Oscar winners Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman make all
the right moves in Clint Eastwoods Million Dollar Baby
Text and Photo by Chris Betros
Hilary Swank doesnt mind taking a few
punches if its all for a good causeespecially
if it wins her an Oscar. The 30-year-old star is still on
cloud nine more than three months after winning her second
best actress Academy Award for her portrayal as the gutsy
waitress-turned-boxer in Clint Eastwoods Million Dollar
It still hasnt sunk in, said Swank, making
her first visit to Japan along with co-star and fellow Oscar
winner Morgan Freeman. Im pinching myself all
the time. People have connected with this movie everywhere,
probably because its not a boxing movie, but a real
story about real people. Freeman, 67, said he was happy
just to be part of a team that won the Oscars. There
is an ongoing belief in America about who wins Academy Awards.
The conventional wisdom has it that if your character is maimed,
hurt or in a wheelchair, and you are up for an award, youll
Million Dollar Baby sure did get it, picking up the best director
and best picture awards as well. It tells the story of Maggie
Fitzgerald, a woman who is determined to break free of her
Ozarks trailer park background. She works as a waitress by
day, but dreams of making it as a professional boxer. Maggie
turns up at an LA boxing gym and pesters owner Frankie (Eastwood)
to train her, refusing to take no for an answer. Frankies
friend Scrap (Freeman) sees her potential, but Frankie balks
at the idea (I dont train girls). Before
long, he relents and a father-daughter bond emerges between
the two. I think Maggie is the closest to me of any
character I have played, said Swank who was born in
Lincoln, Neb., and grew up in Bellingham, Wash. We both
had a dream that we pursued.
A former competitive swimmer and gymnast, Swank moved to LA
with her mother when she was 16, and the two lived out of
their car for a while, according to her bio. Swank landed
her first acting job in 1992s Buffy the Vampire Slayer,
before landing her breakout role two years later in The Next
Karate Kid. Her first best actress Oscar came in 1999 with
a wrenching performance in Boys Dont Cry. She followed
that up with such movies as The Core and Insomnia. Having
someone like Clint at the helm doesnt hurt your career,
she said of her mentor. His gift is that he hires the
right people for the job and then lets them do it. Yet, you
can feel yourself being led gently under his keen eye. It
was the best experience of my career so far. Freeman
also had nothing but praise for his old friend with whom he
last worked on Unforgiven in 1992. Clint is respectful
of actors, being one himself. He doesnt have the traditional
trappings of a director. He never says Cut! or
Action! Instead, he eases into a scene with that
distinctive voice of his: Anytime youre ready.
Eastwood hired professional boxers in support roles, among
them Lucia Rijker, who plays the ferocious Billie The
Blue Bear. Thats when things got a bit rough.
We had five moves rehearsed and in one of them, I was
supposed to go under her right hook, but I missed, said
Swank. I ended up getting hit many times. It sounds
weird to say it, but it was good for me. It made me feel like
Next up for Swank is the 1940s LA murder mystery The Black
Dahlia, while Freeman has two movies coming out in this month,
Danny the Dog (Unleashed in the US) and Batman Begins.
Welshman with a bicycle and a mission
After eight years of living in Saitama, Leigh Norrie became
restless. So last month, the 32-year-old former English teacher
from northern Wales jumped on his bicycle to see Japanall
What brought you here?
I was fascinated by Japanese culture, flora and fauna. Actually
thats rubbish. I just wanted to get as far away from
the UK as possible and find a handsomely paid job.
What keeps you here?
The safety of the place; the characters I come acrossboth
foreign and Japanese; anonymity.
So whats this bike ride about?
It started out about a year ago as a plan to walk from Japans
most northerly point, Soya Misaki in Hokkaido, to Naha in
Okinawa. Its morphed into a bicycle ride through each
of Japans 47 prefectures to raise money for the Chi-ki
Foundation (www.chiki.ca) that helps desperately poor areas
of Laos. My friend Sylvia Charczuk set up the charity two
years ago and has basically funded it herself.
What route will you take?
Its every prefecture so there will be a few zigzags.
From Saitama, north along the east coast to Hokkaido, south
down the west coast to Kanagawa, and then Nagano, Kyoto, Shikoku,
Kyushu, Okinawa and finally Yonaguni (the westernmost point).
How long will it take?
Anywhere from five to ten months. If Im still doing
it when I can see cherry blossoms something will have gone
Where will you stay?
What will you do first when its all over?
Cry and get drunk.
Whats the oddest thing youve ever seen in Japan?
Winter crab pizza and women playing Frisbee in the park wearing
Whats your pet peeve?
Two people chatting side by side on an escalator; people who
dont acknowledge you when youve been courteous;
hearing that spectacular sound of astonishment from female
Japanese thirty-somethings when something unastonishing happensyeah,
thats got to be my top pet hate. Oh, and queue jumpers.
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