A self-made woman with a wealth of determination and drive, Hilary Swank is on the journey of a lifetime.

For actress Hilary Swank, her maiden voyage came at the age of 7 when she flew to Iowa to visit her grandparents. “I always remember looking at planes in the sky ... wondered where they were going and thought of all the places I wanted to go. Now when I get on an airplane, it is just as exciting as the first time I flew.”

For the 35-year-old actress, travel has become a wonderful continuing education of sorts. “For me, school is my travel, so I am blessed I can go to all different parts of the world,” she says. While her extensive travels have taken her from Iowa to India, the wanderlust is still present and she cites Morocco, Egypt, and Israel as top destinations on her list.

It seems fitting, then, that her most recent role tackles one of the most famous women in aviation, Amelia Earhart. Starring as the legendary aviatrix in Fox Searchlight Pictures’ biopic film Amelia, the two-time Academy Award winner both bears a striking resemblance (after she traded in her nine-inch ponytail for a pixie haircut) and shares many of the same passions as the film’s heroine. Directed by Indian filmmaker Mira Nair, the film costars Richard Gere as Earhart’s husband and manager, George Putnam, along with Ewan McGregor, and focuses on Earhart’s life and her rise to prominence as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
©Ken Woroner/Fox Searchlight Pictures

“Amelia was a great inspiration to me as a young woman and obviously now, too … you read about what her story is, and we had a lot of similarities,” she explains. Both were tomboys -- Swank was a swimmer and a gymnast (she competed in the Junior Olympics and was ranked fifth in Washington state for gymnastics) while Earhart’s mother made her pantaloons so she could climb trees. Both had very supportive mothers and were ahead of their time. Earhart’s biggest passion was to become a pilot, and Swank enthusiastically learned to fly for the film. “It was extraordinary,” the accomplished actress reflects. “I could not play Amelia and not learn how to fly. It would have been an injustice!” And they are both risk takers. “Amelia was naive in her risks; she was really passionate about pursuing her dream of flying, wanted it so badly, and worked so hard. I immediately felt this kind of kindred spirit,” she continues. Swank might as well have been describing herself.

Growing up in a trailer park in Bellingham, Washington, Swank took risks even at a young age. Bitten by the acting bug at the age of 9 when her teacher asked the students to write and perform a skit, she recalls the light-bulb moment as one of feeling “the most alive I have ever felt.” Eventually her focused and determined mother drove an equally determined 15-year-old 1,200 miles to Los Angeles to pursue acting, living for a period in their Oldsmobile.

Roles soon followed on both the small and big screens -- Beverly Hills, 90210 (1997–’98) to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) and The Next Karate Kid (1994), where she beat out hundreds of actresses for the role and put her gymnastic skills to use. Perhaps her breakout moment came with the casting of a poignant yet unusual role of a transgendered man in Boys Don’t Cry (1999). In preparation for the plum part, she actually chopped off her hair and lived for a month as a boy. The method style of acting paid off and she received both an Oscar and Golden Globe for best actress. As the third-youngest actress to win two coveted statues, she joins an elite club of actresses --Vivien Leigh, Helen Hayes, Sally Field, and Luise Rainer -- with a perfect Oscar-winning track record of two wins and two nominations.