Hitting a Million
by Brad Balfour
When actress Hilary Swank won her Oscar for the indie film Boys Don’t Cry, it was feared she’d be cursed with too much success too early in her career. But given her exemplary performance as boxer wanna-be Maggie Fitzgerald in the Clint Eastwood-directed Million Dollar Baby, she’s proven to have talent well beyond that earlier role. And with the new Oscar nom, Swank may find this role being the greater benchmark in her burgeoning career.
What’s the appeal of hitting somebody and being hit?
When I heard about [this role], I just thought, “What is the thing about hitting someone and wanting to get hit? Where’s the pleasure in it?” The whole thing eluded me, but then, you know what? Like anything else in life, and I’m sure you’ve experienced this, when you have to dive into something deeper than you would, for whatever reason, you gain respect for it because you learn about it in different ways than you ever would expect. It’s not like I didn’t like boxing, I just didn’t think about boxing. Then after training, and boxing 2 1/2 hours a day, six days a week for three months became part of my training before I started filming, and, as I filmed I kept boxing, [I worked on it] for probably five months. I learned that it’s much more than anything physical. Obviously the physical aspect of it is huge, but it is such an unbelievably mental sport. I don’t know how many of you play chess, but it’s like a great game of chess, and I say that because when you’re in the ring, you’re one with this person. Everything goes silent and it’s you and that person. You hear your breath. You hear the other person. And as you try to figure out your [opponent’s] strength and weakness, you’re learning about your own. And each person that you spar with, their strength and weakness brings out new strength and weakness in yourself. And the second you think, “I have this person,” and you get cocky, you’re going to get beat. It’s such a great parallel to life, about being humble, about respecting the other person. I’ve never known a fighter that doesn’t respect the person they’re fighting with. You have an enormous respect for them. It’s so deep and really hard to explain, but I love boxing now and have an enormous amount of respect for boxers as athletes because boxing is also the most physically challenging thing I have ever done.
Have you watched both men and women box?
Yes, I went to boxing matches. I lived, slept, ate, breathed, and drank boxing. I would be sleeping and [mimes with a fist] I’d wake myself up punching. I hit my husband a couple of times. I was dreaming of boxing. I was taking it all in. I read the script. Part of it was about boxing, but there’s that other layer about relationships.
What did you do when you started bulking up?
People said to me, “Did you feel masculine?” Because I gained nineteen pounds of muscle, when they asked me to gain ten. And when I read the script, I’m playing a boxer, right? So, of course I’m going to train and be believable as a boxer, that’s my job. So getting to step into people’s shoes for that moment is amazing, but the actual changes I went through physically were so interesting because I learned so much aboutt my body and mind. The biggest thing I learned in making this movie were the obstacles I set for myself. Because physically, in order to ask your body to do something like training 4 1/2 hours a day, six days a week, and eating 210 grams of protein a day, meant I had to eat every hour and a half. I needed nine hours of sleep a night because my body had to recover, but I had to wake up in the night and drink a protein shake because I couldn’t go that long without eating. I was drinking egg whites, flax oil and eating mostly raw fish. But I had to split it up because your body can only assimilate so much protein at a time. I will tell you that as my body started physically getting stronger, I felt so powerful but not in a “I’ll kick your ass” type of way. You realize that your body’s a machine. When you see that people, a long time ago, were running to hunt their food, you realize that our bodies can conform and adapt to what we need. It’s just so amazing. I have so much respect for my body and how it works now. I’ve always been athletic, but nothing is like boxing. The first time I heard a three-minute round I thought, “Wow, I’m really going to kick someone’s ass.” That’s nothing. Three minutes. And I was halfway through my second round and I almost threw up.
How’s Clint [Eastwood] as a director and actor?
