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Last Updated: Monday, 28 February, 2005, 12:34 GMT
Swank's second shot at glory
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

Few were surprised when Hilary Swank won the best actress Oscar for her role as a determined female boxer in Million Dollar Baby.

Hilary Swank
Swank made her screen debut in the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer
After all, the 30-year-old star from Lincoln, Nebraska, had already picked up a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild award and a slew of other prizes for her fiercely committed performance.

Swank put on 19lbs (9kg) of muscle and trained over four hours a day to play Maggie Fitzgerald in Clint Eastwood's drama.

And her hard work and determination has once again endeared her to the Academy's voters.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether Swank will be able to forge a lasting career out of this second dose of Oscar glory.

The auspices are far from promising judging from the obscurity that followed her first best actress win five years ago.

Swank's portrayal of Brandon Teena - a young woman from Nebraska who lived as a man - in 1999 drama Boys Don't Cry made her an overnight celebrity.

But her subsequent roles in period piece The Affair of the Necklace, sci-fi flop The Core and psychological thriller Insomnia hardly capitalised on her newfound fame.

Indeed, had she not been hired to promote Calvin Klein underwear in a major advertising campaign, it is possible she might have dropped off the radar altogether.


One can see parallels with the career of Sally Field, who also won two Oscars within five years of each other in the 1980s.

Field, 58, was honoured for Norma Rae in 1980 and then for Places in the Heart in 1985.

Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe
Swank made sure she thanked her actor husband Chad Lowe
But while she has worked consistently ever since, she never became a major box-office draw.

Field's second Oscar acceptance speech - which contained the famous words "You like me, you really like me" - has become the stuff of toe-curling legend.

Swank committed a gaffe almost as heinous when she forgot to thank husband Chad Lowe while receiving her Boys Don't Cry honour.

She risked derision for using her obligatory appearance at the following year's event to mention those she had neglected to thank 12 months earlier.

And she treated viewers to another rambling monologue this year, paying tribute to - among others - her trainers, agent, manager and publicist.


The good news for Oscar watchers who like their speeches short and sweet is that the chances of her returning a third time are slim.

Jack Nicholson apart, no living actor has more than two of the coveted trophies on his or her mantelpiece.

Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry
Swank won her first best actress Oscar for Boys Don't Cry
And even Swank acknowledges the difficulty she faces finding roles as rich as the ones that have won her those prized statuettes.

"The truth is, after Boys Don't Cry, I realised how few and far between the great roles are," she says.

This time around, though, it seems she will not be idle while waiting for the next great role to come along.

Later this year we will see her in Red Dust, a fact-based, BBC-funded drama based around South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation hearings that she filmed before Million Dollar Baby.

And next month Swank will begin shooting The Black Dahlia, a 1940s thriller based on the novel by James Ellroy.


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