Million Dollar Baby
©Warner Brothers/Courtesy Everett Collection

Swank has also played a suffragette fighting for a woman’s right to vote (Iron Jawed Angels, 2004), an inner-city schoolteacher (Freedom Writers, 2007), a detective (Insomnia, 2002), and even a penniless French aristocrat (The Affair of the Necklace, 2001). Perhaps her trifecta award-winning (Oscar, Screen Actors Guild, and Golden Globe) portrayal of female boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (2004) was the role that, in her words, hit the closest to home. “There are pieces of me in every character, but Maggie is the one I most identify with,” she explains. “Maggie had a dream and moved to Los Angeles to pursue that dream. She was a hard worker, very driven, came from a trailer park, and needed someone to believe in her.” Life often imitates art and, once again, Swank could be talking about herself.

With two more films completed (Betty Anne Waters and The Resident) and several projects in development, it’s hard to imagine the actress and producer (she formed her own production company, 2S Films, with friend and producer Molly Smith) has time for relaxation. Along with acting, travel and fitness remain the Los Angeles-based star’s biggest passions. “I am a homebody for sure ... I love my home, as it’s rejuvenating -- but so is travel!” After filming three movies back-to-back, she and her family spent a month in a rented house in Tuscany and in her words, “had the best time of my life.”

An avid adventurer and sports aficionado, Swank says that fitness plays an everyday part of her routine. She believes in “mixing it up four to five days a week” and enjoys skydiving, hiking, Power Pilates, swimming in the ocean, and Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defense class promoted by author and trainer John Whitman. “For me, exercise is life, just like the water you drink,” she says, “and I cannot imagine my life without it.”
©Maria Laura Antonelli/Rex USA, Courtesy Everett Collection

She credits her mother’s encouragement to take part in sports at a young age. “I think it’s great for girls to participate in sports growing up, as it gives you a great feeling of being in your body, and you work with others within a teamlike environment -- which is the way I work now. It’s such a collaboration,” she says.

The down-to-earth actress with the signature smile also believes in giving back. Not only did she donate her previously mentioned locks to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths campaign that benefits women with cancer, she is also a spokesperson for pet food manufacturer Iams’ “Home 4 the Holidays.” The program helps find homes for 1.5 million pets that are sitting in shelters and awaiting adoption. “When I hear the statistics are something like six million animals that are put to sleep every year, I look at all the people who want a cat or dog and these animals are just sitting there waiting for a good and loving home!” she exclaims. Not just a celebrity lending her name to a charity, Swank puts her money where her mouth is -- her multiple-pet household includes a rescued corgi/ Jack Russell mix she found starving and homeless in South Africa (named Karoo after the region), an adopted golden retriever mix from the pound (named Rumi), and a handsome pair of African Gray and Senegal parrots.

Refreshingly grounded and levelheaded, Swank is grateful for the opportunities she has been given. “I would say my career and all the different roles have really shaped who I am. I have gotten to learn about so many ways of living life through characters,” she explains. While she has literally been acting more than half her life, the process has taught her to be “less judgmental and more open-minded. I am so thankful to have roles that have inspired me, helped me grow, scared me, and helped me to learn about humanity on a deeper level,” she says. “There is that great saying that the definition of luck is where preparation meets opportunity. Well, I work really, really hard but have also been lucky. To this day, to continue to tell stories is just such an honor. It’s not a job, it’s an honor.”

Amelia Earhart once said, “The woman who can create her own job is the woman who will win fame and fortune,” and it’s an honor to watch Swank take that motto to heart and soar with it. It’s as if Earhart was speaking of Swank herself.