I love Clint. Everything you hear about him is true. I had such high expectations because he’s Clint Eastwood and been making movies longer than I’ve been alive. I have such enormous respect for his talent. I’ve heard from Laura Linney, Kevin Bacon and people who’ve worked with him, “Wait till you work with him. It’s the best experience you’ll ever have in your career.” That’s some high expectations. And when we make expectations, usually things can’t live up to it because our imaginations are really powerful. But he exceeded them and more. The man is an anomaly. There will never be another Clint Eastwood. He so multifaceted; his talent runs the gamut and he creates an environment in which everyone feels comfortable. He says he gets people he feels are right for the job and he lets them do it. He’s the most amazing collaborator. When all is said and done and you’ve watched the movie, his fingerprints are all over it. And you didn’t even realize the gentle guidance and color that was happening in every moment because he’s so subtle and so simple.
Does he lay down these oblique suggestions like co-star Morgan Freeman does to him in the movie?
Yes, a good way to put it’s very good parallel. He does that and he’s so confident, not in an arrogant or egotistical way. He’s just so calm because he’s done it. He knows what he wants and how to do it. His suggestions were always poignant; as a man of few words, when he talks, it’s important or hilarious.
What’s your favorite Clint Eastwood movie?
I like a lot of them so it’s hard to pick one. I would say maybe a few from different eras. I like Dirty Harry and Unforgiven. And I like The Bridges of Madison County, but I have to sayMillion Dollar Baby is his best acting to date.
He cries in this one and you never see that.
He is so moving in this movie. I just sit in awe. It just gives us all hope. He’s 74. I have a few years to catch up. It’s an extra dimension because it’s Clint being this emotional. It’s so powerful because you really haven’t seen him do that.
What’s important in any kind of relationship with you?
I would say communication. I mean, obviously sex is good with your husband or your significant other, and anyone else if you’re not married. I would say communication and respect and believing in another person. Those are three things. I’ve been with my husband for over twelve years. That’s made our relationship work. We have a mutual respect, the communication is key and believing in one another makes you feel like you can do anything.
Was there ever a joking atmosphere on the set?
No pranks but lots of joking and improvising. It’s kind of hard with the material to go too far off [of it], but there’s a scene when he says “OK we’re going to go and fight the welterweight,” and I jumped on him! After that I said, “I’m so glad you were ready for that” because I could have knocked him over with all the extra weight I put on.
Morgan Freeman said acting is easy.
I could sit here and name the great actors that make it look effortless. I watch them and think, “I should retire,” because it’s almost uninspiring because it’s so fucking good. I’m left speechless.
So you’d give back your Oscar?
[chuckling] No but I still have a lot to learn and I’m excited about that. I like watching performances and learning from them. God forbid if I ever watch anything I do and go “Oh yeah, that was great. I couldn’t change anything.” Then I might as well quit because where do you go? With Morgan, he makes it look effortless and just easy. The truth is I don’t think he has to work hard at it. He would walk in, be talking and all of a sudden everything would be over and you realize that a scene just happened. You don’t know where the acting ends and the person begins. He really is effortless and graceful.
In the second part of the movie you’re immobilized. How different is that?
It really feels like two different movies in some ways. Clint likes to call it the female Rocky with a twist. But they’re very different. To be so physical and then to be so “not physical” is strange because I stopped training. He shot everything mostly in sequence. And I just stopped everything and that was really weird.
How did your body feel when you stopped?
You get used to working out and training and it becomes something you crave. I was trying to lose my weight so I would wake up in the morning and go spinning or running. So I was still exercising, but not exactly in the same way.
Was it hard to lose the weight?
No. I stopped drinking egg whites, raw fish and protein shakes in the middle of the night and somehow it found its way off.
Do you feel you’ve lost something since you don’t maintain that regimen any more?
