Hilary Swank plays 'real-life hero' in 'Conviction'
BY GENE TRIPLETT
TORONTO — For Hilary Swank, the best t
hing about winning two Oscars is the chance to portray people like Betty Anne Waters.
“There’s no doubt that as an actor, my passion lies in playing characters like Betty Anne,” Swank said, as the real Waters sat two chairs away wiping tears from her eyes. “So, the Academy Award has given me the opportunity certainly to continue to explore areas of the human spirit and life that inspire me.”
She was speaking at a Toronto International Film Festival news conference promoting “Conviction,” a film that tells the true story of Waters’ 18-year fight to prove her brother Kenny innocent of murder and free him from prison.
The small-town Massachusetts woman was an unemployed high school dropout with none of the resources to fight a long legal battle when her brother was arrested, tried and sentenced to life behind bars in 1983. But through dogged determination and complete devotion to Kenny, Waters earned her GED, then a college degree and went on to law school, passing the bar exam in two states.
Then she set out to exonerate the brother she had promised in their rugged childhood she would never abandon, sacrificing her marriage in the process and struggling to raise two kids alone as her life was consumed with following a seemingly endless trail of questionable evidence.
“I started crying one minute into it, so I don’t remember most of it,” Waters said of her feelings when she first saw the film. “It was, for lack of a better word, surreal. It was amazing seeing yourself (in Swank’s performance), your brother (played by Sam Rockwell) and your story come to life, and it actually is the story. It was amazing to watch it. I was just amazed at how the real story did come up and it was there … I thought it was perfect.”
Director Tony Goldwyn (“A Walk on the Moon”) saw the cinematic potential in Waters’ story when it made national news in 2001.
“What made me want to tell this story beyond the extraordinariness of Betty Anne’s achievements … was the bond between these two people and the love that they shared, her faith in him and his in her,” Goldwyn said. “She knew he was innocent, even when everyone else thought he was guilty. Kenny never doubted for one second that Betty Anne was going to become a lawyer, find evidence to somehow get him out. … What is that connection about? And I think it’s the thing that we all crave in our lives, is that kind of human connection.”
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