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Why Hollywood Won't Cast Hilary Swank Anymore

Hilary Swank won fame and acclaim for her Oscar-winning performance in 1999's Boys Don't Cry. As if that wasn't impressive enough, she did it all over again five years later when she won a second Oscar for Clint Eastwood's boxing drama Million Dollar Baby. And then, all of a sudden, Hollywood stopped talking about her. 

From a series of low-performing subsequent projects, to her pivot to personal and professional pursuits outside of Tinseltown, to a bizarre scandal involving a controversial Eastern European politician, Hilary Swank has given studios more than enough reason to look elsewhere during casting. Or perhaps — like many actors who turn early success into powerful lever in the industry — she's simply decided to start doing things on her own terms, outside of traditional expectations.  

Let's take a look at some of the possible reasons Swank went from in demand to out of the spotlight.

And the winner is...her again?

They say that winning an Oscar can be a curse. But winning two in the span of five years? That's a whole other story.

Swank arguably faced a considerable backlash in Hollywood after she won her second Best Actress Oscar — for the Clint Eastwood drama Million Dollar Baby — in 2005. By then, there was a growing feeling that Swank had been excessively rewarded. Suddenly, the actress had gone from starring in 90210 to joining the ranks of two-time winners like Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, and Meryl Streep. (Yes, Streep "only" had two wins by then.) It was especially crazy when you factor in that two of her fellow nominees that year, Kate Winslet and Annette Bening, hadn't even won yet. (Sadly, Bening still hasn't.)

But beyond the politics of who deserved what, Swank was inevitably set up for failure by the Academy. By age 30, she had far exceeded expectations, and accomplished more than most actors could ever dream. At that point, there was really no place to go but down.

Lightning in a bottle

The strange thing about Swank's two Oscar wins is that they were both lightning-in-a-bottle moments in her career. She certainly gave excellent performances in both Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby; nobody's going to look back and say to themselves, "Wait, she won an Oscar for THAT?!"

The problem is, outside of those two movies, she never really did anything that warranted that level of acclaim. Before Boys Don't Cry, she was only really known for movies like The Next Karate Kid and getting fired from 90210. And even afterward, she struggled to land on her feet, starring in mostly mediocre projects like The Affair of the Necklace and the TV movie Iron Jawed Angels. Sure, she had two Oscars to her name, but not much else to show for it. 

As a result, Swank became a difficult actress to place in Hollywood. She was great in the right role, but difficult to cast in many others. In many ways, that arguably played a key role in how her career played out after Million Dollar Baby. And speaking of which...

'Amelia' crashed and burned

Much like the years after she won the Oscar for Boys Don't Cry, Swank had a difficult time finding success after Million Dollar Baby was released in 2004. She vacillated wildly between starring in prestige movies that were too mediocre for Oscar consideration and mainstream flicks that seemed more geared towards making money than satisfying audiences.

One of her roughest patches came in 2009, when she starred in the Amelia Earhart biopic Amelia, which was in every sense of the word a disaster. Reviews were terrible — it earned a 20 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, and box office returns were even worse. The film grossed just $14.2 million against a reported $40 million budget, and Swank's days of Oscar glory started to feel like a thing of the past. Not that it bothers her. "You're an artist and you're putting yourself out there, and you take that leap, and sometimes you fly and sometimes you fall," she told the Independent in 2014.

What happens in Chechnya doesn't stay in Chechnya

In 2011, Hilary Swank traveled to Chechnya to attend controversial leader Ramzan Kadyrov's birthday celebration. In a strange address to the crowd, Swank lavished praise on the capital city of Grozny, and complimented the Chechen people. She also thanked Kadyrov for the invitation and said, "I hope someday, when you get your opera house built, maybe I'll have a film premiere here," according to Indiewire.

Aside from being generally bizarre, the visit was problematic for the Boys Don't Cry actress on account of the stark contrast between the strong advocacy of social issues in many of her films with Kadyrov's record of alleged civil rights violations, which Indiewire also points out: "Human Rights Watch has said they constitute crimes against humanity."

After receiving considerable backlash — which included Swank "firing her manager and most of her agents" as well as being dropped by her PR firm, according to Deadline — the Freedom Writers star issued a statement to the Associated Press (via The Hollywood Reporter) which read, "I deeply regret attending this event. If I had a full understanding of what this event was apparently intended to be, I would never have gone."

Perhaps not coincidentally, Swank saw a two-year gap in between projects around this time, having completed the huge ensemble rom-com New Year's Eve in 2011, then nothing until the TV Movie Mary and Martha in 2013. Was the break self-imposed, or did her cringeworthy Chechnya trip leave Hollywood standing at arm's length?