No. I still feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. We finished July 30th. I still feel like I’m in pretty good shape and I kept some of my weight on and I really like it. By working to keep it, wanting to stay this way. It’s not that I don’t lift weights but going from 110 to 129? I’m 116 now and I love it, and would like to stay this weight. It feels really good and I feel more solid and more comfortable. Not that I tried to stay 110, I think it’s part of my genes. I eat what I want, but I don’t eat meat. I eat fish, so maybe that’s part of it. I don’t know. But I eat a lot of sweets and I do think I’m pretty disciplined in that if I want pizza I don’t eat a whole box, but what I mean is that it doesn’t make me sick. I don’t do things that make me feel uncomfortable. I work out and I go for a run. I’m running now and I think boxing made me want to run. It’s weird. I’ve never run. I hated running. I would never see myself running in a million years. But something happened to my lungs where I crave to run and to feel my lungs burning.
Were you able to use the mental obstacles you overcame while training when acting in this film?
Yeah, and it’s the biggest thing I had to learn in this movie. I’m so thankful for it because I really believe this… I found it would be Saturday and I would have had trained 22 hours that week. I was tired and would wake up saying “I just can’t today.” Of course, I’d go, but my mind was not in it so I was just wasting my time. I would say “Oh, I have to box her today and she’s really hard” or “I can’t do that punch.” As soon as I said that, I wasn’t going to be able to do it. The power of the mind is so great. And the great analogy I like to use going back to running. Nobody thought they could run a four-minute mile or better. So nobody did it. All of a sudden someone did it and the next year, 55 people did it. Why? Cause they said somebody else did it so I can do it. It’s powerful and I found that all of the time I would find myself going to that place, I’d say, “Don’t go there.” It was my biggest obstacle. There was nothing standing in my way. If I could break through that, I was breaking through barriers weekly. I think that that is a great parallel for life. If I wake up one day and say I can’t do something, of course, I’m not going to be able to do that. Everyone has that power to say I can do that! And you work really hard and go for it. I really believe it now more than ever.
Did you get injured at all?
No long-term injuries but certainly, I was having trouble with my rotator cuff on my left side. Then the occasional bloody lip and bruised nose. No broken nose, but I got hit in my nose a lot. And head butts. They were just accidents. Chad was the biggest. He’d push me against the ring and I’d say get off me. We’re not wrestling [laughs]. My big fight in the end, Lucia Rijker [who is s former kick-boxing champion and played Billie The Blue Bear] is incredible and is a Buddhist so I call her the Boxing Buddha. She’s this incredible woman and collaborating with her was brilliant. We had two days to choreograph our scene. Clint doesn’t choreograph or rehearse anything so we would stand there and say “OK, jab, body, hook, some side moves.” We’d do it for the camera in different angles and then go on to another five moves. We went to lunch one day and came back to the sequence. We had already been fighting six hours and it was my close-up. Here comes Lucia and I’m thinking “OK, body, jab, under, under, hook? Let’s go.” Sure enough, I do my body, my jab and here comes a hook but I forgot. I saw it, got hit and moved. Unfortunately I said “Oh shit” right away and was hoping they could use it later. So I’m getting a t-shirt made saying “I Got Hit From Lucia Rijker and Survived”
When you do a movie like this, do you have to agree with the political side of the ending to do it?
It’s interesting because I don’t think you have to agree when you’re playing a person in a movie, and do everything they would do. You’re acting. That was integral to the story, so I did it.
Would you refuse a movie project if you adamantly disagreed with the way the movie turns out?
It’s a great question because I think ultimately that happens a lot when you’re sent scripts. If there’s something in it you’re horrified by?
Then you would step away?
No, The reason I became an actress is that I love people and love people’s stories and every person has a story. It’s my job to tell those stories. Whether I agree with the story or believe in it or believe in that way of life, it’s important for movies to entertain, or to discover, or to escape. And that’s my job. I believe in showing all different ways of life whether I live in it or not. The great thing about [this job] is that I get to learn a lot about life. And it constantly helps me discover what I believe and what I don’t believe. That stuff is ever changing because we’re growing all the time.
|#1 © 2004 Merie W. Wallace. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.|
|#2 © 2004 Merie W. Wallace. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.|
|#3 © 2004 Merie W. Wallace. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.|
|#4 © 2004 Merie W. Wallace. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.|
|#5 © 2004 Merie W. Wallace. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.|
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 25, 2005.