Hilary Swank Lived As a Man For a Month to Prepare For a Movie Role

Hilary Swank is an award-winning actor with decades of experience under her belt. Like many other actors, Swank dedicates herself entirely to her roles to ensure that she does the best job possible playing her characters. In one instance, she lived her life for weeks at a time as if she was a transgender man.

Hilary Swank attends the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 10th annual Governors Awards at The Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center on November 18, 2018 in Hollywood, California.
Hilary Swank | Steve Granitz/WireImage

Hilary Swank played a trans man early in her career

Swank was an up-and-coming actor in the 1990s, but her breakout came in 1999 with the movie Boys Don’t Cry. The film is based on the real-life story of Brandon Teena, a young trans man from Nebraska who was murdered in 1993 by people he knew.

Swank’s portrayal of Teena earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress the following year, marking a huge moment in both the young actor’s life and culture as a whole. “We have come a long way,” Swank said in her acceptance speech. “I want to thank Brandon Teena for being such an inspiration to us all. His legacy lives on through our movie, to remind us to always be ourselves, to follow our hearts, to not conform.”

“I pray for the day we not only accept our differences but we actually celebrate our diversity,” she added.

Hilary Swank
Hilary Swank at the “What They Had” Press Conference at the Four Seasons Hotel on October 8, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California | Vera Anderson/WireImage

Hilary Swank committed to living as Brandon Teena before playing him in ‘Boys Don’t Cry’

To bring Brandon Teena’s story to life on screen, director Kimberly Peirce required that Swank made a full transformation into a man. Peirce outlined Swank’s commitment to the role in a 1999 interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Swank prepared for the role by dressing and living as a man for over a month before filming began. Every day, she would bind her chest and pack her pants to try and pass as a boy, as many trans men do.

Swank also underwent signifiant physical changes to help make her more suited for the role. She trained how to speak using the lower register of her voice and did lots of reading about transgender life. She also began working with a personal trainer and got down to 7% body fat so her jaw and facial bone structure would be more pronounced. 

Hilary Swank
Hilary Swank attends the Mon Cheri Barbara Tag at Postpalast on December 2, 2016 in Munich, Germany | Susi Bond/WireImage

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Hilary Swank regrets playing Brandon Teena in ‘Boys Don’t Cry’

In 2019, Swank spoke with Variety about the legacy of Boys Don’t Cry. In a post-Pose world, she acknowledged that an actual transmasculine actor would have been a better fit to tell Teena’s story on screen. 

“Twenty-one years later, not only are trans people having their lives and living, thankfully,” she said, “but we now have a bunch of trans actors who would obviously be a lot more right for the role and have the opportunity to actually audition for the role.”

She added that “we still have a long way to go in their safety and their inclusivity.”