HILARY SWANK on 'THE REAPING' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
March 23, 2007
In the paranormal thriller The Reaping, a pair of scientists, Katherine (Hilary Swank) and Ben (Idris Elba), travel to remote sites where purported miracles have occurred in an effort to explain them scientifically. But when they come upon a small town in Louisiana that is afflicted with what appears to be the ten Biblical plagues of the Old Testament, they find themselves unable to rationalize the mysterious events by conventional methods. Their investigation also uncovers an insidious plot, at the heart of which is a young girl (AnnaSophia Robb) who is purported to be a demonic harbinger.
Directed by Stephen Hopkins (Lost in Space, TV's 24), The Reaping is a solid thriller with a supernatural twist and a few surprises. The cast is particularly strong, and the lead characters have an interesting dynamic--Katherine, suffering from a crisis of faith, coldly and cooly debunks miracles as a sort of vengeance against religion, while Ben accompanies her on the journey in the hopes that he will be able to scientifically prove the existence of a God in which he has placed his faith. Together, the two play the skeptic/believer dichotomy well, while still being the closest of friends and colleagues.
In this interview, Hilary Swank talks about working on the movie.
MEDIA: How did you first get involved with this project?
HILARY: Well, when I was reading this script, it was such a surprise because I think it's a supernatural thriller that's so smart. And when [producer Joel Silver] sent it to me, it was a week before the Academy Awards for Million Dollar Baby, and he said, "I want you to read this right now!" And I said, "Right now? Can it wait?" "No, right now!" So I read it, and I just remember it being a real page turner, and really enjoying it, and not seeing some of the twists and turns that would come. You know, it's hard to fool me. It just is, because I've read a lot of scripts, as you guys have seen a lot of movies, and I'm sure it's hard to fool you, too. And I loved that. I loved that I didn't see some stuff coming.
What's your take on faith and spirituality?
Well, I believe in a higher power. I was not baptized, or organized religion and all of that. But it's definitely interesting. You know, part of my job is, as an actor, it's so great that I get to read and learn about all different types of life and walks of life and different thinking. And it certainly makes you more open-minded. And I love that. I loved getting that opportunity to hear these people who write [skeptic magazines], and to really hear that they feel there's a scientific reason for everything. And they will sit there and you could ask them anything, and they have an answer for it. Whereas the other people will come in and say, "There is no way that this can scientifically be proven and is nothing short of a miracle." And I love that--that you can represent both sides of that in a movie.
Where do you stand on miracles?
Ummm...I've seen in my own life just a lot of things that have happened that have been...I wouldn't say miraculous, but I would just say a blessing. And I think maybe I think I have a lot of luck. I had to work really hard, but there's a lot of luck. But I haven't, myself, witnessed a miracle.
I love the scene in which your character rattles off a long, concise, scientific explanation of the plagues...
Yeah. [laughs] Great writing, huh?
I know you're an actor and you're at the top of your game, but is it harder to deliver a dense block of dialogue like that, as opposed to a scene in which there is a lot of back and forth interaction between two characters?
Yeah. You might have seen also in Freedom Writers, it's the same. I had speeches that were so long. And certainly if you have back and forth, it's easier to remember something because you have that person's...You're reacting off of what they're saying and you remember your lines. So it took me a long time to learn that. It was two weeks of learning it while I was off set. I would be going over and over and over and over that. Because also, she said it really fast, and passionately. And so it's definitely different to learn that.
Do you do anything to keep co-stars from being intimidated by your two Oscars?
Yeah, I put it down, I say, "Can you polish that?" [laughs] No! No, no, I'm just kidding! You know what? People, I don't feel, are intimidated by me. I'm just another person, I'm just another actor sitting down, doing the same thing, starting from scratch. And I think the second they see me mess up in a scene, they go, "Oh, yeah, okay. She's just like me."
Some of us still remember you from The Next Karate Kid...
Exactly! I just signed an autograph for someone over there. They had me sign their Next Karate Kid DVD. Yeah. The thing is, is that I was fortunate enough to be blessed to do movies that people recognize somehow in that light. And I wake up every day and I like do these quadruple takes at [the Oscars] thinking, "What is that sitting in my house?" I don't think it's even sunk in with me. I don't know...I'm just the same. I make the same mistakes on a set, and I don't remember my lines, and I go, "What am I saying? What am I doing? Please help me!" So I don't think people feel that way.
Do you feel there is an expectation for you to keep picking roles that are potentially Oscar winners?
I think after Boys Don't Cry I did, because it so came out of nowhere, and I just thought, "Wow, all of a sudden I'm here, and last year I was doing 90210." Like, "Where do you go from here?" But I think you can't be in that mindset, because nothing's perfect. Those performances weren't perfect. They were flawed, and my goal is to just continue to challenge myself and to try and learn and grow.
Your character spends a lot of time braving nature in the bayou. How are you with swamps and bugs?
