Yes, Hilary Swank is pretty. But why do we care?


Image Credit: Jon Kopaloff/

It’s the question that has long been dissected and cemented in pop culture, thanks to a memorable episode of The Office surrounding the topic: Is Hilary Swank attractive? Well it looks like the subject is about to be resurrected once again. During an interview with Swank on Los Angeles public radio station KCRW, Kim Masters spoke with the actress about other, older actresses’ struggles finding work in the industry, to which Swank responded, “I’m still young enough that I haven’t been feeling the brunt of that. Certainly, you hear about it … and you do see it, although you also see a lot more roles I think opening up for older women. I mean, Meryl Streep seems to be dominating.” Responded Masters: “Oh, but she’s… the exception… She’s not a pretty girl, and you’re not either.” 

Now, if you listen to the interview itself, it doesn’t necessarily sound as though Masters is labeling Swank ugly; she could simply be using “pretty girl” as a synonym for “girly girl.” And if Swank’s turns in The Next Karate Kid and Million Dollar Baby are any indication, it’s true the actress is anything but a girly girl. That’s at least how Swank responded to Masters comment (after joking remarking, “Hey, what are you saying?”): “Actually, I completely know what you’re saying. I play characters. I don’t play a movie star-looking type of person, which I prefer. I mean, who walks around looking like that anyway?”

We could re-launch the Swank hot-or-not debate. (And I would argue that, yes, she is indeed good-looking. Exhibit A, B, and C.) But my real question is: Why in do Swank’s looks matter so damn much? Granted, I understand that beauty is often preferred in Hollywood — movies like, say, Out of Sight wouldn’t have hit so hard without the matinee idol looks of George Clooney and Most Beautiful Woman in the World Jennifer Lopez — but it’s certainly not the sole qualification for Hollywood actresses. Yes, it’s their job to continue to look movie-ready, but it’s also their job to act. And lord knows Swank can do that; the actress picked up two Academy Awards in five years. But perhaps that’s exactly why there’s a fixation on Swank, specifically: Most of her Oscar-winning contemporaries have long been lauded for their looks. (Some, even more than for their work.) When placed in a bunch that includes Halle Berry, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Kate Winslet, and Natalie Portman, is it possible to avoid the hot-or-not debate amongst pop culture consumers? Is there some sort of bizarre higher standard for beauty when it comes to Oscar-winning actresses? (Heck, even Helen Mirren has been sexualized since winning an award for The Queen. Though, I don’t blame those who have been tempted to do so. Long live her!) And if that’s the case, where’s the Jeff Bridges vs. Sean Penn vs. Daniel Day-Lewis vs. Forest Whitaker debate? When can we expect to see a Parks and Rec episode surrounding whether we’d drop, date, or marry (EW’s a PG site, friends!) Philip Seymour Hoffman?

So is Swank pretty? Yes. Should pop culture lovers continue to debate the topic? It’s a free country. But should it matter? No. Let’s not distract ourselves with pointless banter on the subject and instead focus on her body of work, not her body. There are more important Swank-related subjects to discuss. Like P.S. I Love You. What the hell was that?

Follow Kate on Twitter @KateWardEW

Comments (71 total) Add your comment
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  • Ken Tucker

    This articles doesnt mention Glenn Beck at all. I am dissapointed

  • LOL

    I’d hit that.

    • Not even close

      you make love to horses?

      • whatevs

        We’re not talking about SJP here.

  • mcm

    I’m guessing it’s still up for debate because she first came on most people’s radars with Boys Don’t Cry. Let’s face it, a woman who is, at least at the beginning of her career, best known for being able to pass as a man is going to continue to make people uncomfortable, even years later. Especially when she then goes on to play a kick-ass boxer, which is considered incredibly unfeminine. Sad but true.

    • m

      That is exactly what I was thinking when reading this and I think men subconsciously feel threatened by her based upon her roles playing something more than a threat to their ideas of beauty.

      • Josh

        I think you make a great point and it’s pretty much what Swank herself plays. She doesn’t play glamorous roles. Her two most famous and acclaimed roles are very masculine….Listen I think she’s very pretty. Not the most beautiful woman in the world but look at the picture above. It’s her on the red carpet, down up but at least not airbrushed and she looks great. The most important thing is, Swank, like Streep, is a fantastic actress. And I hope to see her in movies for a long time.

