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Monday, December 20, 2004
In the ring with Hilary Swank

By Miki Turner
Special to Page 3

LOS ANGELES -- There is no actress in Hollywood who does a better job of transforming herself than Hilary Swank.

She first amazed audiences in her Oscar-winning role as a young man in "Boys Don't Cry." Now, she's shaped and sculpted her body for the role of an aging female boxer trained by Clint Eastwood in "Million Dollar Baby."

Million Dollar Baby
Hilary Swank never boxes herself in to one role as an actress.
The film, which hit theaters Friday in New York and Los Angeles, has already earned Swank a Golden Globe nomination as Outstanding Actress in a Drama. The former high school swimmer and gymnast talked about stepping into the ring with Page 3.

1. Could you talk a little bit about the physical transformation?

When I was asked to gain 10 pounds of muscle, I went and gained 19. That's part of my job. If I'm going to play a boxer, I better look like a boxer. But mentally, the challenges I faced -- telling myself that I can't because I'm really tired today, but of course, I would go -- that was really the biggest challenge. And the biggest lesson I learned was that, the obstacles I set for myself were the biggest things I had to overcome.

2. How hard was it to take those punches?

The first time I hit somebody, I said, "sorry" and my trainer about threw me out of the gym. Then, I said "sorry" to him, and he was like, "you're still doing it!" And I stopped and realized that I didn't understand the game of boxing.

I didn't even really think about boxing. I didn't get the appeal of hitting someone and getting hit. What I realized when I learned more about it, is that it's so strategic. It's like a great chess game. And when you're in the ring, you are one with that person. You're not thinking about anything except their strengths and weaknesses, and in turn, you learn your own strengths and weaknesses.

3. What did you learn?

The second you think, 'I've got this one,' and get cocky, you lose. It's a reminder to stay humble and respectful to whatever person you're fighting with, working with or meeting. It's a really interesting parallel to life, really.

4. You had some serious muscles. How did you sculpt your body?

It felt great. And I'll tell you, a lot of people ask, 'didn't it feel masculine?'

Million Dollar Baby
For Swank, training was no yoke!
Did it?

It didn't. I felt more strength -- not just physical, like I could push something over -- but really strong and solid yet, feminine at the same time. It was really a beautiful feeling.

5. How long did you train?

Before we started filming, I trained for 4-41/2 hours, six days a week for three months. As we filmed, I kept training in boxing and working out. But for the actual bustle I mentioned earlier, I had to eat about 210 grams of protein a day.

There was a point when I could only eat 50 grams of carbs a day. Just to give you an example of what that means -- an eight-ounce glass of apple juice has 30 grams of carbs in it. So, that was challenging. It was a really strict diet. I was drinking egg whites. I needed nine hours of sleep a night for my body to be able to recover -- your muscles have to rest. But I couldn't go that long without eating so I'd have to wake up and drink protein shakes. It was interesting.

6. How did your husband (actor Chad Lowe) and your friends react to your new physique?

Well, the amazing thing is that you realize your body is a machine and what your body is capable of doing. Ultimately, I just gained an enormous amount of respect for my body and my health -- what it is and what it's capable of doing. And as far as friends and family, they know that I like to challenge myself and push my limits. They just said, 'What's Hilary doing this time?'

7. Since you had already learned how to fight, once filming started, how difficult was it to pretend that you didn't know how to fight?

It was challenging. Obviously, you have to go back and try to remember what it was like when you didn't know how to. I guess that's what any acting coach would call 'sense memory,' if there's a definition for it. But I tried to remember, as I was training, what I was doing incorrectly.

My trainer, Hector Roca, is in Brooklyn so that's where I trained. He was so intent on my form. He had no qualms about yelling at me, 'no, no, no,' every time I punched. And then finally, I got it one day and he was like 'yeah!'

Million Dollar Baby
It's a win-win situation with Clint in your corner.
8. What about the choreography?

No choreography. Clint (who also directed the film) doesn't believe in rehearsal or choreography. There were a lot of fights, but that's why Clint Eastwood is the best. It made it all fresh and it made it all feel so real.

I'll use my big fight with Lucia Rijker (four-time world champion boxer) as an example. Lucia and I would -- through my training and her lifetime experience with kickboxing and boxing -- go through let's say five different moves. I would jab and then I'd do a body and go into her hook. Then I'd do something else. We'd do about five different things and the camera would film that from a bunch of different angles.

Then, we'd stop and go to the next one and do five different ones. And then, a little later, we'd try and put four of those five different ones together so that they could shoot it from up there or out there or whatever. What it did, was put you in that mindset that I talked about earlier. You have to be like this with your fighter. And it gave it that intensity.

9. Between the "Karate Kid" and this, could you literally kick anybody's butt?

I don't know about anybody! I think Lucia Rijker could kill me, but I can hold my own here and there.

10. Did you take actual hits?

I took hits. Actually, in the second day of filming the fight I just told you about, we worked six hours, went to lunch, and then we came back and had to get back into it. And here we go. I do my body, my hook and I'm supposed to go under her hook and I forgot ...

The thing is, you have to really sell those punches. You just can't go 'OK, I'm about to jab.' You have to do it. I saw it coming because I'm watching and we're really connected, so it wasn't like I was standing there and got hit. I saw it coming and went with it. I got hit.

I said, "Let's go again, let's go again." And then, I forgot again to go under the hook. And I was like, "Go, again, go again." But that makes it alive.

Did she hold back? After all, you are a big-time movie star?

No, not at all. She was the big fight. We both had to let it all out. That was really the fight my training led up to. The great thing is that those two days were really ... both of us were on such a high. The next day I said, "Lucia, I couldn't get to sleep until 3 a.m." She said, "Me neither." It was amazing, that connection you have with someone. It's so freeing. It's so liberating. It is a high. It is why I do what I do.

Miki Turner covers the fusion between sports and entertainment for Page 3. She can be reached at