Combustible Celluloid

Interview: Hilary Swank

An 'Affair' to Remember

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

November 21, 2001—Under normal circumstances it seems unlikely that these two would ever have met.

Hilary Swank, 27, is the movie star that exploded out of nowhere from nothing roles on TV's "Beverly Hills 90120," and in movies like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Next Karate Kid. She accepted a role in a small indie movie called Boys Don't Cry for very little money and suddenly found herself giving an Oscar acceptance speech after winning the Best Actress award.

Charles Shyer, 60, was virtually born into the film biz, writing for "The Odd Couple" TV show, as well as screenplays for Smokey and the Bandit, Goin' South and Private Benjamin before turning to directing with Irreconcilable Differences, Baby Boom and Father of the Bride Parts 1 and 2.

Somehow this director of charming, lightweight Hollywood comedies and this spunky, athletic actress of potent indie films got together for -- what else -- a period costume movie based on a true story about Jeanne de la Motte Valois, a would-be royal trying to make a name for herself in pre-revolutionary France and her attempt to steal a priceless necklace.

It's a match made in heaven. As the pair visited San Francisco to promote the new film The Affair of the Necklace, which opens November 30 in Bay Area theaters. They sat on the fancy Clift Hotel couch together and bantered back and forth about how great their experience was. And, no, they're not "an item." Swank is still happily married to actor Chad Lowe (Rob's brother).

Even though Swank's star has risen 1000% since their 1997 wedding, her relationship with Lowe remains strong. "Chad and I have been together nine years, married four of them. We have an amazing relationship. We're very lucky," Swank says. She talks about their first collaboration, a short film called The Audition, and beams when she considers working with him again. "He's amazing," she says.

Talking about her Oscar, Swank says "I'm as awed about it as anyone. It still hits me by surprise when I look on my shelf and there's an Oscar there."

Swank was impressed that Shyer had enough faith in her to cast her even before she won her Golden Globe -- before she was a bankable star. In addition, she didn't earn much more salary on this film than she did on Boys Don't Cry.

Indeed, though it looks expensive, The Affair of the Necklace was a cheaply-made labor of love for everyone involved. Like Glengarry Glen Ross and Pulp Fiction, the cast -- including Jonathan Pryce, Joely Richardson, Brian Cox, Adrien Brody and Christopher Walken -- and crew waived any exorbitant fees and took union scale in order to get the movie made.

"Movies like this usually cost $60-70 million, and this cost something like $20 million," Shyer says. "That's why we made it in Prague. There were a lot of sacrifices made to shoot it. Nobody was doing it for the money on this one -- the money or the food. The caterers in Prague!" he mock-swoons. "It was people who really wanted to do a movie that believed in it. But it's a good feeling when you pull it off and people respond and like it."

"I really wanted it to be a big, take-you-away to another time movie," Shyer continues. Swank brags that Senator Barbara Boxer came to a screening and thanked them for transporting her away for two hours, calling it a "welcome relief." "It was really, really nice," Shyer agrees.

The Affair of the Necklace marked the first time that Shyer acted only as director and not screenwriter. Taking a cue from Billy Wilder, Shyer originally became a director to protect the integrity of his scripts. So he was extra sensitive in protecting the work of writer John Sweet, going so far as to invite the first-time writer to the set.

Swank, however, took the opportunity to make sure the first-time writer wasn't spoiled. "I said to John, 'just so you know -- this is not normal. This is your first movie. Don't expect this to happen again.'"

"A lot of directors are threatened by writers," Shyer adds. "But having been a writer for so long... and I worked a lot with John on the script. But he was the writer."

Shyer insists that he did not take on a prestigious costume drama to emotionally compensate for his exclusively comedic career. "I did want to show that I could do other stuff, but I wasn't trying to be important or anything like that, 'cause I think comedy's important. I just didn't want to do all those kinds of movies, that's all."

Speaking of comedy, Shyer and Swank describe their most difficult day on The Affair of the Necklace, when, to pay for her crimes, Swank's character gets literally branded with the mark of a criminal. Swank convinces me for about five seconds that she was actually branded in real life. "If I were," she laughs, "He'd be fired!" indicating Shyer. No wonder she's such a great actress.

Partial Hilary Swank Filmography:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
The Next Karate Kid (1994)
Boys Don't Cry (1999)
The Gift (2000)
The Affair of the Necklace (2001)
Insomnia (2002)
11:14 (2003)
The Core (2003)
Red Dust (2004)
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
The Black Dahlia (2006)
The Reaping (2007)
Freedom Writers (2007)
P.S. I Love You (2007)
Birds of America (2008)
Amielia (2009)
Conviction (2010)
The Resident (2011)
New Year's Eve (2011)
Mary and Martha (2013)
The Homesman (2014)
You're Not You (2014)

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