Million Dollar Baby's Trailer Park Roots


Jan. 21, 2005 — -- For her first Oscar, Hilary Swank sheared her hair, strapped down her breasts and became a boy. But that's mere child's play compared to what she did to prepare for "Million Dollar Baby" -- a performance that might make her America's next gold medal boxer.

The 30-year-old actress worked out 4½ hours a day, six days a week, for three months. She consumed 219 grams of protein a day by downing 12 eggs every night before bedtime. With biceps bulging, she added 19 pounds of muscle.

On Sunday, Golden Globe voters let it be known that she delivered a knockout blow as boxer Maggie Fitzgerald, naming her best actress in a drama, and making her an early favorite in the Oscar race.

If Swank is named when Academy Award nominations are announced Tuesday, she won't just be competing for her second Oscar, she'll be competing for her second Oscar for playing a misfit trailer park resident. You might say it's a role she was born to play -- because that's how she describes herself.

"I grew up on a trailer park, and I had a dream," Swank says. "I had to fight my way there, and I'm really lucky."

Swank and her mother actually lived out of the family car for several weeks when they first got to Hollywood. She was 15 and had come from Bellingham, Wash. Her dad was in the military and largely absent from her life.

After a string of forgettable TV appearances, Swank landed a spot on "Beverly Hills 90210" for a season. Then came her first performance as a fighter, in "The Next Karate Kid."

With "Boys Don't Cry," Swank vaulted to stardom five years ago, playing a transvestite teenage girl who prefers her male identity but is brutalized when her secret is discovered.

Swank got a mere $3,000 for her work in that heralded film, but it established her as a major star. Unfortunately, she had trouble following it up. "The Affair of the Necklace," a French period piece, failed to excite critics. And "Insomnia" offered nothing more than a chance to work with Al Pacino.

In "Million Dollar Baby," Swank is again faced with the abject poverty and bleak choices that punctuate trailer park living, and the beating she takes in the ring might not be as bad as the emotional torture she faces from her family.

In real life, what separates Swank from the tragic roles she plays is her mother. "I've always had her support," the actress says.

Support also comes from her husband of seven years, actor Chad Lowe, whom she famously forgot to thank when she won the Oscar. She made up for that at the Golden Globes. "You're my rock," she said from the podium. "You're my everything."

Clutching her new trophy backstage, Swank thanked director and co-star Clint Eastwood profusely for saving her career, even joking that she'd gladly work as a transvestite again if it meant landing a role in his next film.

"He's doing a World War II movie and there are no women in it, and I said, 'You know, Clint, I played a boy before," she said. "So, I'm still trying to twist his arm on that one … I don't think it's working so well."

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