After writing Million Dollar Baby in 2001 I knew one thing: I wanted Hilary Swank to play Maggie Fitzgerald, the lead role. Hilary, 30, doesn't study a character as much as burrow into it. She works her way under the skin, gnaws down into the sinew and tangles herself in the muscle. She doesn't decide how a character walks, she just nudges the girl forward, and the newly formed tissue determines her gait.
A few months after we met, Hilary told me a story. She said she had been kicking around Hollywood ever since she was a teenager, when she and her mom moved there. For a while she started booking guest appearances on TV shows, especially sitcoms. She earned a good living but really wanted to work on a TV drama. She finally got her shot an audition for a role she desperately wanted. She read for the network and came out feeling as if she had nailed it. She waited for the decision, which came moments later. "Sorry," said the executive. "You're a good actress, but you're just too sitcom." Three weeks later she got the role in Boys Don't Cry.
Therein lies Hilary's problem. Nobody creates art every time out. But when Hilary is great, she is so damn good that you forget she isn't that role. You believe she is this girl who just happened upon the set before the cameras rolled. I look forward to that next role when she will wipe Maggie Fitzgerald from my memory. Because only she can do that and we were all too cruel to poor Maggie.
Paul Haggis' directorial debut, Crash opens in May
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