    • Summer

      She’s been acting since the early 90s. I’d hardly call “Boys Don’t Cry” the beginning of her career.

      • Summer

        Though, yes, it’s the role that made her famous.

  • nick

    she’s superhot. she just doesn’t play into her sexuality, which has the effect of making her seem like a normal person.

    • Angela

      Hot, is a temperature people.

      • Dr. Linus

        She’s a female Boris Becker.

    • K

      I think she’s very pretty in an unusual way. All the makeup and styling probably helps though, as it does for many Hollywood women who are universally renowned for their beauty, but who don’t look better than average when they’re not wearing makeup or dressed in fancy clothes. Anyways, I got myself off topic. Regardless of makeup or whatever, I think Swank is quite pretty.

  • Kilo

    Was Exhibit C a pasta recipe for anyone else?

    • tom in Canada

      Yep, and I’d TOTALLY make sweet love to it…

    • BrandonK

      Ha ha! I didn’t click on it until I read your comment. That’s funny.

    • zeezee

      Yes….I am laughing….She is hot tho…and one of my favorite actresses

    • mydove

      Would someone please explain this comment to me? Thanks.

      • Kilo

        I swear, for like the ten minutes after I commented, the exhibit C link led to a pasta recipe instead of a gorgeous photo of Hilary Swank. Then they ruined everything by fixing the link. Tragique.

  • The Masked Grammaro

    Kate, you wrote that “Kim Masters spoke with the actress about other, older actress’ struggles finding work in the industry,” but the line should read “Kim Masters spoke with the actress about other, older actresses’ struggles finding work in the industry.”

  • BrandonK

    I was amazed when I realized there’s some debate about whether Hilary Swank is attractive. I always thought she looked a lot like Raquel Welch.

    • Well

      There’s heat in Welch, there’s bland in Swank.

  • Felix

    Swank is lucky to have been labeled “interesting” instead of “beautiful.” Yeah, it’s shallow and sexist, but consider the alternative. Where are Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Renee Zellweger now? Primarily dumped by mainstream studios for the crime of aging into their 30s. If I were a major Hollywood actress, I’d rather be known for acting than for looks. It’s kind of wretched that so few actresses (apart from Angelina Jolie) succeed in the long term with both those things.

    • lalala

      Um, wasn’t Nicole Kidman just nominated for an Oscar this year? I know Rabbit Hole was a smaller film, but at least she still seems relevant with that nomination.

      • Felix

        Well, yes, if they can act, they can always do indie films and modest dramas. But their days as glamorous, A-list leading ladies are over. Swank never went for that in the first place, which means she’ll probably have the most impressive overall resume.

    • jay

      dont you be talking smack about my nicole… and speaking of actresses playing men…. THE DANISH GIRL if it ever makes it to production will star KIDMAN as a man… transforming into a woman… weeeeeeeeeeeee

    • SaraS

      Completely disagree Felix. Nicole Kidman can still headline a big movie (like Gwyneth Paltrow, similar in age who just did Country Strong and Iron Man 2). Catherine Zeta Jones just won a Tony and took time off of movies to focus on family; she’s now working on 2 movies with all-star casts.
      Those beautiful women are WORKING. Fact is, over 40 you have to be able to act. Under 40, you have to act and be beautiful on screen. And Hillary isn’t conventionally beautiful. Just sayin’.

      • zoie

        Has everyone forgot Nicole won Best Actress playing a very homely caracter…and Meryl is still a very beautiful woman even without makeup…

    • janice

      Just because you haven’t been paying attention doesn’t mean they aren’t working. Charlize Theron has a big movie coming out with Jason Reitman that is sure to be an awards contender and she will be in Ridley Scott’s huge sci-fi epic and she will play the evil queen. Nicole Kidman still gets work despite her plastic surgery. They are doing better than Hilary Swank actually. Don’t diss all the pretty actresses to make Swank and yourself feel better.

  • FSM

    Exhibit “C” leads to a recipe for Spaghetti Squash with Meat Sauce. It looks good too.

