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Hilary Ann Swank (born July 30, 1974) is an American actress. Swank's film career began with a small part in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) and then a major part in The Next Karate Kid (1994), as Julie Pierce, the first female protégé of sensei Mr. Miyagi. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress twice, as Brandon Teena, a transman in Boys Don't Cry (1999) and as struggling waitress-turned-boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby (2004). Since 2003, Swank has also worked as an executive producer.

Swank was born in Lincoln, Nebraska , the daughter of Judy Kay (née Clough), a secretary and forme
r dancer, and Stephen Michael Swank, an officer in the Air National Guard and later a traveling salesman.She has a brother, Daniel, who is eight years her senior.According to Swank, her maternal grandmother was of Spanish and Shoshone (Native American) ancestry, and many of Swank's family members hail from Ringgold County, Iowa. Her surname, originally Schwenk, is of German origin. After having lived in Spokane, Washington, the family moved to a trailer park near Lake Samish in Bellingham, Washington when Swank was six.

She attended Happy Valley Elementary, Fairhaven Middle, then Sehome High School in Bellingham until she was sixteen. She also competed in the Junior Olympics and the Washington state championships in swimming; she ranked fifth in the state in all-around gymnastics.

Swank made her first appearance on stage when she was nine years old, starring in The Jungle Book. She became involved in school and community theater programs, including those of the Bellingham Theatre Guild and The Seattle Children's Theater.

When she was fifteen, her parents separated, and she and her mother, supportive of her daughter's desire to act, moved to Los Angeles, where they lived out of their car until Swank's mother saved enough money to rent an apartment. Swank has called her mother the inspiration for her acting career and her life. In California, Swank enrolled in South Pasadena High School, dropping out later. She described her time at South Pasadena High School: “I felt like such an outsider. I didn’t feel like I fit in. I didn’t belong in any way. I didn’t even feel like the teachers wanted me there. I just felt like I wasn’t seen or understood.” She explained her becoming an actress out of feeling as an outsider: “As a kid I felt that I belonged only when I read a book or saw a movie, and could get involved with a character. It was natural that I became an actress because I longed so much to be those other people, or at least to play them”.

Swank married actor Chad Lowe on September 28, 1997. The two met in 1992 on the set of Quiet Days in Hollywood. They separated in January 2006, and in May 2006, they announced that they were divorcing. In December 2006 Swank confirmed that she was dating her agent, John Campisi.

In October 2011 Swank attracted controversy for attending an event in Chechnya's capital Grozny on the 35th birthday of Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov on October 5th. After wishing him “happy birthday Mr President”, she reportedly claimed knowledge about Kadyrov saying: “I read. I do my research”. Following criticism from human rights groups, who report having informed her about the human rights abuses in Chechnya prior to the event, asking her to reconsider her participation,Swank said she was unaware that Kadyrov had been accused of human rights violations and that she “deeply regrets” taking part in the lavish concert, and will donate her personal appearance fees “to various charitable organizations.”

She has stated that she believes in a Higher Power, but is not a member of any organized religion.