Friday, October 23, 2009

The Strange and Wonderful Career of Hilary Swank

The newest issue of Entertainment Weekly hit my mailbox today, and in it was an interesting blurb by Sean Smith that I thought was relevant, as Amelia hits theaters today.
"By many measures, Hilary Swank should not have a career. Despite two Oscars, she's almost impossible to cast in mainstream films. She doesn't play "the girl" opposite Will Smith or hop a pirate ship with Johnny Depp. She is not Megan Fox. "Her look and her demeanor are not soft," says one industry exec, "so it's hard to see her as vulnerable or as a love object." (Remember, P.S. I Love You didn't exactly rock the world.) And yet, Swank, 35, has scored some of the finest roles for women her age - a transgender murder victim in Boys Don't Cry, a boxer in Million Dollar Baby, and now aviation legend Amelia Earhart in Amelia. While other actresses are relegated to decorative roles opposite male A-listers, Swank - like Jodie Foster before her - is always at the center of her films. (And in the right project, she's capable of filling theaters: Baby brought in $217 million worldwide.) She's the hero, not the heroine. And that could keep her flying high in Hollywood."

I don't think Swank gets enough credit. Sure, Amelia is by most accounts a stinker, and Swank is probably part of the problem. She needs just the right kind of role to shine, and it's a lot easier to love an actress who's great in everything. But I have to give her a pat on the back for being courageous. She doesn't always have to look pretty onscreen, she doesn't need a conventional love story, and she's never relied on big, dramatic "Oscar scenes" to showcase her talent. Her best work is in quiet, subtle moments - something Amelia probably doesn't have a lot of. I have faith though. I think we'll see greatness from her again. Eventually.


Univarn said...

What makes Swank work that many of the other actresses mentioned don't have going for them is exactly what you said "she doesn't always have to look pretty onscreen." Watching TF2 this summer my head nearly burst off during the final battle as Shia is covered with sand, bruised, beaten all to hell, the soldiers are wounded, scared, and there's Megan Fox... having gone through all the same stuff.... without smearing any of her makeup.

One of the biggest pains for trying to be a character actress is all of them are living in the time of Meryl Streep. So by default you get graded on the world's worst slope, and it's an uphill battle from there. I've always thought Swank was beautiful in her own way, though I do think she lets the thought of mainstream success take her down some disturbing film paths (example: The Reaping).

Danny King said...

It's tough to argue against her demeanor with that picture, but she definitely isn't your average mainstream actress. Her turn in Million Dollar Baby is one of the best female performances of the decade and she is equally impressive in Boys Don't Cry.

I think Smith's comments might be a little bit off in terms of Swank's ability. I think she could easily be the average woman opposite Will Smith, but she chooses to be something more. She looks at acting as more than a career, but as an artform and she wants roles that are going to challenge her to the fullest extent.

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