The strong, square jaw, the gleaming smile, the playful, snapping eyes...it's impossible not to recognize Hilary Swank. Wearing a yellow top embroidered with white birds, she tosses her car keys, wallet, makeup bag, and phone on the table at a beachfront restaurant in Santa Monica and orders steak and eggs. Classic tomboy stuff—the sort we associate with the Oscar-winning star of distinctly unfrilly movies like Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby, as well as this month's Amelia. But is she a tomboy? The plan: Serve up an assortment of assumptions we all seem to make about Hilary Swank, then let Hilary Swank set the record straight. See if you're as surprised as I was.
JC: One myth about you is that you're such a hard worker, you don't know how to have fun.
HS: That's understandable, because that's how people see me all the time. And I will say that it took me a while to learn how to actually have fun. I think I was so driven and determined to get out of where I came from that I thought I had to be constantly focused.
JC: How do you relax now?
HS: My relaxation has always been my animals—going to the dog park with them, going to the beach. I always try to carve out time in my day to be with them. On the last set I was on, I would just get a bike and ride around the studio with my dogs chasing me. It just gets me out of my head, you know what I mean?
JC: Was letting go something you also had to learn how to do?
HS: My agent Josh [Lieberman] was a big part of it. He was like, "Hilary, you just finished a movie. Go and relax"—he put some swear words in there, too. He was like, "You just need to trust us. We have everything under control. You don't need to hold on so tightly." But that was all I knew. So now I'm taking a month off. Going to Tuscany. My family is going to be there—my brother and my niece and nephews and John [Campisi, Swank's boyfriend] and his parents and Sam [Campisi's son]. And a bunch of friends, too.
JC: Sounds like a wedding.
HS: No! It's not. It's solely about honoring my newly found fun.
JC: People are so awed by the glamour of famous actresses' lives—they assume they just sit around in designer gowns all day. Myth?
HS: [laughs] In our business, we have to dress up for things, and usually I just borrow a gown. But if I don't have work, I'm not going anywhere in any designer gown.
JC: What do you sleep in?
HS: I don't sleep in anything. Do you sleep in a nightgown?
JC: I sleep in pj's. I have two young sons, so I have to be conscious of that.
HS: Well, my boyfriend's son is 6 years old, and you wonder at what age you should stop walking around nude. Every morning he comes into the bedroom, and you're just nude. But he doesn't look twice; he doesn't think about it yet. I just toss and turn too much when I sleep, and if I'm in clothes, I get all twisted up.
JC: Another myth: Considering you have two Oscars, there is the assumption that you can get any role you want.
HS: So not true. I really chase the things that I want. I don't audition anymore, but I do go after things that I believe in. Someone will say, "Oh, I don't see Hilary in that role because she's not really that funny to me." So I'll say that I want to sit down with them so that they meet the real person behind the characters. I usually get roles that are not the conventional beauty.
JC: Audiences might also assume that you're just too serious for rom-coms.
HS: P.S. I Love You made over $150 million. It was a really big success. I wasn't the comic relief of the movie—that's an area that I'm going to have to prove myself in, if that's something I want to do. But I don't find myself leaning toward those movies a lot because I want them to have a lot of heart. I don't know—just to put on a pretty dress and fall about isn't funny to me.
JC: I think people assume you're a loner.
HS: Yeah, I can totally see that. Growing up poor, I wasn't like, Ew, I'm in a trailer park—you don't think these things. It's not until someone puts it in your head that it's not cool to live in a trailer park, or that trashy people live in trailer parks...And it wasn't even kids, but their parents, who would say, "You can't hang out with her. You can't be her friend—it's not allowed." And that's when I started realizing that something about my situation wasn't normal. Now when I go back to my hometown, a lot of parents are like, "We always knew that you would be famous; we're just so proud of you!" And I can't even take the high road. I just look at them and say, "Really? It didn't feel like that."
Because of that, I didn't have a lot of friends. I was a loner. The bookmobile would come through the trailer park, and I would go in and get books, or I would watch movies like The Elephant Man and The Miracle Worker—stories about outsiders. And their feelings allowed me to have my feelings, in a way.
For a long time, I was a loner because Chad [Lowe, Swank's ex-husband] was my best friend, and we were really happy just hanging out, he and I. I think it was maybe five years ago that I realized how important my friends were to me, and I realized they were a big part of my letting go. When I got divorced three years ago, I needed them more than ever. I have really good girlfriends. Mariska Hargitay is my best friend.
JC: People sometimes assume that celebrity marriages are easier because you're both more attractive, you have more money...
HS: [laughs] That's a great one! The only difference is that you have your issues in front of the public. You have to try to figure it out while everyone is watching you. In the end, all I can say is that we are human beings, too.
JC: What of the idea that your career is more important to you than having a family?
HS: For me, my career is like, for lack of a better word, a baby. I always knew that I wanted to act, since I was 7 years old. But also from that age, I've been thinking about the day that I would have kids. When the time is right, I'll know. I am aware that next week, I turn 35. But I am also aware that the timing has to be right.
JC: Another assumption about Hilary Swank is that you don't have a girly-girl bone in your body.
HS: I don't know how people define girly-girl, but for me, the amount of pampering I do is: I try to get a massage every other week—just stretch and get everything moving. I don't like manicures, but I love a pedicure. The whole ritual of putting your foot in a footbath, with the massage and just relaxing for a second—I really like that. I'm a big foot-soaker. When I was a little girl, I would just sit on the counter and soak my feet. I will say that because of the business, I hate to go shopping, because I am constantly trying on clothes, whether it's for a movie or a [photo shoot].
JC: You have such an incredible figure, and I bet you never have to work out.
HS: But I love working out! I started swimming when I was 3 years old. I was a gymnast, a swimmer, a basketball player...To me, working out is literally like eating a meal or drinking water or breathing. If I don't, I just feel like crap. Not physically, like, Ew, what's hanging over my pants? But I just feel really ornery. I start punching actors. Not hard—I don't get mean. I do Krav Maga, which is Israeli martial arts; I do pilates.
To read the rest of the interview, pick up the November issue of Marie Claire, on newsstands now.