Last night, Pete and Jen treated us to a live attendance to the show Inside the Actors Studio hosted by James Lipton, a dean emeritus at Pace University. I’ve only seen one show before – an interview with Matt Damon – which I found to be fun, entertaining, and very revealing.
Yesterday’s guest was Hilary Swank, the actor of Million Dollar Baby, Boys Don’t Cry, and Freedom Writers fame.
I had somewhat low expectations after hearing that the interview would be three straight hours with no breaks. I’m a little too antsy for that kind of stillness, but I prepped myself with a nap beforehand.
Anyhow, here’s the schedule for the taping:
7:00-10:00 – Interview, no breaks
10:00-10:10 – Break
10:10-10:40 – Q & A with Drama students
I must say, I was really impacted by the interview. Lipton delved into Hilary’s upbringing, background, and little nuances of Hilary’s (we’re on first name basis now, btw) life and work. I’m a huge Hilary Swank fan as a result of it.
I actually didn’t know that Swank has won two Academy Awards for best actress (for Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby). In other words, she’s a megamegamega star who’s an expert in her craft. Even I know that that’s a big deal.
But hearing her talk, she’s remarkably down-to-earth and level-headed. Her family was there, and it was really cool hearing from her mom throughout portions of the interview.
Anyhow, here are some things I admire/learned from the interview.
1) Hard Work is Essential when One Wants to Excel at their Craft
When hearing about Swank’s preparation for different roles, I was amazed at the kind of dedication she put into knowing her characters and being fully prepared to play her roles. She literally tries to walk in another person’s shoes to prepare. For MDB, she worked out like a madwoman for 3 months to gain 19 pounds of muscle. She changed her diet completely to eat protein ever 1 1/2 hours, worked with a boxing coach and trainer relentlessly, and took the train out to Brooklyn in the freezing cold every morning to do it (she said she felt like Rocky)!
I haven’t seen Boys Don’t Cry, but apparently she prepped for this role by chopping off all her hair, completely changing her appearance, and seeing what it was like to actually live like her character (her role was to play a woman who lives like a man, I believe). In one of the more moving points in the interview, she started weeping at the thought of how it felt to live like her character in NY, and how people treated her differently and suspiciously.
For her role in BDC, she actually only made $75/day in making that film. However, she was so passionate for her craft, she worked tirelessly to do her best (not knowing it’d be Oscar-worthy) in this role.
In the Q & A session, she said that there are tons of talented people everywhere and in every craft. However, few are really willing to put in the work to become truly successful (this kind of reminded me of T-Mac and Kobe, for instance. Similar talent but different work ethics, from what I’ve read. I might be wrong here, but yeah, that’s what came to mind – sorry Houston fans). She also mentioned that putting in the work beforehand (ie working on the fundamentals), then gives one the freedom to improvise (This reminds me of John Wooden teaching his players to focus on the fundamentals first – alas, everything reminds me of sports).
I was floored by this. Recently we’ve been reflecting on 1 Timothy 2, particularly the exhortations by Paul to be disciplined and have a regimented life. It’s almost like this is a reminder that to grow in anything, there is slow and hard work necessary for excellence.
In other words, there are no short cuts, and this is true in every facet of life.
2) Our Lowest Point can Be Our Turning Point
There were so many instances of this from Hilary’s life, and it’s not surprising to see her drawn to roles as the underdog.
Please read her bio if you have a chance. She came from very humble beginnings, and she moved with her mom to Los Angeles as a teenager with only $75. They lived out of her mom’s Oldsmobile, and they’d eat one meal a day at Denny’s. I don’t know how long this went on, but yes, they had very little.
Her mom shared how she got fired from her job in Washington State, and felt like she was at the end of her rope. It was then that God revealed to her that it was her job that was keeping her from moving to LA and supporting Hilary’s dreams as much as possible. In other words, God took away her security so that she could begin to trust him with other opportunities.
Early in Hilary’s career, she was contracted for two years on Beverly Hills 90210 8th season. After 14 or so episodes, she was let go because they said that she wasn’t what they were looking for. As a desperate actor who was thankful for every and any opportunity, she was crushed because she felt like she wasn’t good enough for BH90210, and again, she was without work.
Five months later (I believe) she ran across the script for Boys Don’t Cry.
She mentioned so many other moments of receiving criticism, or being at the end of her rope. And yet, with a passion for her craft, determination, and hopefulness, she continued plugging along.
It’s weird how this is a spiritual principle, but I’ve heard it in so many different variations from so many different people that I know it’s true (and Scripture corroborates this). And yet, this is one of the most difficult lessons to truly live.
When I’m in my lowest point, God is doing something. It takes incredible faith and hopefulness to believe this. It’s so easy to let my lowest point lead me to an even lower point, instead of a turning point.
3) A Support System is Paramount
Against all odds, Hilary had her mom to lean on. She needed someone else to believe for her.
There will always be haters (which Hilary mentioned), but one has to keep a level head to thrive in any prominent role.
Often times, especially when we’re at our worst, we need people to believe for us. Please reach out to a community for support!
4) Every Experience is a Learning Moment
Even if we might not know it at the time, each experience is an opportunity to grow and learn. She told the drama students that early in her career, she took anything and everything because she was desperate for any type of work and didn’t see anything as beneath her. Looking back, she doesn’t have regrets because she’s learned something from every experience.
Even for The Next Karate Kid, she was delighted to get that role early in her career, and she learned from it.
This was kind of cool to hear, and I could see how her humble beginnings allows her to view life this way.
5) The Gospel Sets us Free
Okay, she didn’t mention this, but this was my greatest take away from the interview. She spoke of passion and purpose, and an inner fortitude to do what she loves despite the naysayers. She spoke of diligence, and remaining grateful for every opportunity. She spoke about community, and needing others. She spoke about incarnating with people, especially outsiders, and how much pleasure she gets from giving a voice to these “outsiders”.
I was like, “preach it!”
There is no drama like the gospel drama. There is no affirmation like the one that comes from a transcendent God who says “You are my beloved”. There is no greater story, no greater truth, than Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
PS Special thanks to Eli, Jihee, and Kevin for making this night possible.