WHO's A LUCKY GIRL, THEN? ; Double Oscar-Winner Hilary Swank Has Filmed Three Leading Roles in the Past 10 months By JOSEPHINE FAIRLEY
You can find out a lot from a Hollywood star's makeup artist especially when he's a mate. So when I turn a corner in the beyond- fabulous Institut Guerlain, in Paris, and literally collide with my friend Christian McCulloch flown in by Guerlain to ensure Hilary Swank looks the glamorous part for her debut as the 'face' of their new fragrance I'm all ears. Christian has, it turns out, been getting up-close-and-personal with Hilary, making her up for more than three years. Two days ago, they were shooting a Vanity Fair cover together. Tomorrow, it's French Elle. 'But if you asked me to sum her up in one word, I'd say "gracious",' he smiles. 'She's always lovely to the little people, which is so telling: the runners, the assistants even the assistants to the assistants. She says, "Thank you" to everyone. And she even writes little notes to photographers and journalists, if they've made her happy' Now, 'gracious' isn't a word you hear used to describe many women, in a world that moves stressfully at the speed of light.
These days it's certainly not a word applied to many actresses, who can be as famous for their off-screen diva-ness, or for thumping paparazzi, as for their big screen roles. Thankfully, Hilary, who is 32 today, has famously done her thumping onscreen playing boxer Maggie Fitzgerald, in Million Dollar Baby, the second of her Oscar- winning roles, in which she was directed by Clint Eastwood. When you meet her, it's like encountering a Park Avenue princess: a warm smile, deportment-class posture even if she does clump just a little across the parquet in her six-inch Fendi heels. She grins a wide, toothy grin, with orthodontically-perfect teeth.
'Can you believe it? I bought these shoes a whole size too big. And I've worn them now, so I can't take them back!' Her signature grace is all the more unexpected when you dig a little into Hilary's background. As she famously said, when collecting her second Oscar, 'I'm just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream.' Of course, there are trailer parks and trailer parks: her father was what would be described here as 'a mobile home salesman'. And the site where the Swanks (she has an elder brother, Daniel) had their own double-fronted, three-bedroom trailer was picturesquely set among the lakes and mountains of Washington State, one of America's most unspoilt areas. But still, Bellingham, WA, is a long, long way from Tinseltown. Even when your mother so believes in your acting talent that she drives you there, with $75 in her pocket, the pair of you sleeping in the car en route to your destiny. As Hilary recalls, 'My mother had been a tap dancer when she was younger, but she gave it all up when she married my dad and had kids, so I think she really wanted my dreams to come true. When I finally made the move to Hollywood at 15, my mum came with me. She and my dad had separated by then, and she had just been fired from her job, so she said to me: "If you want to pursue this dream, let's go." So we packed our suitcases, got in a car that my aunt had sold to us an Oldsmobile Supreme and just drove.'
Since then, Hilary has risen through the unpromising ranks of The Next Karate Kid and Beverly Hills, 90210 to amaze us all with her performance as a transgender youth, Brandon Teena, in Boys Don't Cry her first Oscar-winning role, in 1999 before joining the likes of Jane Fonda, Ingrid Bergman, Elizabeth Taylor and Bette Davis as that rarest of silver screen commodities: a two-Oscar babe, for Million Dollar Baby. (The statuettes, FYI, live on her mantelpiece, 'where I think they belong'. None of that Oscar-as-a-doorstop nonchalance for Hilary.) 'I never imagined that all this would happen to me,' insists Hilary (who once joked that, 'I'm black and blue because I pinch myself every day'). 'I mean, I know I had a dream, and I know I worked hard it's part of my passion for what I do but, really, how did I get to be so lucky, to be offered the roles that changed my life and brought me opportunities like this? I mean, whoever would have thought that a girl from my background would be sitting in Paris talking about my Guerlain perfume campaign?' Hilary pauses. 'You know, I don't take any of it for granted. And I think it's really important to be "in the moment", and enjoy it, because it's a gift. And you never know, it could all be over tomorrow.' But a Hilary Swank career free-fall is about as likely as the earth starting to reverse on its axis, given that she has a cameo role in the recently released dark comedy 11:14, and has filmed leading roles in three movies back-to-back in the past ten months the film noir-ish Black Dahlia with Scarlett Johansson, a scary movie, The Reaping, and a biopic, Freedom Writers. And in the autumn, she starts filming P.S., I Love You, based on the novel by Cecelia Ahern. The Guerlain gig, though, clearly means a lot, and not because of the $3-5million a year that Wmagazine guesstimates a contract like Hilary's to be worth. 'The first perfume I ever smelled was [Guerlain's] Shalimar,' she recalls. 'When I smell it now, it takes me right back to being five, trying on my mum's scent' When it launched in 1921, Shalimar's va-va-voom was audacious. Now the perfume house's new fragrance plays on that heritage sexily rich in iris and luscious red berries, and with a violet quality that's anything but shrinking. This time, the audacity is in the name: Insolence, which should be whispered with a French accent, naturellement, rather than uttered in the clipped tones of an angry schoolteacher. In French, 'Insolence' doesn't mean rude. It means daring. Bold. Impetuous. Spontaneous. But still, I wonder out loud: is 'insolent' a word that was ever used to describe Hilary, as a kid?
