(SPOILER ALERT: This contains spoilers for the Netflix series “Away”)
It’s been 21 years since Hilary Swank starred in “Boys Don’t Cry,” based on the true story of transgender man Brandon Teena, who was the victim of a brutal hate crime. The role nabbed Swank her first Oscar for best actress in 2000 (she followed up with a second win in 2005 for “Million Dollar Baby”). It’s a role that Swank says today would be open to an ever-growing pool of trans actors that didn’t necessarily exist two decades ago.
“I mean, trans people weren’t really walking around in the world saying, ‘Hey, I’m trans,’” Swank says. “Twenty one years later, not only are trans people having their lives and living, thankfully, [although] we still have a long way to go in their safety and and their inclusivity, 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.”
The 46-year-old actor also praises the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ recent announcement that films in contention for best picture adhere to new guidelines for expanding diversity and inclusion, to go in effect in 2024 (films must meet two of four standards outlined regarding on-screen representation and diversity in off-screen areas like marketing and distribution).
“In order to create change and to really make people tell stories that represent the world in which we live in — which is a colorful world full of all different types of people — rules like that need to be set,” Swank says. “There are so many stories in my 29 years of being in this business that have been told from a white straight male’s point-of-view, and it does a great disservice to people who are living in the world because they don’t get to see themselves represented on the screen in a way that makes them feel seen and heard.”
Inclusion and authentic casting are at the forefront of Swank’s latest project. She stars in and produce the Netflix TV series “Away,” a space drama boasting an international roster, including Vivian Wu, Ray Panthaki, Mark Ivanir and Ato Essandoh. The show revolves around a group of astronauts led by commander Emma Green (Swank) on the first mission to Mars and the interpersonal dramas they experience — both on their ship and back on Earth — while endeavoring to the red planet.
For Emma (SPOILER ALERT), it’s managing the heartache of a recently disabled husband Matt (Josh Charles) and a fickle teenage daughter Alex (Talitha Eliana Bateman) back at home. Onboard, there’s a potential budding romance with her crew member Ram (Panthaki), although she says the characters’ relationship is pretty platonic; viewers, of course, can draw their own conclusions from the pair’s starry moonwalks and long gazes.
Swank says Emma’s unrelenting desire to fulfill a life’s goal of going to Mars, as well as her assertiveness and vulnerability as a leader, spoke to her. “I speak my mind,” she says. “I don’t muddle my words. I’m kind of very to-the-point and, a lot of times, I think women who are like that can be deemed cold or challenging or — there’s a lot of adjectives that go with that. Had this role than written even five years ago, though, it would have been very kind of steely. It would have been very, matter-of-fact all the time, almost like hard, and what’s so great about it is this is a woman who doesn’t have all the answers, and says, ‘I don’t know.’ Her vulnerability is seen as a strength rather than a weakness.”
Watch the full interview with Hilary Swank above.