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As I wrote the opening for this article, I heard the New York City Marathon on television in another room. It got me thinking about how the journey of a friendship mirrors the journey of a marathon.

We all move at such a frantic pace. We run toward some destination, appointment, obligation, or deadline every day. But it’s those everyday moments in this marathon called life that bring friendships together. You look up, and right next to you is this person who you now realize has been running alongside you for a long time. You recognize that she is there to be by your side through all the ups and downs, no matter how hard it gets, no matter how long it takes. That’s the friendship I share with Hilary Swank.

This city has been both our homes. It’s been our refuge and our workplace, the place where our lives have happened, and where we have logged the most miles in this friendship we treasure so deeply.

MARISKA HARGITAY: Let’s talk about your new movie.
HILARY SWANK: It’s called New Year’s Eve. Essentially, the idea behind the movie is every year we get a second chance to do better, to do more, to forgive, to love more, to give more.

MH: You worked with Robert De Niro, which is a dream of mine.
HS: Who in this business doesn’t dream of that? I was speechless that day driving to work, thinking, I’m about to work with Robert De Niro!

MH: Talk about a New York moment—it doesn’t get more New York than that. And it’s fun to see you in a romantic comedy.
HS: I’m really not this serious, dramatic person, so to be able to show a different side is fun. I don’t get to show that side in my work as much.

MH: Is there anything that you’re scared of? You seem so fearless in your work and in the way you approach life.
HS: Then I really must be a good actor! I love that you asked, because I go after things the way that I do because I am scared. I go gung-ho and dive in because it’s my way to be prepared, physically and mentally. My fear control mechanism is to be overly prepared.

MH: Have you ever read a script and said, “I don’t know how to play that?”
HS: I would say every time, even with this movie, because comedy is not something I have a lot of experience with. It’s a huge cast, and they’re all really talented and funny. I don’t want to be that one thing where they’re like, Oops, what’s she doing in the film?

MH: The night I came to the set, everybody at the monitors was cracking up. The scene with you and Matthew Broderick? It was so charming and so adorable and so you and so funny and so sweet. I was proud.
HS: [laughing] We are one and the same, you and me. But going back to the fear, anytime I do a dramatic role, I think, I don’t want to mess this up, and that’s why I prepare. I don’t want to mess up what is already so beautiful on the page. People work so hard—the writer, the director, everyone that’s come on board; people want the movie to work and be successful. You have to be willing to fail to succeed, so the idea of jumping in and risking looking foolish—that’s a scary place to go.

MH: In Boys Don’t Cry, did you know the quality of the work you were doing as you were doing it?
HS: I don’t think in any film you know what you’re doing when you’re doing it. It’s like looking at a photograph really close—it’s just the pixels.

MH: When you read the scripts for Million Dollar Baby and Boys Don’t Cry, for which you won your Oscars, was there something you connected to?
HS: I feel that innate connection to all the characters I play. There’s something within all of them I can relate to, or that I learned and hadn’t thought about until I played that character. In Conviction, the connection to her brother and how her family is her whole life; if he dies, she feels like she dies. We all know what it feels like to need that connection with somebody. In Million Dollar Baby, it was the idea of having a dream but not being able to achieve it on your own and needing people to believe in you. In Boys Don’t Cry, it transcended gender and was about wanting to love somebody and be loved in return. These are key things in your life; it’s completely universal, and that’s why film and television are some of the great art mediums. People can literally relate or learn something new or escape. And I learn something new in every single character I play. I get to see the world in a deeper, more profound way, through someone else’s eyes.

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