She throws back her head, and roars. 'As a kid? I've been accused of being insolent my whole life, not just as a child! It's part of my makeup. Whenever people have said to me, "You can't do this, you shouldn't try that well, that's the first thing I try and do. As a child, I was absolutely up for dares the most daredevilish thing I ever did was throw myself in the lake in winter; I think I almost went into cardiac arrest, from the shock of the cold. But I love that. I love to go against the norm. You can say to me, "You can't go running in the rain" but why not? It's fun to get soaked to the skin. And I'm from a place where it rains a lot!' The legacy of her childhood is a strong love of the outdoors. 'I grew up in the fresh air,' she says. 'I am at home by lakes and mountains, surrounded by the scent of pine trees and flowers. I'm a very smell-orientated person, and I love the memories those smells conjure up.' To get some rest after her recent act-a-thon, in fact, Hilary took herself off to the mountainous north of India for a month, to a hotel with no air conditioning, in 115-degree heat. 'To reconnect,' is how she puts it. But it was also, one suspects, a time for self- reflection: her apparently rock-solid eight-year marriage to brat pack actor Chad Lowe (brother of Rob) fell apart earlier this year.
This, however, is something that I'm warned by her publicist not to bring up or they'll haul me out of her interview faster than you can say eau de parfum. So: back to the fluffy stuff. Running and cycling is how she keeps her skinny-with-curves-in-the-right-places shape, which is today showcased in a tight, black dress, also from Fendi. Her face is amazingly angular, with cheekbones you could open envelopes with. (As Christian McCulloch puts it: 'When I'm doing Hilary's makeup, it's all about softness. I can leave the contour powder at home!') 'I'm lucky to have really good genes,' is her explanation. 'If you sat here and watched what I eat all day, you wouldn't believe it. I've had two pain au chocolats, and today maybe because it's Paris people keep giving me boxes of chocolates; I've tried to give away as many as possible but I have treated myself to at least ten. And my absolute favourite meal is scones with jam and cream.' (Actually, scones may be in her DNA: Hilary's grandmother was born in Lynton, Devon.) Though she admits to loving the indulgence of an occasional visit to a spa, and to dressing for the red carpet, Hilary insists she's low-, rather than high-maintenance. (Although I do happen to know that she sees Hollywood-facialist-to-the-stars Ole Henriksen a man who also uses the word 'gracious', when I ask what she's like) Actually, I can't resist telling Hilary that both her facialist and her makeup artist used the same, straight-out-of-Miss-Manners adjective to describe her. She flashes that 1000-volt, double-Oscar smile. 'I am a lucky, lucky girl, and I never forget it,' she beams. But Guerlain is lucky to have such a fabulous 'face'. I'd sign her up for their next blockbuster fragrance right now. And I'd call it 'Grace' .
Insolence by Guerlain, Pounds 26, available in Selfridges from 3 August; nationwide from 1 September. For stockists, tel: 01932 233909 (c) 2006 Mail on Sunday; London (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved