Hilary Swank talks training, boxing and Clint in Million Dollar Baby

With all the tough girls in Hollywood now, audiences may take for granted what it takes to be buff and toned. From Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 to Jennifer Garner on TV's Alias, women have been transforming themselves to appear in short segments of entertainment through means that take months and months of real time.

Take Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. To portray a female boxer, she had to not only learn how to box, but mold her body into the guise of someone who has probably spent her whole life training. Swank had about 90 days to do it.

"My training was two and a half hours of boxing and approximately an hour and a half to two hours lifting weights every day, six days a week," Swank said. "The producers asked me to gain 10 pounds of muscle. I gained 19 pounds of muscle. I started at 110 and went to 129. And in order to do that, I had to eat 210 grams of protein a day. Now, your body can only assimilate so much protein, so I had to eat every hour and a half. So with a meal, I would drink my egg whites because I could never eat 8 to 12 egg whites in a sitting. It's just the worst thing ever. I had to drink flax oil. Flax is a really important oil for your brain and to also just keep everything moving when you're eating that much protein. It's a really important fat. Like one tablespoon of Flax oil has like 15 grams of fat in it."

Even her sleep was coordinated into her daily regimen. "The thing was, I needed nine hours of sleep a night because your muscles have to be able to rest in order to build or you actually reverse yourself. So I slept nine hours a night but I had to wake up in the night and drink protein shakes because I couldn't go that long without eating."

Needless to say, Swank can no longer afford to devote that much time to her physique, but she still stays in shape. "I've dropped most of the weight just [because] I don't lift weights. I love to work out. I've always been really athletic. It's just a part of my life. It's really an integral part of my life. Just running and cycling and pilates. I'm not obsessed about it but I like to do it. But I'm not in a gym lifting anymore and I'm not drinking egg whites and I'm not drinking flax oil and I'm not waking up and drinking protein shakes."

Learning to box was a workout in itself. "Boxing is the most intense workout you can ever experience. The first time I heard a three minute round, I thought, ‘Wow, I'm going to kick someone's ass. Three minutes? That's nothing.' In my second round, I was halfway through three minutes and I about threw up, the first time I sparred. There is no way you can explain it. My face was as red as that red. The cardio, you don't stop moving, you don't stop punching and you're getting hit. The only way I can explain it is if you were to take a jump rope and go as fast as you could for three minutes while someone's punching you in the stomach. That's the only way I can probably explain it."

Morgan Freeman's character in Million Dollar Baby says that boxing is backwards. Swank did not have that specific experience, but was surprised by what boxing took to master on even a basic level. "I found that the second I thought I knew something about boxing, I really didn't know that much. I felt like I maybe only needed about two months of training. After four to four and a half hours a day, six days a week for three months before we started filming, I wanted more. I needed more time. Just to kind of talk about boxing a little bit and how boxing gets into your blood, I didn't appreciate boxing at all. I didn't understand the concept of wanting to hit people and get hit. It was something that totally eluded me. I was not a fan of boxing. I wouldn't even say I wasn't a fan. I just didn't think about it. I started boxing and I realized, I don't know if any of you play chess, but it's like a great chess game, boxing. You're in the ring with someone, you're constantly looking for their strengths and weaknesses and in turn, you learn your own strength and weakness from them because each opponent brings out a new strength or a new weakness. I was sparring with professional boxers all the time. I was getting hit, I was hitting. The first time I hit somebody, I said, ‘Sorry.' My trainer freaked out. Screaming at me, ‘Don't you ever say that!' Went off. And I said, ‘Sorry, sorry.' He's like, ‘Stop it!' And then soon enough, the mentality of a boxer just enters your head. I bloodied this guy's nose one time and I turned around to my trainer after the round was over and I smiled. And I didn't say sorry. It was just an amazing feeling. And because I had so much respect for my opponent. You also gain this amazing respect."

As most aficionados know, boxing also requires mental acuity. "Of course it's physical, but I found more than anything that what I really learned from this movie was the power of the mind and how my mind was my biggest obstacle. If I woke up one day and I was a Saturday and I'd had 20 hours of training already that week, I'd said, ‘Oh, I just can't today. I'm just so tired and I just can't drink another egg white and I can't drink that flax oil.' If I went with that attitude, of course I'd go because that's me, but my mind, I might as well not be there because I wasn't gaining anything from it. so the second I broke through my own obstacles that I set for myself and said I can do it and I'm going to do it, I would break through barriers every week."

Swank's character, Maggie Fitzgerald, comes from the short stories of F.X. Toole. While Swank related to many elements of Maggie, she also distinguished her from other characters she's played, first by distinguishing Maggie's Ozarks accent from her other Midwest accent. "It is different though than Nebraska. My Brandon Teena accent was very different from this. Their I's are very different. But the great thing about accents is the second you start doing it, you feel like you're the character. There's a separation that happens and you feel like you are in that person. I really like accents for that reason. Maggie, and also the character I played in Iron Jawed Angels, but Maggie is probably [the one] I felt the closest to. I grew up in a trailer park ,she grew up in a trailer park. I was born in Nebraska, my family's in Iowa and Nebraska. I even have some family in Missouri now. I was this young girl who had a dream and I was determined and driven and focused and I'm so happy living my dream. I feel so blessed to be able to live my dream and I had that connection with Maggie. Because Maggie has a line in the movie where she says this is the only thing I ever felt good doing, and that's how I feel. So I had that connection with her and for me, working with Clint is a dream come true and for Maggie, that relationship that she has with [his character] Frankie Dunn is so similar to my relationship with Clint. It was just a really neat parallel and I didn't want to let Maggie go. Every day that this movie was one day gone, I was sad. And Clint of course works so quickly and your days are so short and we finished two days early. I kept joking at the end I was going to come to work not knowing my lines and come a little late just so that we could stay on longer."

Swank couldn't say enough nice things about director Eastwood. "Clint walks into a room and everyone just stops. They just do. Everyone. Everyone just stops. It's everybody. It's actors, it's directors and people who have just as much talent as him that are just as amazing as him are still taken by Clint. I mean, he's an icon, he's a legend, he's part of our film history in a way. I mean, I grew up watching Clint Eastwood movies. He's been making movies longer than I've been alive and he's an anomaly. There will never be another Clint Eastwood. There just won't. And the great, most amazing thing I think is that Clint, I had such high expectations. Obviously, I know he's talented as a director, a producer, an actor, a musician, so I had those expectations of just working with him. But other people who had worked with him said, ‘You're going to have the best experience of your life with Clint Eastwood. Just the whole process of working with him, knowing him, getting to meet him, everything.' Everyone just went on and on. So your imagination is pretty imaginative and our expectations I think are really hard to match most of the time. But Clint exceeded my expectations and then some. He is obviously very talented. I think this is his best acting to date. He's 74 and it's his best acting I believe. It's in my opinion. I think he's extraordinary in this movie and I think his directing was superb and I was really amazed. First of all, I had to get over the fact that it was Clint Eastwood and just start really working. After meeting him so many times before we started working, I was past that when we started working together. But believe me, there was a part of me that was hoping that I could say my lines and not just stare. But I could literally talk about Clint all day and he is I think there's a lot of qualities about him, but some of the ones that really stand out are Clint has a way, he gets people in the movie that he feels are right for the job and his crew. So the people that are surrounding him, he feels are the best people for the job. And then he kind of just says, ‘Trust your instinct' and ‘don't think too much.' He believes that we have an instinct for a reason and he believes in not thinking too much. But that leads me to the place where he is the most amazing collaborator. He collaborates with everyone, but in the finished product, his fingerprints are all over everything and you didn't even really realize that that was all happening. It's subtle and it's simple and it's really nothing short of astonishing."

Million Dollar Baby is now playing in select cities. It goes wide in January.

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