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February 7, 2007

Hilary Swank: To Hil and Back

With two Oscars and a recent divorce under her belt, Hilary Swank — here in the season's knockout back-baring dresses — shows Allison Glock how a regular-girl movie star gets her groove back.

hillary swank

Hillary Swank

Photo Credit: Richard Bailey

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Hilary Swank has a bloody lip.

"I'm so sorry," she says, blotting her mouth with a cocktail napkin. "They're really chapped. It's disgusting, I know."

Swank, 32, is sipping a beer from one side of her mouth, artfully dodging the napkin she's holding to the opposite side. She is folded into a booth at a rowdy dockside sports bar in New York, exhausted from working for several weeks on a few hours of sleep a night. She has ordered nachos and fried cheese sticks, but it's the beer she needs most, and a little unexpected blood is not about to stop her from taking a well-earned swig.

"I'm just going to sit here with this napkin glued to my face," she says amiably. "Try and pretend that I'm not."

No problem. If there were ever an actress one expected to see eating a platter of nachos with a bloody lip, it would be Hilary Swank. For the past 10 years, she has made a career out of playing characters whose lips run the risk of imminent bloodiness. In both of her Academy Award-winning performances - as transgendered youth Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry and as plucky female boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby — Swank gets violently pummeled. In Sam Raimi's The Gift, she played an abused wife. In Insomnia, she was a no-nonsense detective who spent several scenes with, yes, a bloody lip. Most recently, she received a stitch-requiring cut on her forehead from an errant suspender clip while filming the romantic comedy P.S., I Love You. All this from the woman who made her big-screen debut kicking the snot out of a bunch of preppy hooligans in The Next Karate Kid. Perhaps we should have seen it coming.

Swank knows she is perceived as a badass. While filming P.S., I Love You, co-star Harry Connick Jr. once said to her, "You know, Hil, the first time I met you, you were really looking at me, and I couldn't tell if you were squinting or frowning or what, and now I realize you were really just trying to listen to what I was saying and connect to where I was coming from." "People do call me intense," Swank admits. "I can see why. I can. But, I don't like the word 'intense' — I prefer 'focused.' As she says this, she makes prolonged and concentrated eye contact, her head jutting forward slightly, underscoring said "focus." She does this because she wants you to know the deal, her deal. If Swank is about anything, she is about avoiding bullshit in any form.

"I am a lay-it-on-the-table kind of girl," she says with some pride. "No nonsense. I'd rather have honest relationships, because life is too short to beat around the bush. Honesty shows that you really care about someone. I live by that."

And if others don't, that is not really her problem.

A self-admitted jock, Swank has little interest in being the delicate girl. Not in this bar, and not in life. She is, both naturally and deliberately, the antithesis of the flighty actress. She is punctual and professional, grounded and resolute. A grown-up who finds little charm in neurosis. Solid and dependable, she is the kind of friend who reminds you to get your mammogram, the kind of friend who tells you that your ass looks fat in those jeans. The kind of friend who laughs when you tell her the same.

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