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Amelia's Spirit: Hilary Swank
Amelia Earhart became a larger-than-life celebrity not only because of what she did – although her record-breaking flights in an age when flying over oceans certainly grabbed international headlines -- but because of who she was. It was her spunk, smarts, can-do optimism, coolness under pressure and unflagging tenacity that defined a vivid new picture of the American woman, indeed of a nation emerging from the Great Depression. Tall and slim with short, windswept hair, the very image of her became synonymous with the soaring ideals of adventure, belief and accomplishment, all accompanied by sweetness and joie de vivre.

It went without saying that any actress willing to take on the role of Amelia would have to bring all of these qualities to the table – and one woman seemed, from the get-go, to be a dead-on match with the fearless, freedom-loving vagabond of the air: Hilary Swank.

Having garnered two Academy Awards® for transformative roles in BOYS DON'T CRY and MILLION DOLLAR BABY, Swank is no stranger at going to great depths for her roles. But she also possessed something more than just the technical skills and physical attributes to play Earhart. "What's most extraordinary about Hilary is that she masters all the outward stuff, but then she does something more and communicates the inner workings of Amelia – her humility, her self-effacing goofiness, her sort of unexpected girlishness,” states Nair. "Hilary is a spiritual actor –she really acts from within – and she took great joy in finding Amelia in every way, spending close to a month just getting the look right. The hair, the walk, and especially the speech – her performance was very particular and very deeply Amelia.”

Swank also stunned the director with her talent for flying – and daring deeds. "Hilary is an intuitive daredevil,” observes Nair. "She loves the roller-coaster of life. She would happily jump out in a parachute and come down just like Amelia, with legs swinging wildly!”

For Swank, the role was irresistible. "Amelia was such a trailblazer and I think we have Amelia to thank for girls today feeling like it's OK to follow a dream,” she says. "She had a quality that I admire: the drive to follow her heart, no matter what, even in a man's world. What I think the movie shows is that she lived life on her own terms, she believed in having fun and doing what you love and also in helping other people, and she accomplished a lot because of all of that.”

Yet, Swank also knew the role was a risk. "There's not a lot of liberty you can take with a character like Amelia, because she is such an icon and we have seen so many images of her that they are almost burned into our psyches,” she admits. "I think the challenge for me was to just fully commit to what I believed she was like.”

Part of that commitment meant taking to the skies, and as Swank began flying lessons, she had an eye-opening, personal insight into what drew Amelia towards the heavens. "I realized that she loved flying because she loved feeling free of the constraints she felt on the ground,” the actress muses. "I think she also loved being able to see the world – and you have to understand in those days very few people had that chance – and experiencing new cultures. Most of all, she was driven by the promise of always trying something new. That's why she was always going after a new record or heading to a new place, and that's something I could relate to.”

She soon discovered how much Amelia has meant to today's thousands of women pilots. "Almost every female pilot I met said Amelia was an inspiration to her,” Swank offers. "Amelia would have loved that and she would have really loved to see that women are now flying commercial planes across the Atlantic.”

Swank was also moved by the central romance of AMELIA – the relati

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