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February 7, 2007

Hilary Swank: To Hil and Back

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Words of Wisdom

"I think everyone has a gift," she says, picking up where she left off once he's gone, waving her hands around — something she does often and exuberantly. "You just have to be able to find it and follow your calling. People are afraid to do that. Some people are afraid of greatness, of success. And other people are afraid if they try and fail and that was their one big dream, then what do they have left?"

Swank confesses she has been afraid, but when asked for one example, she is silent. She asks for a minute, then takes five. She cracks her knuckles, massages a tight shoulder, eats more chips, bites her lip — the bloody one.

"Sometimes it is scary to make life choices," she concedes. "Because there is no blueprint for how to do it. There is no manual to turn to. I've had things not work out. Like Clint told me, 'You always aim for the bull's-eye, but you don't always hit it, and that's just life."

Swank is alluding to the fresh dissolution of her 8-year-marriage and 13-year relationship with actor Chad Lowe, a split the tabloids cheaply attribute to his professional jealousy. (She neglected to thank Lowe in her first Oscar speech, a widely noted lapse.)

"In life we have expectations of how things should turn out," Swank says. "Chad and I have been separated a year-and-a-half. We will be officially divorced next week. Ending my marriage isn't something I take lightly. But it was the right thing to do."

She sighs. While Swank has weathered the split with characteristic grit, that does not mean she hasn't suffered and wept and hurt. Doing right by yourself can be harder than anything else, a lesson she says she "needed" to learn.

At the start of the separation, she buried herself in work, filming three movies back to back: P.S., I Love You, Freedom Writers, and The Reaping, a supernatural thriller about biblical plagues. Now she is taking a long, well-deserved breath. "I have been enjoying two-hour baths," she says. "There are a lot of things I need to focus on in my life." She exhales. "Such as myself."

And it is in this way that Swank suddenly resembles any other successful woman. Capable to a fault, taking on the burdens of those around her, carrying everyone else's baggage at the expense of unpacking her own. Caretaking to the breaking point.

Seven months after the separation announcement, Swank revealed to the press that a contributing factor to the end of the marriage was Lowe's past substance abuse, a disclosure she caught no small amount of hell for from some fans who felt she was selling him out for media attention. Lowe, to his credit, called the claims "absolutely true," and Swank "the love of [his] life."

Ever guileless, Swank was mystified by the public outcry. She is determined, but not calculating. In her mind she was simply being honest. She knows no other way of being.

"People are afraid of the truth," she says. "And it is scary sometimes. I think people are afraid if they're honest, they're not going to be liked or loved or respected. But I think it is the total opposite.

"I'm not a hider," she keeps on, gathering steam, her hands flapping now, her eyes blinking and alive. "I feel like, this is me. For better or worse, this is who I am."

Newly single, looking for perspective and a chance to break some patterns, Swank took a five-week sojourn to India last summer. "It was the perfect time to go," she says. "I went alone. I was doing volunteer work. I wanted to do something outside of me, to get out of myself."

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