Interview: Hilary Swank Talks Amelia

I recently sat down with Swank, star of Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby, to discuss the part of a lifetime ... only to discover there were more than physical similarities that connected these two women.

Cole Haddon: So how did you prepare to play Amelia Earhart? I know you take preparation for these roles very seriously.

Hilary Swank: As you all may know, I did learn how to fly, because you can't play Amelia Earhart and not learn how to fly. But I learned to fly in a Cirrus, which is a new plane. I did go up in the old aircraft -- an open-cockpit plane, biplanes -- which are very different and, interestingly enough, almost a little easier to fly than the ones that we now know with all the instrument panels that are very complicated. It was a lot of fun. I got to put the goggles on, and the hat, and the whole thing. It was really important to understand her passion for flying.

CH: Did you get your flying license?

HS: To get your license, you have to fly solo, and [the studio wasn't] about to let me do that. As it is, they didn't want me to go in the plane to take flying lessons, and I just said I wouldn't play Amelia unless I learned how to fly. I'd like to get [my license], though, someday.

CH: Did you have any fear of flying before this?

HS: None at all. At all. Those types of things don't scare me in a way that I get physically numb or something. They scare me, of course, like in any normal person -- like an adrenaline rush type of scare. I've jumped out of planes, I've bungee-jumped. I'm kind of a daredevil at heart. But I've always, from as young as I could remember, when I understood what a plane was, I remember watching them and thinking, "Where are they going?" And I'd daydream about all the places you could go, and I'd get maps and think about all the places I wanted to go. So flying, to me, was always something that I wanted to do. I just didn't know that I would in order to play Amelia Earhart.

CH: And did you get to fly one of those beautiful Electras, the type of plane Earhart actually went down in?

HS: No. During my training as a pilot, I flew down to deeper in Southern California, where one of the Electras that is still running today is, but it was going through its yearly maintenance, so I wasn't able to go up in that.

CH: Was it your passion for flying that drew you to the project?

HS: There was definitely that connection that I have with Amelia that was, you know, the kindred spirit of being an adventurer, her love of travel, my love of travel, the desire to have a dream and follow that dream, that passion to see it through in any way you can. But that wasn't really the complete picture that drew me to her. And this is something that I didn't actually know until I read the script and I started diving into my work, but the other thing that I found really intriguing about Amelia was that this was a woman who made no apologies for living her life the way she wanted. And that's so ahead of her time, and also very difficult to do now. I think if she was living in 2009, that would be something that we'd all find challenging. I find that, you know, we're having our lives, and all of a sudden we may stop and say, "Wait a minute. This is what my parents want me to do." Or, "Oh, I'm doing this because my significant other has an idea that this is how my life should be." And we kind of lose sight somewhere along the way of what our paths are. And I feel like she was, you know, not afraid to live that life for herself. And I think that's very brave and difficult.

CH: Do you think Earhart's greatest contribution was just pushing the technical boundaries of aviation, or was it showing women they could do anything?

HS: Great question. I think it's both. I think she was living in a time when living your dream was something mostly men did. It wasn't something that women did at all. Or if they thought about it, it was far-fetched. So she would go and speak at a lot of universities about, "It's great to have kids, it's great to have a family. But you don't have to do that because society wants you to do that. Go and pursue your career. Pursue your dreams. Pursue your desires before settling down so you can have the fullest, richest life imaginable." So that was certainly something I thought was extraordinary in that era. But of course her achievements as an aviatrix were out there for us all to see. I don't have to go on about what she did as a pilot, and what she did for aviation. I mean, her and Gene Vidal were really the two that created what we now know as the FAA today.