What the Hell Happened to Hilary Swank?

Hilary Swank

Hilary Swank

Hilary Swank came from humble beginnings.  As a teenager, she and her single mother were homeless.  By the age of 30, she had won two Academy Awards for Best Actress.  But after winning her second Oscar, Swank’s career stalled out.  Today, the two-time Oscar-winner is stuck in direct-to-video horror movies and ensemble romantic comedies named after minor holidays.

What the hell happened?

Hilary Swank's eighth grade yearbook photo

Hilary Swank’s eighth grade yearbook photo

When Swank was fifteen years old, her parents separated.  She and her mother moved from  Bellingham, Washington to LA to support Swank’s dreams of being an actress.  At first, they didn’t have enough money to rent an apartment.  So they lived out of their car while Swank’s mother saved up.  Swank attended South Pasadena High School but ended up dropping out.  According to Swank, she didn’t feel like she belonged there:

I felt like such an outsider. I didn’t feel like I fit in. I didn’t belong in any way. I didn’t even feel like the teachers wanted me there. I just felt like I wasn’t seen or understood.

Swank described trying to get a foot in the door in Hollywood:

I remember watching my mom. She had a roll of quarters, and she would just call agents, “My daughter is really great. She’s really talented. You should meet her.” They’d say, “Great. Well, send a résumé in and a picture.” I, of course, didn’t have either of those.

Hilary Swank - Harry and the Hendersons - 1991

Hilary Swank – Harry and the Hendersons – 1991

In 1991, Swank began landing some guest spots on TV shows.  First, she appeared in an episode of the sitcom Harry and the Hendersons.  The show was based on the movie of the same name in which a family adopts a bigfoot named Harry.

swank - growing pains

Hilary Swank – Growing Pains – 1991-1992

Swank also made appearances in two episodes each of Evening Shade and Growing Pains (pictured above).  On Growing Pains, she worked alongside Leonadro DiCaprio.  All that talent and Kirk Cameron too.  Swank recalled her first big break in TV:

I got a couple of lines on a sitcom, Growing Pains. I think the first time I was onGrowing Pains, I pulled a bunny out of a hat and said, “Ta-dah,” and that got me my SAG card. Then I was on Evening Shade, and they just kept bringing me back.

Hilary Swank - Buffy the Vampire Slayer - 1992

Hilary Swank – Buffy the Vampire Slayer – 1992

Swank’s first film role was in the 1992 version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The movie starred Kristy Swanson as a cheerleader turned slayer of vampires and featured Beverly Hills 90210 heart-throb, Luke Perry, in a supporting role.  Donald Sutherland played Swanson’s mentor.  Rutger Hauer and Paul Reubens played vampires.  Swank played one of the student’s at Buffy’s California high school

Expectations for the Buffy movie were high.  The movie was released at the height of Perry’s popularity.  His screaming fans were always camped out on the set.  The movie had a lot of good buzz based on Joss Whedon’s clever script.  But the script was heavily altered to lighten the tone of the movie.  Sutherland insisted on changing just about all of his dialogue.  Whedon was so frustrated, he walked off the set one day and never returned.  Eventually, he took the material to TV where he could give it his own spin.

Today, Swank is known for her dramatic roles.  But she points out that she wasn’t originally taken so seriously:

My first movie was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, I started my career in comedy. I was always auditioning for dramatic roles as well, but I was constantly told that I was too funny, I was too “half-hour,” I wasn’t dramatic enough, which I think is really interesting.

Critics complained that despite clever moments, the movie missed the mark.  Perry’s fan-base didn’t turn out to see him at the cineplexes.  Buffy opened in fifth place at the box office behind A League of Their Own which had been in theaters for five weeks.

Hilary Swank - Camp Wilder - 1992-1993

Hilary Swank – Camp Wilder – 1992-1993

From 1992-1993, Swank had a recurring role on the short-lived TGIF sitcom, Camp Wilder.

Mary Page Keller starred as an older sibling who takes care of her younger brother (Jerry O’Connell) and sister (Meghann Halderman) after the death of their parents while also raising her own daughter.  Her loose parenting style makes their house a hangout for her siblings’ teenage friends played by Swank and Jay Mohr.  Jared Leto was a popular guest star as well.

Camp Wilder was cancelled after one season due to low ratings.  Although 20 episodes were made, only 19 were aired in the US.  The show was actually a hit in Germany.

Next: The Next Karate Kid and Sometimes They Come Back Again


Posted on May 31, 2013, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actress and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 149 Comments.

  1. Hilary Swank tells an eye-opening story about Hollywood’s wage gap problem:


  2. Episode 138 – The Core

    In this week’s episode, the gang says goodbye to 2013 by digging to the center of the earth with 2003’s sci-fi snooze, The Core! How much inaccurate science can you fit in one movie? How much scenery can The Tucc chew? And why is Aaron Eckhart screaming so much? Plus: Temperatures in excess of nine THOUSAND degrees!

    The Core stars Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo, Bruce Greenwood and Tcheky Karyo; directed by Jon Amiel.


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