  • JJ

    I think Swank’s question of beauty stems from her having played a controversial role in “Boys Don’t Cry” but also her Oscar win puts her in the same league/timeline as other winner like Charlize Theron, Gywenth Paltrow, Julia Roberts and Halle Berry. While I’d say only Theron and Berry are truly beautiful other women have longed admired the style of Paltrow and Roberts. Swank doesn’t get that kind of female fan base following. Or maybe it’s just those teeth? I dunno but she’s not your classic beauty no matter how you slice it.

  • Vlad Engleton

    She looks like Chaka from the Land of the Lost TV show.

    • Merry Bear

      Thanks, Vlad. That is a nicer way of saying what I was thinking.

  • Esox

    Where are Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Renee Zellweger now?

    Um, making more of, and more profitable movies than Hilary Swank?

    Bad, bad, BAD examples felix.

    As to the question at hand? Hilary’s HOT!

    • Chris

      What was Renee Zelweger’s last hit movie? How about Catherine Zeta-Jones? Nicole Kidman movies flop more than bank and Charlize Theron and Halle Berry are hit or miss as well. I’d say Hilary has the more substantial career.

      • Esox

        Yup, “Amelia” was a huge hit. Or was it called “Earhart?” Funny, can’t remember because it TANKED!!

        Don’t forget, I also said making “more” movies. In other words, being offered more work.

      • My son is also named Bort

        The Reaping. Enough Said.

      • SaraS

        She is in the new horror movie w/ Bradley Cooper, Case 49 or something. Catherine Zeta Jones just won a Tony and is doing two movies. Nicole Kidman just did Nine and Just Go With It, both blockbusters, and was nominated for an Oscar this year. These are successful, WORKING actresses that could probably green-light any movie by being attached. Your point is nonexistent.

      • janice

        I agree with Zellweger. But how exactly does Hilary have the most substantial career than Nicole Kidman or Charlize Theron? I don’t see it. Obviously you’re not paying attention to the flops she gets and the to the great roles Charlize Theron is currently being sought after for by major directors or Nicole Kidman’s appeal overseas which is far greater than Swank’s.

  • FTS

    I didn’t recognize her in PS I Love You.

  • yes

    She is a good actress. And she is hard working…she is the producer of the movie Something Borrowed.

  • Mark

    Swank should follow in the steps of another under-fourty two-time Oscar Winner: Jodie Foster. Both can look attractive but have never, ever been cast just for their looks; neither are “girly girls” and eschew most rom/coms; both won their first Oscars for desexualized roles; neither is a gossip fixture but are known mostly just for their on-screen work, and Swank, like Foster, is at her best playing strong, tough women.

    • mydove

      Very well put, Mark.

    • jen

      Hilary Swank needs to stop lying , she is not offered glamourous / sexy roles-that is why she doesn’t portray these type of characters. As an actress ( or actor ) , it is important to portray different types of roles, to have a long film career . Swank has become typecast with these manly female roles- it is hurting her career. Whenever Swank portrays a very feminine role, she loses credibility. Mark , it is not wise to place Hilary with Jodie Foster. She doesn’t have the huge following , box-office clout, and enduring career that Jodie has. In the future, I only see Hilary doing mainly television, and some supporting film roles. I hate to say this, she will not have a long film career as a leading lady. I would highly recommend that Swank do theatre- to show more acting range.

    • Mark

      I agree, jen, that Swank doesn’t have the bankability Foster does now – I was suggesting she would do well to follow her example. Hilary is well-suited to play thrillers and action/adventures (a few “Panic Rooms”s and “Flight Plan”s on her resume would be assets) that audiences like, often provide strong roles for women, and don’t require beauty to play. And it’s true that a wider range would help enhance a career, but Foster rarely does comedy to no detriment to her (and Meryl Streep only started getting laughs – and bankability – in her late fifties!). Swank does need to pick her roles better (Hilary: if you want to do sci/fi, do “Contact”, not “The Core”) but I don’t think that not playing romantic leading ladies means her feature film career is doomed.

    • janice

      Yeah but Jodie Foster has had lots of box office hits and has more clout. When she stars in a thriller, she can draw people with just her name. Swank has tried to star in thrillers, but nobody went to see them. Foster is the best example after Streep of having a long career though, winning awards without being known for her looks, but she also has a fanbase who grew up with her.

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