the role and told hey, a little less Amelia, please.
HILARY SWANK: Oh, this is great. Like a birthday party! This is a beautiful card I was just given. And an up, up and away gift! I usually save my wrapping paper. Especially this one! And I like blue velvet boxes. Oh wow, an Amelia bronze medallion!
And there’s an inscription.
HS: It says, to Hilary. As Amelia, a role model. From The 99s. Thank you, this is a really great honor. And so touching. Thank you very much.
So how do you create suspense in a movie about someone like Amelia Earhart, when we already know the ending?
HS: Well if you ‘think’ you know how it ends, you have to go see the movie! It may not have ended the way you think it ends. Because there’s a lot of theories, aren’t there!
How did you get into the skin of Amelia?
HS: Obviously, a movie takes a lot of collaboration. But in the end, I just had to do what I was told, and what’s on the page. And I try and bring the honesty. And the responsibility to play someone who really lived, you know? And it’s a big responsibility to play someone who’s as iconic as Amelia too.
You know, we all have such a great idea of who she was, and what she looked like. So there wasn’t a lot of room for fictional license. So we had to do just the best we could, to honor that person. And I think we tried to, you know…navigate the best we could! And that is hopefully on the screen.
Was there anything about Amelia that surprised you?
HS: Obviously, I learned about Amelia from a very young age. But what I learned, is what everyone learns in textbooks. So for me, obviously getting under the skin of a person that I’m playing, is really important. And trying to figure that out about a specific person you’re portraying, is very important.
But besides reading all the literature, there was trying to understand who she was. And she was a very private person. And what she was expressing out in the world, might not necessarily have been her true thoughts. So it was just breaking down how her childhood formed who she was, and all that.
But I think one of the things I took away from Amelia that I found very inspiring and moving, was how a lot of people, more than with any other of my movies, how they have come up to me and said, I cannot wait to see Amelia. And I really expected women to want to see this movie. But a lot of men have also come up to me saying, I can’t wait to see this movie.
And I think, what a lot of people are magnetized about, in my opinion, is this person Amelia, who lived her life the way she wanted to live it. You know, she made no apologies for saying, this is my life, this is how I see it, and this is how I want it to be done.
And I think that even in 2009, that’s really rare. Especially for women. I think this is a more male-centric world. And I think a lot of men are able to have the life they envision for themselves. And women not as much, even in 2009.
So talking about somebody who lived in the 1920s, when women just got the right to vote, it’s incredible. And this may be a period piece, but it transcends even what we know now. And I think that’s a reminder, it certainly was a reminder for me, to live my life that way. And one life is so short.
Amelia’s life was certainly short. And she accomplished so much in that lifetime. More than most people do, in a really long life. But it was just a reminder for me, that you constantly have to look within, to know the life that you want to live for yourself. And not for other people, you know?
And I might be looking at my life and think, I may be missing something because I’m living my mother’s idea of my life. Or your partner’s idea, or whatever it is. And I think Amelia was such a great reminder that you can live your life the way you want to. And find love, and experience your dreams. And you can have it all.
So for me, that’s what I really learned, in diving deep into who she was. And like I said, you only live once. So you might as well be doing what you love!
Did playing Amelia lead you to a desire to learn how to fly yourself?
HS: Um, you obviously can’t play Amelia Earhart, and not learn how to fly! That would just be wrong in every way. I have to say, like when you’re a kid, there are so many firsts. There are so many things that you’re learning all of the time. You’re learning how to ride a bike, how to read. There are so many things you haven’t experienced, and you’re euphoric.
You know, you’re really in the moment. And then when you become an adult, you’ve experienced a lot, but there’s not a lot of those firsts anymore. And learning how to fly for me, was so euphoric. Because it was like learning how to ride a bike again, it was a first.
And it takes all of your senses. You are completely immersed. And it’s dangerous, it’s adventurous. It’s um, all of the things that I love! And I think that Amelia loved. And I loved to learn, it was exciting to learn something new that was so challenging. I didn’t realize how much.
And I’m not a big sweat-er. But I found that after two hours of a flight lesson, I would land and my back was drenched! Just from the concentration. And it was really wonderful. I flew nineteen hours. And I did want to get my flying license.
But obviously for insurance purposes, they wouldn’t let me fly up there alone so I could do that. Especially before filming the movie. Now, they’d probably be like, sure, go ahead! Yeah, when you’re done with this, go for it, kid!
But yeah, I would like to get my pilot’s license. You know, I like to see things through to the end. I don’t want to just say yeah, I flew. So I want to get my license, and continue to go up on my own.
One of the great things about my job, is I get to do all of these things. And experience all these things that I wouldn’t have, had I not been an actor. And I think saying that I learned how to fly in order to play Amelia Earhart, is pretty great. Yeah! When we had the plane, I got to taxi it. And I was like, whoa! Yeah, it’s a whole other thing.
Do you have any great passion, like Amelia?
