Grace Dove and Hilary Swank in Alaska Daily
From her first starring role in The Next Karate Kid to her Oscar-winning turn as a boxer in Million Dollar Baby, Hilary Swank has made her mark playing strong women who are outsiders.
Her latest role is no exception. In the new ABC drama series Alaska Daily, Swank plays Eileen Fitzgerald, a disgraced New York journalist who makes a fresh start at a struggling Anchorage newspaper, where she investigates the disappearance of Native Alaskan women.
Outsider characters remaking themselves to overcome adversity — this reflects her own life. Born in Nebraska and raised in a trailer park in Washington state, Swank moved to L.A. with her mom as a teenager after her parents divorced, living in their car for a time and then dropping out of high school to pursue acting.
While accepting a best actress Oscar in 2000 for her breakout role as transgender man Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry, she famously described herself as "just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream."
"I felt like an outsider for a big part of my life," Swank says. "Growing up on what some people coin 'the wrong side of the tracks,' I learned classism at a young age. It was a lonely feeling."
Nevertheless, the decision to pursue roles mirroring her experience was largely subconscious, she says.
"I was obviously seeking them out without realizing it. I was just fifteen when I started in the business, and at that time I was looking for any job to act in. But what I was drawn to — and what I fought for — was the stronger character, kind of the odd woman out, looking for her way. That resonated with me.
"Which comes first? Is art imitating life or vice versa?"
Swank's role as a "truth seeker," as she calls it, in Alaska Daily — and as an executive producer of the series — pairs her with creator–executive producer Tom McCarthy, who directed the 2015 journalism-themed film Spotlight. (He also cowrote the Oscar-winning screenplay, about the Boston Globe investigation of child abuse within the Catholic church.)
For Swank, Alaska Daily also marks a return to a full plate of acting and producing (as well as launching her own clothing line) alongside her husband, Philip Schneider, a writer, producer and entrepreneur. They married in 2018, following the career hiatus she took to care for her ailing father after his lung transplant. He survived long enough to walk his daughter down the aisle.
Swank and Schneider live in Colorado and recently celebrated his fiftieth birthday in Alaska with hiking, fly fishing and riding a helicopter "off the grid."
"Taking the three years off was one of the most beautiful things I could have ever done, to be with my dad and have that time," Swank says. "It's such a reminder to live every moment. To really step into life, whatever that is for you."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #11, 2022, under the title, "Her True North."