On Hilary Swank and Jane Austen

Idly leafing through today’s entertainment section in the Sacramento Bee, I came across an interview with Hilary Swank — what I supposed was the usual puff piece accompanying the review of her new film, The Homesman.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of Swank’s work. I’m not even sure I’ve seen any of her movies. Million Dollar Baby? No. Amelia? No. Conviction, P.S. I Love You, The Next Karate Kid? No, no, no.

But what I read in the interview has inspired both respect and admiration for Hilary Swank.

Hilary Swank

“You are capable of doing anything you set your mind to.”

My interest was really piqued when the interviewer says, “Feminist themes run through much of your work. Do you choose roles on that basis?”

Swank replies: “I would say I do not actively search out roles or stories [like] that, but clearly they are the ones I am drawn to, and that touch my heart. And that I relate to.

“To use an example, [journalists] will ask me in an interview, ‘When are you going to play a pretty girl?’ And my jaw drops to the floor. Can you imagine anyone saying to a man, ‘When are you going to play a handsome man?’ No one would ever say that.”

Later, the interviewer asks, “Do you ever think about your potential to become one of the most awarded actors ever?”

“Well, I do,” answers Swank, “in that it is something people will bring up to me. I have to say, it is a great honor to be spoken about in that way, and for people to think it gives me an ability to be a role model for girls, and women. To be able to say, ‘You are capable of doing anything you set your mind to.’

“And certainly I think I have been blessed with a lot of luck, and there’s that great saying [that] luck is when preparation meets opportunity. So, work hard and don’t be limited by people’s ideas of you, and shape who you are.”

As the author of a new book about Jane Austen, I immediately thought about her, and how she, with both bravery and perseverance, overcame so many barriers in her own time.

A woman’s only “career” at that time was to try and get married. “Nice” women didn’t strive to be artists. Yet Austen resolutely remained single, and worked hard, despite many obstacles, to become not just a writer, but a published author.

I wonder if anyone ever said outright to her: “Don’t be limited by people’s ideas of you, and shape who you are” — or if she found the strength within herself, alone, to forge her own path.

A speculative image of Jane Austen at age 11. Illustration by Massimo Mongiardo in YOUNG JANE AUSTEN: BECOMING A WRITER, written by Lisa Pliscou

A speculative image of Jane Austen at age 11. Illustration by Massimo Mongiardo in YOUNG JANE AUSTEN: BECOMING A WRITER.

Regardless, she did it. And we are the richer for it.

Read the Sacramento Bee article here.