- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

LOS ANGELES — So you have dazzled Hollywood with an Oscar-winning, true-life transformation as a woman with a sexual identity crisis who is murdered after posing as a man. What do you do for an encore?
For Hilary Swank, it is a journey back two centuries to the true-life story of a woman struggling with a genealogical identity crisis, who eventually dies under suspicious circumstances after posing as a confidante of Marie Antoinette.
All similarities between Swank's "Boys Don't Cry" and her new film, "The Affair of the Necklace," end there. With her 18th-century costume drama, Miss Swank makes as wide a departure as imaginable from her breakout role two years ago as Teena Brandon, a Nebraska woman slain in 1993 by acquaintances who had believed she was a young man named Brandon Teena.
In "Boys Don't Cry," Miss Swank was skittish, raw, torn and tormented. In "Affair of the Necklace," she is the picture of grace, guile, style and courtliness, a single-minded woman determined to win back her family honor.
"It just so happened that it was the polar opposite of Brandon," Miss Swank says of her new role as a disenfranchised royal plotting to regain her place at the court of Louis XVI. "I found a story with a wonderfully strong character who is driven and bold and felt a need to have justice prevail. That's rare for a woman in that era to have. That's why I jumped on it."
As Miss Swank's "Boys Don't Cry" accolades mounted, "Affair of the Necklace" director Charles Shyer wondered if he could hold on to his lead actress given the movie's relatively modest budget and the new doors opening for Miss Swank.
"I started to hear from people in town that I better be careful. She's being offered millions and she's making nothing for this movie, so why would she do mine? But there was never a rumble from Hilary. She never looked back," Mr. Shyer says.
"She's a chameleon. I don't want this at all to sound like a criticism, because I mean it in a positive sense," he says. "I think she's more an actress than a movie star or personality. More of a serious artist. That's what drives her, rather than, 'Oh, I can be in a movie with so and so.'"

The film is based on the true story of Jeanne de la Motte Valois, who orchestrated an elaborate con game by pretending to be in Marie Antoinette's inner circle to acquire a priceless diamond necklace, selling the gems to buy back her family estate. The movie also features Jonathan Pryce, Christopher Walken, Joely Richardson and Adrien Brody.
The ruse stirred a scandal and bitter criminal trial that further eroded the shaky monarchy as the French Revolution approached. An exile from France, Jeanne died in a fall years later. Whether she jumped or was pushed was never determined.
"Affair of the Necklace" marks Miss Swank's first lead role and just her second film since "Boys Don't Cry" (she had a supporting part opposite Cate Blanchett in last year's supernatural thriller "The Gift"). Miss Swank says she resisted pressure from agents and handlers to rush another starring turn into theaters on the heels of "Boys Don't Cry."
"That's never been my priority. I've never been in this business to capitalize on anything or make money even," Miss Swank says. "So when people said that, I just had to remember why I became an actor in the first place."

Miss Swank, 27, started acting in school while growing up in Bellingham, Wash. After her parents split up, she and her mother moved to Los Angeles when Miss Swank was 15 so she could try acting professionally.
After a few TV roles, Miss Swank broke into feature films with a supporting role in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," then got the lead in "The Next Karate Kid," a part she landed partly because of athletic talent from her early training as a competitive swimmer and gymnast.
"The Next Karate Kid" flopped, and Miss Swank was confined mostly to TV films and series for the next few years, a stint on "Beverly Hills, 90210" among her credits. Then "Boys Don't Cry" vaulted her to star status, earning her the Academy Award among lead-actress contenders who included Annette Bening, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore.
"Certainly, I now have a wonderful range of projects to choose from, and I'm very thankful for that opportunity," says Miss Swank, who is married to actor Chad Lowe. "The pile [of scripts] on my bedside has grown."
Miss Swank just finished shooting the crime thriller "Insomnia," due out next year. She plays a rookie detective opposite Al Pacino and Robin Williams. Christopher Nolan ("Memento") directed.
Miss Swank will soon begin work on "The Core," a sci-fi adventure in which she plays an astronaut.
Besides her fresh Hollywood clout, Miss Swank has gained another role from "Boys Don't Cry," as an advocate for homosexual and transsexual youths coping with persecution. Miss Swank has become a spokeswoman for the New York City-based Hetrick-Martin Institute, which provides shelter and counseling for such youths.
"I had what I call a little sneak preview into their lives. These kids are living the same life that Brandon lived," Miss Swank says. "I'm proud to say I can be a role model to them, because I'm not someone they usually quite identify with. I'm a straight female and I've never questioned my identity.
"But I got a sense of what it feels like to live in their world, and I think it's a unique relationship we share."

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