The robust, poignant, and talented Hilary Swank returns to the big screen in Conviction, a profound story about a sister willing to do anything to get her brother out of jail. In anticipation of the film, we decided to explore some of Swank's work, from her early days in The Next Karate Kid to her Oscar award-winning performances in Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby. Take a look at how her career began to take flight!
By Elisa Osegueda
The Next Karate Kid (1994)
Before she boxed her way to an Oscar with Million Dollar Baby, Swank was an obedient martial arts student in The Next Karate Kid. Although the film didn't surpass the original Karate Kid, it helped showcase Swank's ability to transform herself into any character regardless of the physical demands. Swank co-starred with Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, as legendary janitor/martial arts maven Miyagi Yakuga.
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Swank’s breakthrough role came in Boys Don’t Cry, a film that broke through social norms and exposed audiences to unconventional views about sexuality. Based on Brandon Teena’s life, Cry tells the story of Teena (Swank), a popular new guy in a tiny Nebraska town. He hangs out with the guys, drinks, cusses, and he charms the young women, who've never met a more sensitive and considerate young man. However, he's forgotten to mention one important detail that Brandon Teena was actually born a woman named Teena Brandon. Once his truth is discovery, Brandon's life is ripped apart. Cry earned Swank her first Oscar.
The Affair of the Necklace (2001)
By 2001, Swank left the tomboy look behind and embraced the role of a countess in the period drama The Affair of the Necklace. Drenched in jewels, hair pieces and imported silks, Swank, who plays Jeanne de la Motte Valois, proves once again that judging a book by its cover is never the right way to go. The pretty in pink countess turns out to be a rebel. When her royal title is stripped from her family by the crown in the late 18th century, she becomes determined to restore her good name and privilege.
Four years after her first Oscar for Boys Don't Cry, Swank was ready to make some A-list requests. When she first read the script for 11:14, Swank felt an immediate connection with a character named Buzzy. The only problem was Buzzy was written as a man. So she asked writer/director Greg Marcks to rewrite the role as a woman so that she could play it, and he agreed. The story follows five different characters in a chain of events that converge to tell a story of murder and deceit.
Red Dust (2004)
Continuing to build on her reputation playing strong, edgy characters, Swank stars in Red Dust as South African-born attorney Sarah Barcant, who now lives in New York. After Alex Mpondo, a member of the South African Parliament, is wrongfully detained and tortured, Barcant returns to South Africa to represent the political activist. The film interweaves stories of discrimination, political abuse, and regimen exploitation.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Million Dollar Baby made Hilary Swank the "it" actress of 2005, and scored her a second Oscar for Best Actress. Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) innocently enters into the life of Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), a veteran boxing trainer who yearns for a relationship with his estranged daughter, is consumed with guilt, and is left betrayed by a former protege. Looking for a trainer, Maggie is initially shut down by Frankie, but her persistence leads to an incredible journey for both apprentice and teacher.
Freedom Writers (2007)
Exploring human struggle and perseverance, Freedom Writers, based on the best selling book The Freedom Writer's Diaries by Erin Gruwell, highlights the unconventional methods of one English teacher. Despite the initial hostile reaction she receives in the classroom, Gruwell (Swank) uses the writings of Anne Frank and Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo to teach her students not only the basis of the English language, but other lessons that transcend the classroom.
The Reaping (2007)
The Reaping made non-believers in the supernatural get down on their knees and pray—including Hilary Swank, who plays Katherine Winter a professor of theology from Louisiana State University who specializes in identifying religious trickery. Stephen Hopkins’ gothic chiller brings the ten plagues of Exodus alive in a series or apocalyptic events, leaving Winter speechless and understanding that just because you don’t believe in the supernatural it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
P.S. I Love You (2007)
Playing the wife of Gerard Butler seems like the ideal role for most Hollywood actresses, but in true Swank mode, P.S. I Love You goes beyond the typical love story to reveal a love between husband and wife that transcends all realms. Holly Kennedy (Swank) is married to the love of her life--a passionate, funny and impetuous Irishman named Gerry (Butler). When Gerry dies from an illness, she's left completely broken. The only one who can help her is Gerry. In a series of letters that Gerry wrote before he passed away, he guides her not only through her grief but also in rediscovering herself.
Amelia pays homage to the legendary Amelia Earhart (Swank). Known as the "goddess of light," Amelia became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Despite her international fame, Amelia never wavered in her flirtation with danger. The film depicts Amelia's daunting mission, which turned out to be her last: to fly solo around the world. Her journey and courage cemented her place in history, making her an international icon.
Swank engages in another ambitious, emotionally-invested storyline. The true story of acclaimed lawyer Betty Anne Waters (Swank) comes to life in this docudrama directed by Tony Goldwyn. Determined to save her brother from life in prison, Waters begins studying law in order to overturn her brother's 1983 conviction for murder and robbery. By 1995, Waters passes the bar and pursues her brother's innocence. Sam Rockwell and Minnie Driver co-star.