HS: Well obviously, my passion lies in telling stories. And it’s what I wanted to do since I was nine years old. I love people. And I love what makes people unique, and also what makes them similar. And one similarity between Amelia and I, is that she loved to travel. And I love to travel.
And I’ve been so fortunate in my career and job, to travel all around the world. And part of that, is to talk about the films that I am a part of. But it’s sometimes, I’m not gonna lie, very difficult, and grueling. I mean, in the last sixteen days, I was in Italy, and then back to Los Angeles. Then Dubai and London, and back to Los Angeles, and now in New York.
That was 36 hours in the air, in the last five days. And stewards actually laugh and tell me, hey, it’s illegal for us to fly as much as you fly! I’m constantly in the air, and I’m constantly out there promoting my films. But I think as Amelia also understood, without that, without that understanding
of the business side of things, you can’t have your career.
What about the accusations against her at the time, that she was a publicity hound promoting her fame, and the Amelia Earhart luggage and other product lines?
HS: You know, if I’m not willing to go out and talk about things that I’m a part of, and which I in fact love, and it’s not really difficult to get in touch with why I’m a part of a film. Then you can’t have the other side of it, you know?
And that makes complete sense to me. It makes sense, and I understand the business side of it, even though I understand the art side of it. They’re intertwined. And you just try to do the best you can. And I don’t know what Amelia would say about all that.
But sometimes you do feel a little bit like you’re in a circus. I guess it’s when things become more personal. And you’re like, I’m just an actor, trying to talk about my love for movies. And you just have to remember how you’re doing it. And be in touch with that, really.
Did you always dream of playing Amelia in a movie?
HS: I wouldn’t say I was longing to play Amelia Earhart. But I do long to play roles that challenge me. And scare me, and make me learn new things about the world, about myself, about my art. I did read a script about Amelia about ten years ago, when I was doing Boys Don’t Cry, and that one didn’t capture Amelia’s spirit, to me. But when this script came across my desk, I just felt that connection.
How do you feel about Amelia’s open marriage?
HS: I feel like, if we could all be so up front and forthright about our feelings, our emotions, our desires and our needs, I think that could somehow manage expectations out of relationships. But I think it’s also really challenging, to be that honest.
You know, even with the people you really love, and that you feel are really supposed to be loving you unconditionally, it’s really hard. There are a lot of reasons why, and we could sit here all day and talk about that.
But I think that Amelia’s way of living her life, was really honest, and very open. So when she lives her life how she wanted, and the way she wanted to live it, she had already expressed that was the way she wanted to do it.
So it wasn’t like she was hurting anybody along the way. And that made it sort of an unconditional relationship that she had with her husband. Which is really rare. And I respect anyone who is able to be so forthright about themselves.
And I think that is a lot about what our lives are about. You know, figuring out, how can you be as honest as you’d like, and living as honestly as ourselves. And in our relationships.
The other day in an interview, Uma Thurman said that you should win an Oscar for your performance in this movie.
HS: Well, to have such a compliment from an actress that I admire so much, is a great honor. And I have to say, Amelia was so supportive of other women. And I feel like, you know, women aren’t always supportive of another woman’s strengths.
Like I think women are supportive of other underdog women, fighting for equality. But when it comes to another woman’s strengths, they seem to find it hard to summon up a lot of accolades. So it’s very nice to hear such a compliment from someone that I admire so much.
And it’s great to see a woman like Mira Nair, making no apologies for her strengths. When you see a woman in power, a lot of times they’re apologizing for it! And they’ll go, I’m sorry but…can you please do this. You know, they’ll apologize for what they need.
So when I hear for the first time that Uma said that, it just warms my heart, you know? It’s a hard enough world out there in general. And then you add the layer of being a woman. So we just need to be there for each other. But thanks for letting me know that she said that!
Anything else challenging about this role, besides the flying?
HS: Well, Amelia really had a unique way of speaking, and that was the most challenging speech pattern for me in a movie ever. I spent over eight weeks, trying to figure out how she spoke. And there is that period way of speaking, like the way you hear Katharine Hepburn, and that way of speaking in all the old movies.
Which can sound kinda posh. You know, kind of upper class. And Amelia wasn’t that. She was a girl from Kansas. So trying to figure that cadence out, and that public persona she put on when needed, was really quite a challenge.
And Mira would say, push it more a little here, and bring it back there. Yeah, she’d say, a little less Amelia! And I’d be like really, am I doing that? So it was really challenging to walk that fine line. And find the human quality in it. And also to relate to it now, because we don’t speak like that.
You certainly whetted my appetite to learn more about Amelia, and who she was.
HS: Thank you! You know, I think in order to pull away, you have to try and dive in. And in so many different aspects and ways. And I felt like by the end of it, I had a pretty good idea of who Amelia was. And then just trying to get deeper into telling this story.
And I feel, in getting to play these roles, that they’re all in my heart, you know? And my life is just richer, walking around with Amelia in it. In my heart. She’s right in there, and it’s wonderful. And I often think about in my own life, what would my characters do in these situations.
You can’t help but have that in you. So that makes for a really rich life, And I feel she’s in there. Yeah…