'Today, I'm living my bucket list.'

Like many actors who have spent a considerable amount of time in the spotlight, Swank realizes there's more to life than red carpets and million-dollar movies. She said as much while speaking to the Independent in 2014, pointing out, "None of us know what's going to happen from one moment to the next and I think that's one of the things we have to be able to do, to never take a moment for granted. Today, I'm living my bucket list. Life is short and we have to make the most of it every day. If you were told you had a year to live how much different would you live your life than maybe some of the things we take for granted or we worry about? They're so absurd in the overall scheme of things."

The Independent adds that Swank has spent a lot of the last few years "visiting and working in orphanages in India, helping to set up schools in Ethiopia and launching her own charity, called Hilaroo." According to the interview, Hilaroo unites children with animals "to help heal each other."

She's been caring for her dad

Swank's absence from the spotlight has also had to do with things beyond her own control. In 2015, the actress revealed to the Huffington Post that she had recently put her career on the back burner in order to take care of her ailing father, who had just had a lung transplant. "My dad is living with me," she said (via ABC News) of her father, Stephen Swank. "I'm his sole caretaker right now."

"It's a certain amount of time [to serve as a caretaker], but in a lifespan it's a blink of an eye," she continued. "There's been job opportunities I've passed on, and things that I said 'I can't,' but really what we're here for is our family." She went on to add that the decision to put her family first has led to zero regrets. "There is nothing I want to do more other than being with my dad in this time of need. 

In February 2018, Swank told Los Angeles Confidential that her father was still living with her. "After I got over the momentary anxiety that I wasn't doing what I loved, and what that meant, I recognized that I'm so much more," she said. "It's been an incredible journey and definitely life-enriching in many ways," she also told the mag, adding, "It's a reminder about what's important in life, you know?"

Fortunately, she's still got it in her

Although her star wattage isn't as strong as it used to be, given the right role, she can still really kill it. Case in point: 2014's The Homesman, a Tommy Lee Jones-directed movie that earned Swank some of the best reviews of her career from critics who hailed her performance as a return to form.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called her performance "outstanding," while the Saporata Report said, "With two Oscars back home, Swank doesn't have anything to prove to anyone. Yet, once again, you are struck by her commitment and originality. Her range may be small — or maybe odd is the better word — but no one is better at doing what she does."

Sure, it didn't win her a third Best Actress Oscar, but the strength of her work and the warm reception it received suggested a third nomination may still be in her future.

A newfound passion for fashion

During Swank's self-imposed hiatus to care for her father, she also began to pursue another passion: fashion. In 2016, she launched Mission Statement, a high end clothing line described as "aestheticwear," or "clothing that supports active women, in every aspect of their life."

The brand is a hybrid of high fashion and workout clothes that includes pieces like $900 leather pants and a $145 bra.

Speaking with Forbes about her "foray into entrepreneurialism," Swank said, "I feel it parallels making movies in that you start with an idea and have to find the right artisans to collaborate with bringing that vision to the world." She also made it clear that while she intends to manage the clothing company, acting is still a priority. "With a full-time acting career (of which I'm still so passionate) and getting a new company off the ground (of which I maintain creative and managerial leadership) this can sometimes be a challenge," the Million Dollar Baby star said, adding, "The guiding light for me is that I'm passionate about both of them (and want to excel in both of them) so I somehow manage to find sufficient time every day. I also have incredible support and teams in both worlds — without which I would not be successful."

While it's easy to highlight actresses whose Hollywood careers have taken a backseat to their entrepreneurial efforts — Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, and Kate Hudson, just to name a few — it's a lot harder to find ones who've successfully managed both. It's possible that Swank could be the one to achieve it, but it's just as likely that the lure of the more stable world of retail could lead her from the fickle realm of Hollywood.

Warming up to the small screen

Like more and more big screen stars are doing these days, Swank attempted a pivot to prestige television. In 2014, she was cast in the Starz drama The One Percent, a highly buzzed project from acclaimed Birdman director, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu. Although as of this writing, the show still hasn't happened and appears to be in a bit of development limbo, according to Deadline.

Meanwhile, Swank had a very small part in Logan Lucky, a well-received, big cast flick from noted director Steven Soderbergh, and she is set to appear in the FX limited series, Trust, which was helmed by another Oscar-winning director, Danny Boyle. The latter experience was revelatory for Swank, who told Variety in January 2018, "The beauty of television is everything gets revealed as you go. There's such beauty in that it is so human. It's so hard to tell a story in two hours. I'm coming to recognize that." 

In other words: Swank seems to be reconnecting with the who's who of Hollywood, even if it's taken her several years to realize that the future of entertainment is no longer limited to the big screen.