Hilary Swank, who plays a feisty, Southern-bred boxer in Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby,” won the best actress award for the second time since 2000 at Sunday night’s Oscars.
“I don’t know what I did in this life to deserve all this,” Swank said after accepting her award onstage from presenter Sean Penn and before launching into a longer-than-usual roster of thank-yous. “Clint Eastwood, thank you for allowing me to go on this journey with you,” she said, offering a phrase in Gaelic that became a touchstone to Eastwood’s morally tormented Irish-Catholic character.
Sunday’s contest was a rematch of sorts between Swank and Annette Bening, who were in the same race five years ago when the former won for playing a cross-dressing woman in “Boys Don’t Cry” and the latter portrayed a chirpy real estate agent in “American Beauty.” This time, Bening played a needy, narcissistic stage actress in 1930s London in Istvan Szabo’s “Being Julia.”
In “Million Dollar Baby,” Swank projects an indomitable, can-do spirit that charms a grizzled “cut man” played by Eastwood.
For her role as an underdog boxer, the Nebraska-born Swank added 19 pounds of muscle by training at a Brooklyn gym and waking up several times a night to drink protein shakes. (She also picked up, before shooting, a blood infection that could have been fatal.)
At Sunday’s Oscars, she thanked her trainers at Gleason’s Gym alongside the usual array of executives: “You pushed me farther than I even thought I could push myself.”
Though Swank has also tried movies in which she plays traditional feminine roles, her most serious accolades have come as she’s portrayed more rawboned, masculine characters.
Swank is next slated to star in the adaptation of James Ellroy’s “The Black Dahlia,” which will be directed by Brian De Palma.