I'm a lot better than Idris Elba is! He hates spiders, he hates swamps. I grew up out in the country, and I was a tomboy, and I loved climbing trees and tree forts and frogs and all of that stuff. And I grew up by a lake. And Idris, he hates all that. Spiders and stuff, really, he doesn't like. So we'd get a good laugh, me and AnnaSophia. When they brought the locusts out and stuff, we'd be having them crawl all over us, and he'd just be like, "Uh-uh." And it was funny...The scene where he falls in the swamp, he [actually] fell. He sunk into the swamp. And we had those big things on, and it filled with water, so he couldn't get back up. He was just like, "Aaargh!" [laughs]
How did you like working with Idris?
You know, we have a lot of our scenes together, and I feel like, just as people, we have great chemistry. I felt like I had known Idris forever. And you know, we had a lot of great talks just being down there and waiting for the scenes to be set up--a lot of fun, a lot of jokes, a lot of back and forth. I just think he's such an extremely talented actor, and I was really happy to get the opportunity to work with him. And I talk about how he is British, but you forget because his [American] accent's so spot-on. And there was not an accent coach. He didn't have an accent coach, he just did it. And so whenever I see him and he uses his [British] accent, because that's his accent, I always think, "What are you doing? What is that? Are you trying to act smart or something?" Because it's so weird to hear him speak like that.
AnnaSophia Robb plays an ominous figure in this movie, but she's such a sweetie in person...
Isn't she sweet? She's so sweet. And she loves her job and she has great parents, and we had a lot of fun. This movie was really just fun to film. We all enjoyed being together, we all enjoyed being in the South, we all enjoyed the gumbo and the pecan pies and the Southern hospitality. And we had a great time on set and off, you know? It was great to hang out with her and her parents. And there was this one little place in this small town we were filming, where I would see her on our day off, and we'd both be eating our waffles. And it was like the only place you could go to eat. And I had a little farmhouse when I was there. I mean, it was a great time all around.
Did you talk to her about growing up in Hollywood?
You know, I didn't want to sound preachy or like I was trying to teach her something. But I definitely would just say, "Remember to believe in yourself and to do what you love and trust yourself." And that sort of thing. You know, she's pretty solid, and she has solid parents. So she's definitely on that right path.
You started acting when you were relatively young, but did you have another job before that? Like in retail or something?
I started working like right at 16, so I didn't really. But there were times when I just thought...You know, I had a restaurant that I really loved, and I said, "I want the experience to be a waiter here. I want to know what that's like." I love people and I love being around people. I like to observe. And so I did stuff like that. But it was more [for] fun, because I was working.
What was Stephen Hopkins like as a director?
He's so great. You know, there wasn't a director on this when I came onboard, and when Joel and I were batting out names, I was a real big fan of those first episodes of 24, and Life and Death of Peter Sellers had just come out. And I really pushed for him and really fought for him and really wanted him to be a part of it. And when he read it, he [also] saw the things I was talking about and wanted to really highlight those things. And so that was great.
The movie offers a few shock scares...
[laughs] Did [Stephen] tell you? He was watching the movie, and he had been working and traveling back and forth and he was jetlagged, and it was at one of these screenings...He had seen the movie a million times. He's like, "I'm just going to shut my eyes for a sec, I'm so tired." And all of a sudden, this guy behind him got so freaked out and kicked him in the back of the head. He jolted awake.
While you were filming, did you expect the finished movie to be so rich visually?
Well, I knew his work, and I knew he works with that same cinematographer, and so it wasn't like that was going to be a surprise of how it was going to look. And I do think that his movies are, visually, really stimulating. His work is visually stimulating. You know, you never know if it's always going to come out like that with anything, but yeah...I felt the movie was really rich in color, and the way the camera moved was fun.
Going into this, were you thinking of the possibility of a sequel?
No, actually, I wasn't...Because I don't know where it would go. But I guess that's why I'm not a writer. [laughs]
Aside from the acting, what else do you really enjoy?
I like to travel, and I definitely get to travel so much with my job. I get to see the world. I mean, the places I've been in my life...I've been seeing [more] of the world than not, and that's so great. So I love that. I love cooking, and I get to see and taste all different types of food. My job allows me to really be involved with philanthropic things, and talk about things that I believe in, and raise money for things that I believe in. So it's great.
What was it like filming this movie in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?
Well, a lot of our crew was from New Orleans, so a lot of them had lost their homes and everything. We all got evacuated. Being a business, it would have been really easy for the studio and Joel to say, "Okay, we're going to take this movie somewhere else. We've got to finish this movie, we can't wait." And instead--I think it was great--they said, "Okay, let's wait, and let's just hold out and go back." And I think it was really smart, because all those people who had lost their homes then didn't lose their job, and we helped the city rebuild by all the money we were bringing there. And so it was a long shoot because of that, but it was a no-brainer: it was the obvious and right thing to do.
As the lead, did you feel a responsibility to keep the crew's spirits up?
Absolutely. You know, you don't want to deny them having their emotions and feelings and everything. And obviously, it was a horrible devastation that happened. But it was part of their healing and rebuilding, and everyone's healing and rebuilding. And I think our country had to heal and rebuild from that. So it's great to, I think, have a movie that represents that area and that's so much fun, and a reminder to people to go to that area.